By Jeff Balke
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The students in the sample Kimball selected were all the students assigned to CEP's Beechnut location from schools in the West District. He looked at retention rate and graduation results. Highlights of his findings:
Of the 93 high school students (38 from Sharpstown, 21 from Westside and 34 from Lee) at the Beechnut location, only four had graduated from HISD by March 2006. By September, that had moved to five graduates, with another four still enrolled. That means: Ninety percent of this sample group of students were no longer students in HISD two years after being enrolled in CEP.
Of the 87 middle school students (six from Grady, 18 from Long, 24 from Paul Revere, seven from Westbriar and 32 from Sharpstown Middle) enrolled in CEP in the same sample, only 34 students (40 percent) of them were still on the active list in HISD by September 11. Five of those students were not on the active list as of March, but were reported to have re-enrolled between March and September.
Kimball also found that of the West Side students he studied, as of March, six had been at CEP since 2002. In September only one of those six was enrolled in HISD. Ninety-five had been enrolled in CEP since 2003, and 79 in 2004. The terms of the contract states students are to be reviewed for possible return to their home schools after 120 days, but many of the students are staying at CEP much longer, Kimball says.
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
"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."