‘Biggest way to keep a community down’
The majority of graduating students at a Washington, D.C. high school did not attend more than six weeks of high school, but still managed to get into college, an investigation into the students’ records found.
NPR and WAMU looked into the seniors who graduated from Ballou High School in 2017, a school located in a poverty stricken area of the nation’s capital, to see how much school the graduating students missed. Ballou High School was previously heavily praised for all students in its senior class getting into college.
Almost half of the graduates had unexcused absences that totaled to more than three months of missed school, documents obtained by NPR and WAMU reveal. About 20 percent of the high school graduates were absent more times than they were present for classes, emails and records also show.
The District of Columbia Public Schools system policy states that students who misses a class more than 30 times should fail that class, according to WAMU.
Despite these absences, all of the 2017 seniors got into a college, a feat for which the school received high praise. One student said the class-wide acceptance was a repudiation of all those who said the school — where at one point only 3 percent of students met the reading standards — couldn’t do it.
“Everybody just, they was betting on us failing, and we all came together and we graduated,” said student Me’Ashja Hamilton.
Some teachers who spoke to the outlet said they felt they had to graduate failing students due to pressure from the high school administration. Other teachers said the lack of expectations allowed students to do what they wanted and not show up for class.
“This is [the] biggest way to keep a community down. To graduate students who aren’t qualified, send them off to college unprepared, so they return to the community to continue the cycle,” the teacher said.
The Ballou High School principal did not agree to an interview with WAMU, but two DCPS officials gave a statement to the outlet.
“It is expected that our students will be here every day,” DCPS Chief of Secondary Schools Jane Spence said. “But we also know that students learn material in lots of different ways. So we’ve started to recognize that students can have mastered material even if they’re not sitting in a physical space.”