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To improve schools, stop treating them like businesses

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The approach also yields results. Last August, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that terminal lung cancer patients who received palliative care at diagnosis rather than in the last weeks of life were happier and, stunningly, lived almost three months longer on average than the group of patients who did not. The palliative care included pain relief but also help addressing worries, and talking with patients to ensure they had help with meals, dressing, and bathing when not in the hospital. Atul Gawandi, a Harvard Medical School surgeon and writer who was not involved in the study, told The New York Times that the results were “amazing.”

There’s obviously a difference between terminal disease and rock-bottom schools. But as we ask poor urban students, many of whom do not know a single person who has attended college or has a salaried job, to hit the books and reach for big careers (“law and government academy,” anyone?), we must provide some – well – care.

Last school year, I spent time reporting for a book, “Inside School Turnarounds,” on the long-term approaches as well as in-the-moment challenges of fixing some of the worst schools in the country. One school – the Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati – was named a 2010 Blue Ribbon School by the US Department of Education this September. It has gone from “academic emergency” to “excellent,” Ohio’s highest rating. Graduation rates have risen from 25 percent to 95 percent, and test scores have soared so that nearly 95 percent of students are passing the state’s high school graduation tests in nearly every subject.

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