By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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.
"In the case of fighting, it is highly unlikely that a student would be expelled," CEP wrote. Attendance was too important to CEP -- that's how it made 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.
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.