Several years ago, Dr. Norwood Brooks, President of Seattle Vocational Institute started the "Career Link" program that offered high school drop-outs an opportunity to go back to school and get their GED. More importantly, the program was integrated with getting these students a certificate in a trade that would lead to a good job. Students would go to school studying for their GED exam at the same time that they enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship, office or health care programs. Over half of the 400 students enrolled graduated - a major accomplishment since without the program none of them would have.
Enter the Seattle School District. An attorney with the district told the college that the program was a problem since since the students weren't enrolled in a "high school graduation" program (it was a GED/Trade program) that the students would count against them when calculating their results for No Child Left Behind. Scores were bad enough and the last thing they need is more penalties associated with failing schools (the accounting applies to the district the students would have been enrolled in rather than the college) They indicated they could no longer support the program. No risk takers there.
Elsewhere in the state the State Auditor enters the picture. His bean counters looked at the law and interpreted it to say that the program didn't lead to the statutorily defined high school degree consequently it was inconsistent with state law and could not utilize state funds. No risk takers here either.
Student advocates went to the legislature and worked on a bill that would have required school districts to enter into contracts for these program or the colleges could go elsewhere for approval. However, last year, the Senate Ways and Means Committee staff successfully argued that if the legislature passed the bill, that more students would be enrolled in school and that would cost the state more money. The bill died in committee. No risk takers here.
This year, to get around the Ways and Means staff, a watered down bill was sent to the committee. The bill doesn't require school district to allow drop-out retrieval programs but creates a process where it is more likely to be approved. The bill passed but college leaders were told that the process of just writing the rules and and going through the public process would take over a year. How long it would take to negotiate with the school districts beyond that is still and open question.
The bottom line here is that when it comes to taking care of our most at - risk kids, the adults aren't wiling to take any risks.
I think there is something more here I will explore in future blogs - how do you encourage risk taking by public servants? How do you allow people who care and work on the front lines to take the risks needed to solve real public problems?