Two years ago, Education Week and NPR spent hundreds of hours at Ron Brown College Prep, a public high school in the District of Columbia that was designed specifically for young men of color.
Specifically for young men of color. For that inaugural freshman class, Ron Brown High was unique in the nation’s capital. It has an entire team of counselors and social workers dedicated to students’ social-emotional development. Instead of suspensions, they focus on restorative justice; students, teachers, counselors, and parents sit in circles to talk about the harm done to the school community when students act out and how to repair the trust that is lost. The school is also unique in that it has a faculty and staff of mostly African-Americans and follows a culturally responsive curriculum.
The “kings,” as students are called, are now in their third year. They are taller, their voices deeper, they are juniors.
The school has expanded to accommodate other grades. Despite significant resources and all the staff’s best efforts, challenges remain.
Several students from the original class are thriving. Students met former President Barack Obama and civil rights icon John Lewis. Many also had other opportunities. For example, Mamut studied biotechnology over the summer at the University of California, Berkeley. Stephon is thrilled to be playing varsity football for the school. Rashawn, a student who was never interested in school before Ron Brown, took a school-sponsored trip to Guatemala.
The school also has an 85 percent attendance rate, far higher than other high schools in the area.
But roughly 40 of the original 105 students have left. Some are gone because they got into more-selective D.C. schools; One student is incarcerated for “possessing and discharging” a firearm.
On the academic side, according to the latest test scores, the school improved from 11 percent to 14 percent on reading proficiency. In math, just 1 percent of 10th graders were proficient this year. The administration emphasizes that the average student came to Ron Brown at a 5th grade level, so even if students improved, that progress would not show up on the tests, which gauge 10th grade skills.
Education Week and NPR recently checked in with dozens of students, parents, teachers, and staff members and revisited some of the series’ big questions on the Code Switch podcast at www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/.
A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2018 edition of Education Week as Progress Gauged In Small Doses