Can a school in Ghana adopt this strategy?
Over 90 percent of the students at D.C.’s Thurgood Marshall Academy live in the city’s two poorest neighborhoods. Every graduate since 2005 has been accepted to college.
“Coats off, scarves off, hats off! Belts on; shirts tucked,” Stacey Stewart, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s director of student affairs, yells at the two lines of students waiting to check in and begin the school day.
“Ms. Stewart, I’m early today,” a student says as he approaches check-in.
“It’s 8:29. You are not early; you are on time,” she says, exasperated and amused. Check-in runs from 8 to 8:30 a.m. After students check in, they head downstairs for breakfast.
Nothing about morning check-in at Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) hints that there’s anything exceptional about the school, but a glass case near Stewart, filled with academic awards, reveals the truth: This is an extraordinary school.
Consistently ranked as a top-tier public charter school in Washington, D.C., Thurgood Marshall Academy is a law-themed school that serves about 400 students in ninth through 12th grades. Over 90 percent of students live in Wards 7 and 8, the city’s two poorest neighborhoods. Nearly 100 percent are African-American, and 61 percent are designated “at risk” by the Office of the State Superintendent, meaning they are at greater risk of dropping out based on their receipt of public assistance, food stamps, involvement with the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, homeless status, or being older than expected for their grade.
The average ninth-grader enters TMA three to four years behind grade level.
Nevertheless, since TMA graduated its first class in 2005, 100 percent of graduates have been accepted into college, over 90 percent have enrolled in college within a year of graduating from high school, and 94 percent persist in college from freshman to sophomore year. The school’s cohort four-year graduation rate (a city calculation that also includes the status of students who have withdrawn or moved to different schools over the past four years) is 78.5 percent, higher than the statewide average of 68.5 percent, and significantly higher than the neighborhood’s district-run high schools, which have rates of 50 and 55 percent. For the past three years, student scores on D.C.’s standardized exams have been among the highest citywide for nonselective high schools.
“As a nonselective, freestanding high school, we don’t have a feeder pattern,” explains TMA’s executive director, Richard Pohlman. “We’re ready to take all kids who come through our doors, so our program has to be diverse enough to take both kids highly prepared and those significantly behind. Our systems and structures are a decade-plus old, but they’ve produced consistent results over that amount of time. What we’re doing works.”
So, what are they doing?.