“I’ve never seen kids in the 12th grade that couldn’t read and write”
This school sold out the students by ignoring excessive absences and overlooking a lack of basic skills. How many of these students will last in college?
What Really Happened At The School Where Every Graduate Got Into College
Brian Butcher, a history teacher at Ballou High School, sat in the bleachers of the school’s brand-new football field last June watching 164 seniors receive diplomas. It was a clear, warm night and he was surrounded by screaming family and friends snapping photos and cheering.
It was a triumphant moment for the students: For the first time, every graduate had applied and been accepted to college. The school is located in one of Washington, D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods and has struggled academically for years with a low graduation rate. For months, the school received national media attention, including from NPR, celebrating the achievement.
But all the excitement and accomplishment couldn’t shake one question from Butcher’s mind:
How did all these students graduate from high school?
“You saw kids walking across the stage, who, they’re nice young people, but they don’t deserve to be walking across the stage,” Butcher says.
An investigation by WAMU and NPR has found that Ballou High School’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. We reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou’s attendance records, class rosters and emails after a district employee shared the private documents. Half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school…
Teachers say when many of these students did attend school, they struggled academically, often needing intense remediation.
“I’ve never seen kids in the 12th grade that couldn’t read and write,” says Butcher about his two decades teaching in low-performing schools from New York City to Florida. But he saw this at Ballou, and it wasn’t just one or two students.
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