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

"In the case of fighting, it is highly unlikely that a student would be expelled," CEP wrote. Attendance is too important to CEP -- that's how it makes its money, both teachers said. In regular classrooms, when a student acted up, the teacher showed him the door. This often only made matters worse at CEP, another teacher said.

Sending a student out of the room brought him into the general commons area, where all the other classes could see him, according to this second teacher. Often this would just ignite more widespread bad behavior.

This second teacher, who stayed with CEP for seven years, said he saw improvements. The school discarded some of its early teaching approaches, such as leaving kids to their own self-paced devices even if they were failing in school. CEP began holding students to a higher behavior standard, with consequences if that wasn't met, he said.

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 number of certified teachers improved. CEP now says that 89 percent of its teachers are certified and all the others are enrolled in a teacher-certification program.

Computers were moved into a separate room where students would take turns working with them, he says. Leaving eight to ten computers in each classroom had proved to be a mistake, he said. Most of them were destroyed.

It was all too successful, according to the teacher. More students were being returned to their home schools, and the census was down. This was not good for business. So they took several steps back, he said.

He left, he said, because he started seeing a lot of things going on there that would jeopardize his hard-won certification. He was abruptly switched from one class to another, eventually to a lower middle school grade level at which he hadn't taught in years. The changes were disruptive for the students and for himself, he said.

This longtime CEP teacher said he believes the basic problem with CEP is that as a business, it concentrates on the bottom line rather than on educating children.

"The biggest focus was on getting the kids to be here. We had the three Bs. Be Here. Behave. Be Learning." As long as they could get the kids there for the count, it was enough, he said.

Whereas for a while, when things improved, students were sent home for dress code violations or bounced if they brought drugs to school or got in a particularly bad fight, later many of these behaviors were overlooked, he said. If there was any suspension, he said, it was of the in-school variety so attendance could continue to be counted.

Other behaviors were excused as well.

"If a kid put his head down, if a kid went to sleep, well he's not causing problems," the teacher said.

Robert Kimball says there are two main reasons CEP students fail to graduate. There are no dropout-prevention programs at its two Houston schools, and there is no transitional program to ease the return to their home school.

CEP did successfully propose a credit recovery/dropout prevention program this year, saying it could do this for $6,500 per student instead of $9,995. This program, called "less intensive," would target non-disruptive students who are falling far behind their grade level. According to CEP's statistics, in the 2004Ė5 school year, of the 719 students referred to CEP, 407, or 57 percent, were over-age. Most of the over-age students were stuck in the ninth grade -- 292 of them. The ninth grade is the traditional drop-out point for many students.

The program would be housed at the Beechnut Street address and offer a flexible schedule, noting that many of these students "have work and family responsibilities that do not allow them to attend classes on a traditional schedule." It would concentrate on math, English, science and social studies, with on-line preparation for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

HISD spokesman Terry Abbott wrote in an e-mail that the decision to add the credit recovery program was based upon its cost, as well as that CEP has demonstrated success working with students to catch them up in the credits they need for graduation in a special accelerated program.

Although Abbott has said there are no plans for a transitional program to ease the way back from CEP into the home school, there has been discussion of the need for this by HISD educators. Nearby Alief Independent School District has installed a transition program in its own alternative school, which allows students considered ready for a home school return to ease in on a partial-class-load basis before returning to all their regular classes.

Alief, like many other local districts, tends to send its students to alternative school for much shorter stays than are the norm at CEP.

CEP, which a few years ago set aside 110 slots for shorter sentences, says that it is up to the individual school district to determine the length of stay. Standard placements, it says, range from 30 to 180 days, with 102 being the average.

One teacher described his year at CEP in nothing but dismal terms. "All we were doing as teachers was being a police officer without badges, trying to stop fights and trying to stop food fights and riots all day."

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