Will a new high school boost results?
Re-1 school district hopes for improved performance if bond passes
Montezuma Cortez School District Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter hopes that educational performance will improve if voters in the school district pass the 3B high school bond issue on Nov. 6.
“There is pretty good research of the effect of building new schools on test scores,” Carter said.
Building a new high school is not a “silver bullet,” but it’s a tool in the tool belt, Carter believes.
As an example, he cites a story about a local farmer who upgraded his 1965 tractor.
The old tractor still ran, but the farmer decided he needed to upgrade the tractor if he wanted to take his farming operation to the next level.
The farmer described how the new tractor, which he purchased five years ago, has made his business more productive. The tractor — which has a GPS, plants a seed within an inch of where the farmer wants it to be planted and also factors in wind speed in the process — is a modern marvel.
Building a new high school “will support our progress in making pretty significant growth over the next few years,” Carter said, adding that a new school tends to instill pride in students and results in increased attendance rates.
An Aug. 12 story in Parade magazine cites the example of Santa Ana, Calif., located 30 miles south of Los Angeles. Santa Ana residents decided to approve a $200 million bond to improve 56 schools, including $40 million-plus to overhaul Santa Ana High School.
Since the modernization, vandalism virtually vanished and the percentage of high school seniors who passed the state exit exam increased 7 percent from 82 to 89 percent.
“If you feel valued, it inspires you to pay more attention and work harder,” Elvis Carranza, a senior at the high school, said in the Parade article.
Hot and cold classrooms, external noise, and insufficient light all undermine teaching, the Parade.com story said. Montezuma-Cortez High School has suffered from hot and cold classrooms and lack of classroom space for years, among other issues.
According to the article, Glen Earthman, a Virginia Tech professor, “has found that children attending schools in subpar conditions score up to 10 percentile points lower on standardized tests, even after controlling for poverty. Outmoded facilities not only inhibit learning but also drive away good teachers...”
But not all studies agree with the story.
A new report published by the Policy Analysis for California Education reveals mixed results about the effect of a new school building on educational performance (newscenter.berkeley, edu).
The report, “New Schools, Overcrowding Relief and Achievement Gains in Los Angeles, Strong Returns from a $19.5 Billion Investment,” showed that thousands of children moving into new elementary schools had strong achievement gains that equaled up to 35 additional days of instruction. But similar achievement gains were not enjoyed by high school students moving from an overcrowded school into a new facility.
“The lack of robust achievement results for students who moved to a new high school facility is cause for concern,” the report said. “Something is missing beyond fresh facilities as the district attempts to lift achievement inside high schools.”
The gains for young students may have been driven by younger teachers with graduate degrees drawn to LA Unified’s new elementary schools, researchers said.
Researchers’ findings suggest that careful renovation investments and charter schools, which are already experimenting with innovative facilities, could yield comparable achievement gains at lower cost.
The study reveals that elementary students’ achievements (attributable to being in a new facility) increased seven percentile points in math and eight percentile points in language arts. However, high school students’ achievements declined about 10 percentile points in math while increasing about five percentile points in language arts.
Bob Waggoner, a transplant to the Cortez area from northwest Wisconsin, recently appointed to fill a vacancy on the Re-1 School Board. Waggoner, a former teacher, related a story how there was strong opposition to a new high school in the Spooner School District, where he served on the school board. But after the bond passed and it was built, no one could be found who originally opposed it.
“The new high school was a rallying point for the whole town,” he told the Re-1 board recently during a work-study session on the proposed STEAM Academy Charter School. “It can be a transformative thing.”