Opt In, Opt Out

HISD continues to send students to CEP. Whether they go there, stay there or return successfully to their home school is anyone's guess.

Kimball says there is evidence that when students learn they are assigned to CEP, they drop out before ever reporting, or they report to the school as Anthony did and then drop out after just a few days. Assignment to CEP comes with its own special stigma, he says. Students feel like, and sometimes say they are treated like, ex cons upon their return to the home school. So they opt out instead.

On October 27, 2005, Kimball sent a letter to all HISD school board members tagging CEP schools as "dropout factories." He mentioned in this letter that he had discussed this with Superintendent Abe Saavedra on October 14, 2005.

In his letter, Kimball stated: "An assignment to CEP is often the turning point when students decide to drop out. CEP has a large number of no-shows and it is because they drop outÉ

Attendance is crucial to the financial well-being of CEP.
Keri Rosebraugh
Attendance is crucial to the financial well-being of CEP.
Teachers say CEP computers didn't last long; one remembers how keyboards became weapons.
Keri Rosebraugh
Teachers say CEP computers didn't last long; one remembers how keyboards became weapons.

"The bottom line is that almost every student who enters CEP eventually drops out of school," Kimball wrote.

He went on to say that he recommended to Saavedra that HISD determine how many of the students directed to CEP actually ever graduate from HISD, predicting that this number would be fewer than 30 out of each year's graduating classes at schools across the district. He called for a cost-benefit analysis of the district's spending on its CEP contract, then $16 million, with that kind of result.

A year later, and it's apparent that the arguments Kimball made carried little weight. On June 29 of this year, the board not only authorized Saavedra to negotiate another agreement with CEP, it gave CEP a raise from $16 million to $17 million. So as Kimball sees it, HISD is paying more as retention and graduation rates at CEP decline.

Kimball was scheduled to speak before the Texas Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, October 4 and present his research and report. He stresses that he is doing this as "a concerned citizen and taxpayer."

CEP offers testimonials complete with full color photos. There's Isaias, who moved here from war-torn El Salvador with his family, then lost his father right before high school and went astray. A stay at CEP not only led him to complete high school -- he now studies at Houston Community College and is part of the CEP instructional team.

Maira had failed the ninth grade and was about to do it again. Sent to CEP, she became pregnant shortly thereafter, but returned to CEP after giving birth. She was able to graduate from high school and now works at the Harris County Constable's Office while taking computer courses on the side.

Melissa was 18 years old and still in the ninth grade at her home school when she came to CEP. With CEP's help, she was able to graduate from high school and is now working and planning to go to college.

There are other stories like this, all exceptional, all inspiring. These are kids who went to CEP and found something there and in themselves that enabled them to turn around their lives.

Besides the inspiring stories, CEP says it has test scores showing its students are able to about double their scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, without regard to the length of stay they have at CEP.

But two educators who talked with the Press, each of whom has worked at CEP and who are now employed as teachers in local public school districts, did not paint as rosy a picture. Most of their CEP students, they said, were not as successful. Neither one wanted their name used in this story, fearing complications in their present jobs.

The first teacher worked there in one of the early years, at Ferndale for one semester and Beechnut the other. He left, he said, because "It was just so horrid. There's absolutely no education going on."

He described a classroom with too many kids, where books remained stacked on desks and students were handed worksheets and pointed at a computer. "And they're just going to teach themselves," he laughed. "These students didn't succeed at their home school, so what makes you think all of a suddenÉyou're going to teach yourself calculus and biophysics and do well." Teachers graded all subjects at all grade levels, regardless of what their teaching specialty was.

This teacher said that with 32 students in a class turning papers in constantly, teachers were hard-pressed to keep up. "We're constantly classroom managing because we're worried about if somebody's going to bust somebody's head open with a keyboard. 'Cause it happens. Quite frequently. So we're more like taskmasters."

One result was fake grades, he said. Teachers would give the students they liked 100s and the others zeroes. "And the ones that have negative behavior, they'll be there forever."

Students knew there were no consequences for negative behavior other than a longer stay, he said, something that was very frustrating to the teachers. "The kids know that they're not going anywhere. Where are you going to send them? They're already at CEP."

In fact, when asked about what would lead to expulsion, be it drugs or fighting, CEP wrote that in following the HISD Code of Conduct, if a drug offense reached Level V (the top level), then a student would be expelled.

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