A fascinating article in Milwaukee Magazine compares two elementary schools with black principals and low-income black students. At one school, students outperform the district’s white students; at the neighboring school, students do far worse.
Last year, 81 percent of Hawthorne’s black fourth-graders scored proficient or above in math and 79 percent proficient or above in reading, compared to 34 and 63 percent, respectively, at Thurston Woods.
At Hawthorne, the principal works closely with teachers. Reading is the top priority; there’s no time for frills.
Teachers and assistants are expected to hone their craft, and (principal Bettye) Washington provides a steady stream of coaching and advice from experts. Each teacher is also assigned a buddy, and if any of a teacher’s students are struggling, it’s the grade-level committee of their peers and the school learning team’s responsibility to step in and help.
With literacy coach Carolyn Wesley (twin daughter of TV weatherman Paul Joseph) and math specialist Annette Perry, Washington studies the tests students take after every five lessons to identify any child who hasn’t mastered 80 percent of the material, then gets them help.
. . . Hawthorne’s efforts are paying off. Last year, 93 percent of the school’s African-American fifth-graders scored at or above proficiency in math – 48 percentage points higher than the district average for African-American students and 16 points higher than the average for white students.
Hawthorne’s black fourth-graders scored at 80 percent proficiency or better in every subject area, beating the district average for black students by as much as 36 percentage points. Ninety-eight percent of the school’s black third-graders scored proficient in reading.
At nearby Thurston Woods, where the principal doesn’t like sharing power with teachers, morale is low, and so are test scores. Both schools use the Direct Instruction curriculum. It works at Hawthorne, where teachers get coaching and support; it doesn’t at Thurston Woods.
MPS does not have a history of celebrating excellence in its midst. For a long time, a culture of mediocrity prevented praising the exemplary for fear it might make the inferior feel bad.
But Hawthorne, the highly effective school, didn’t make a list of schools closing the black-white achievement gap, because the district decided schools didn’t qualify without at least 10 percent white enrollment; comparing to the districtwide average for whites wasn’t considered. Meanwhile, the ineffective school is being expanded; the principal will get a raise.