Success in Philly

Success is achievable, even at an all-minority, high-poverty school in Philadelphia. Edspresso interviews the principal of a KIPP middle school that moved students from the 17th percentile in math to the 70th in three years; students moved from the 21st percentile in reading to the 55th. Principal Marc Mannella explains what’s different about KIPP:

First: more time. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if kids are at school longer, they’ll learn more. We don’t have a magic curriculum, we don’t have pixie dust to sprinkle on their heads to make them great students. We just roll up our sleeves and go to work. By every measure, our kids come to us behind academically. To help them catch up, they need more time.

Second is the liberty to be flexible and nimble. I can set my budget, I have control over hiring and firing, I can work out a staffing plan. I have an in-house social worker with two interns—we need that in Philadelphia. If KIPP gave me a staffing plan, a social worker may not be in it.

Third: the sense of commitment that we can engender from everybody.

Also in Philadelphia, a new principal is turning around a chronically low-performing elementary, reports the Inquirer. Test scores went up so dramatically the district retested students to make sure nobody was cheating.

Principal Barbara Adderly reorganized the school into three K-6 academies and named the best teachers as math and literacy coaches to work on improving teachers’ abilities to help struggling students. The school analyzes test data to see if students need more help in certain areas.

On hallway and classroom walls, there are graphs and multicolored bar charts showing test results.

“Children need to know where they have to go,” Kathleen Shallow, the school’s literacy leader, said. “So if they are looking at the assessment line in their room and they see a star, they know this is where they need to be.”

Christina Taylor, the math leader, said teachers also used the data to critique themselves.

“If you taught it wrong the first time, and the kids didn’t get it, you don’t want to teach it the same way again,” she said.

Every minute is devoted to teaching and learning.

From her office, Adderly has an unobstructed view of a neighborhood with boarded-up homes and vacant properties. Fewer than half of the adults in the neighborhood graduated from high school.

“The children live the way they live, and some live in pretty dire circumstances,” she said. “But we can’t dwell on that because we can’t change it. So when we come here, we have to dwell on that which is going to move our kids. I think that has made a tremendous difference, too.”

I think we know what works for low-income, minority students: More time to learn, use of test data to improve instruction and a no-excuses culture.

Philadelphia has a spiffy new system that helps teachers keep track of data, reports Teacher Magazine.

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  1. This principal was no doubt inspired by Jaime Escalante, whose story was told in “Stand and Deliver”.

    Unfortunately, Escalante wss TOO SUCCESSFUL – and the low achievers within the school system squeezed him out:

    Let us hope the same fate doesn’t occur for the Philadelphia principal.