Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph

Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 1568585675

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

“This book is a godsend … a moving portrait for anyone wanting to go beyond the simplified labels and metrics and really understand an urban high school, and its highly individual, resilient, eager and brilliant students and educators.” —Dave Eggers, co-founder, 826 National and ScholarMatch

Darrell is a reflective, brilliant young man, who never thought of himself as a good student. He always struggled with his reading and writing skills. Darrell’s father, a single parent, couldn't afford private tutors. By the end of middle school, Darrell’s grades and his confidence were at an all time low. Then everything changed.

When education journalist Kristina Rizga first met Darrell at Mission High School, he was taking AP calculus class, writing a ten-page research paper, and had received several college acceptance letters. And Darrell was not an exception. More than 80 percent of Mission High seniors go to college every year, even though the school teaches large numbers of English learners and students from poor families.

So, why has the federal government been threatening to close Mission High—and schools like it across the country?

The United States has been on a century long road toward increased standardization in our public schools, which resulted in a system that reduces the quality of education to primarily one metric: standardized test scores. According to this number, Mission High is a “low-performing” school even though its college enrollment, graduation, attendance rates and student surveys are some of the best in the country.

The qualities that matter the most in learning—skills like critical thinking, intellectual engagement, resilience, empathy, self-management, and cultural flexibility—can’t be measured by multiple-choice questions designed by distant testing companies, Rizga argues, but they can be detected by skilled teachers in effective, personalized and humane classrooms that work for all students, not just the most motivated ones.

Based on four years of reporting with unprecedented access, the unforgettable, intimate stories in these pages throw open the doors to America’s most talked about—and arguably least understood—public school classrooms where the largely invisible voices of our smart, resilient students and their committed educators can offer a clear and hopeful blueprint for what it takes to help all students succeed.













community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” As journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones argues in a ProPublica “Segregation Now” investigative feature, Brown v. Board of Education wasn’t an argument for equitable distribution of funding among schools; it hinged on the idea that the “integration of schools was essential to the integration of black citizens into society as a whole.”4 The ruling affected 40 percent of the students in American public schools,

High School’s annual Drag Show is about to begin. The air in the school auditorium is hot, alive with loud chatter and intermittent laughter from a crowd of more than a thousand students and adults. Scattered blue, pink, and yellow lights move across the sea of teenage faces. The stage sparkles with holiday lights and glitter. The projection screen on the stage reads: “‘That’s so gay’ is NOT okay. Celebrate gay, hooray!” A few students sitting in the front rows are reading posters near the stage.

will learn how to write about others, and this will help you learn a lot about yourself. In my class, everyone starts with an A or a B, and it will be your job to keep it from going down. We will be writing every day, thinking critically, pushing ourselves, and if you work hard, we will have a lot of happy As. By the end of this class, writing essays will feel like eating candy.” After introductions, Pablo and his classmates read a short story by Sherman Alexie, “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,”

getting his diploma. Guthertz and his team invited Gomez to attend the graduation of Mission High’s class of 2014 and presented her with an honorary high school diploma for her late grandfather. Mission High serves an often overlooked but vital role in the community. It is a central meeting ground and celebration space for the predominantly working-class parents whose children go there, as well as a repository of its collective memories and community pride. The yearly choir and Latino Club

thank-you letter when she heard that he had retired: “I have had a teaching career for twenty-five years myself now, some of it spent mentoring novice teachers, so I know how rare what you did is,” she wrote. “Fran, you always made me feel smart.” McKamey’s parents also said that she was intelligent, but Bradley was the first teacher who had the skills to provide evidence: his comments in class about the substance of her ideas, his feedback on her writing, the enthusiasm in his voice when he

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