School for Scandal

Sometimes the best advocates for school reform are certain principals, teachers and administrators in traditional public schools. Through their incompetence and apathy, they make the case for charter schools and other innovations better than reformers can.

Take, for example, the ongoing scandal at Jane Addams High School in the Bronx—a school named for one of the 20th century’s most influential advocates for the poor and underserved. The city Department of Education is investigating charges that students were given credit for courses they didn’t take. Students received credits for serious academic classes like geography and chemistry when, in fact, they took classes in tourism and cosmetology. (The school, unbelievably, does not have a chemistry teacher. How does that happen?) Many members of the school’s senior class may not be able to graduate in June if the charges prove valid.

In a sense, none of this should come as a surprise. The school received a grade of F for performance from the Department of Education, and according to published reports, teachers have come under pressure to improve graduation rates through the granting of dubious or nonexistent credit.

When parents confronted the school’s principal, Sharron Smalls, during a recent public meeting, no apologies were offered. Parents simply were told that the school is reviewing student transcripts. How comforting. At least Ms. Smalls did not charge the parents for parking spots, as she is alleged to have done to faculty members.

Jane Addams High School is on a new list of schools to be closed at the end of the current academic year. Rightfully so. But closing the school will not undo the damage cause to the school’s students, especially seniors. And closing the school will do nothing if the principal is not held accountable for what is reported to have happened during her watch.

Here’s the saddest part of the whole story: The full name of the school is the Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers.

The students there allegedly are being trained for careers in public education.

It cannot close too quickly.

School for Scandal