Up from Compton

Nearly all the students come from low-income black and Hispanic families; many speak English as a second language. Test scores were in the lowest 10 percent in California in 1999. Under a new principal, a Teach for American grad, Bunche Elementary raised its scores to the top 30 percent in the state. The school, located in an LA suburb, didn’t receive any extra state money to fund the turn around. Instead, the principal redirected existing funding for priorities such as paying teachers to tutor after school. The LA Times explains Bunche’s strategy.

1. Begin with classroom discipline. In her first year, Principal Mikara Solomon Davis issued more than 100 suspensions at the school of 467 students. Many of the suspensions are served in school, so students are removed from their classrooms but their work still is supervised.

2. Hire carefully. Applicants write an essay explaining their teaching philosophy and how it would boost test scores. They must demonstrate lessons with students in front of administrators, other teachers and parents. They’re also asked if they’re willing to tutor outside of regular class time.

3. Train teachers on site. Teachers write the objectives of every lesson on the board. For as long as necessary, they file a daily eight-step lesson plan that is critiqued daily. Mentor teachers are assigned to help.

4. Test weekly on state standards. Results are immediately reviewed and used to plan teaching. Students who begin to develop academic problems are referred to a team, which includes parents, to create an education plan, much like the process used to design tailored programs for special education students.

5. Do grade-level planning and troubleshooting. The principal attends weekly meetings in person or reviews and comments on the minutes of every gathering.

6. Motivate students. With cheers and rewards, the school celebrates achievement and improvement.

7. Inculcate goals and dreams. Teachers and administrators stress the importance, desirability and expectation of college. Every grade visits a college every year.

8. Develop parental support. Parents must sign daily behavior forms. The school has frequent meetings and training sessions on helping students study.

9. Seek out new ideas. The staff regularly looks for best practices elsewhere. And even though the school has made huge strides using the Open Court phonics-based reading program, it’s now added a literature component to deepen the intellectual content.

10. Tweak and maintain. The first presumption: Unless every student is advanced, there is something more you can do. The second: Without constant vigilance, a high-achieving school can readily slip back into mediocrity.

The school now exceeds California’s goal for all schools, an 800 on the Academic Performance Index.

Bunche’s high expectations remind me of the charter high school in my book, Our School.

Update: Here’s a report on Virginia schools that are doing better than expected based on their poverty rate. All stress reading and differentiate instruction based on students’ level, needs and learning style. Expectations are high.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Reading the list you posted I was struck at how much of this is already being done at the schools my kids go to. Maybe that’s why I like them so much!

  2. I think the list indicates clearly the vital role played by the district administration.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    This is embarrassing. It will have to stop.

  4. Frequently we hear: “we should study the schools that work and replicate that formula” (particularly from media wags). Well, here’s a school that seems to work (even works well), and whose “formula” might even fit on an 8″x11″ piece of paper. The “formula” is almost all common sense, and clearly can be implemented with no additional state/federal funds. Further, it would seem that this “formula” would not even need much state oversight, since with NCLB states now are testing and every school’s tests are up for review at local/county/state/federal levels already.

    Principal Mikara Solomon Davis could be interviewed (on video) and that video made available over the NET, so that others could get a sense of who this person is, and how she responded to problems implementing this program.

    Certainly giving this straightforward ten-point program a chance would seem to be the first step in a get-well program for failing schools.

  5. There’s nothing wrong with this list. It is a specific set of product instructions based upon basic manufacturing principles.

    To produce anything –

    1) Determine what you have as an input.
    2) Determine what you product want to make.
    3) Determine what changes you will make on the input to create the product.
    4) List those changes in order.
    5) Execute those changes in order, testing to see whether the items have been changed correctly at each step.

    You have to choose the measurement interval based upon the kind of changes you are making and the point at which those changes have to be made to keep from scrapping the work. (IE you have to fix the shape of the clay before you bake it).

    In the case of students, weekly is probably a fair first approximation. If a particular student needs help more often, I’m sure they will get it under a system that actually cares about weekly performance.

  6. I know this isn’t all that complicated because I’m not all that smart but what’s the motivation of the principal in the school down the street to try to replicate? It had better be pride because it sure isn’t going to be anything else.

    wmartin46 wrote:

    Certainly giving this straightforward ten-point program a chance would seem to be the first step in a get-well program for failing schools.

    This “ten-point program” has been around forever. Remember, in your own post, just two paragraphs up, you wrote that it was common sense. If it’s common sense then there’s got to be some widely applicable reason why it isn’t used.

    Any guesses?

  7. This “ten-point program” has been around forever. Remember, in your own post, just two paragraphs up, you wrote that it was common sense. If it’s common sense then there’s got to be some widely applicable reason why it isn’t used.

    Any guesses?

    Perhaps because it demands too much? Too hard to do? Most aren’t going to do what requires too much; most do what is easiest.

  8. Improving education in underperforming schools requires a three-legged stool when it comes to administration:

    Vision
    Support/Training
    Accountability

    It looks like this school has all three – bravo and encouraging news!Often, however, teachers (and then, by extension, students) are hit over the head with just one leg – accountability. Accountability is crucial, but without vision (state and federal mandates, by the way, are not vision) and support and training of teachers (who responds well to criticism from an administrator via email or a once-in-a-three-to-four-month “visit”?) are equally crucial. With only two, you have a wobbly stool at best.

    Accountability is the darling of most teacher critics – and by itself, it becomes a club rather than one of three legs. It’s a great tool for hitting – over the head, below the belt, and in the gut – but not so impressive for enacting meaningful change. Personally, I strive to establish these three legs on a stool for myself – but obviously it would work better if administration worked to establish and maintain all three.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “A School Finds A Singular Road to Academic Success,” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2007 (via Joanne Jacobs). […]