Detroit schools offer Count Day bribes

Wednesday was Count Day for Michigan public schools. Ninety percent of state funding is linked to how many students show up on Oct. 2.

bikesHit hard by declining enrollment, Detroit Public Schools offered prizes to students who showed up, including iPad Minis, gift cards and bicycles.

Schools served a special menu: barbecue chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, seasoned green beans, cornbread muffins and peach cobbler

Bunche Academy made Count Day a no-uniform day and scheduled a dance for middle-school students and an ice cream social.

One lucky DPS student won an Xbox. Nearly one in four students received a prize of some kind.

A majority of school-age children in Detroit choose charter schools or district-run schools in the suburbs.

Iris scans are the new school IDs

In the sci-fi movie Minority Report, ubiquitous iris scanners reveal shoppers’ identities so advertising can be targeted — and they can be tracked everywhere.

Iris scanners are replacing ID cards at schools ranging from preschools to universities, reports CNN.

South Dakota-based Blinkspot manufactures iris scanners specifically for use on school buses. When elementary school students come aboard, they look into a scanner (it looks like a pair of binoculars). The reader will beep if they’re on the right bus and honk if they’re on the wrong one.

The Blinkspot scanner syncs with a mobile app that parents can use to see where their child is. Every time a child boards or exits the bus, his parent gets an email or text with the child’s photograph, a Google map where they boarded or exited the bus, as well as the time and date.

Parents already can slip a GPS tracker in little Aidan’s backpack, but I guess that’s not good enough for helicopter parents. Kids can lose a backpack, but they aren’t likely to lose their eyes. (But kids will forget to use the scanner and be reported missing . . . )

Eyelock, which makes scanners used in foreign airports and at high-security offices, is “entering the school market, piloting their devices in elementary school districts and nursery schools around the country.”

A San Antonio school district will stop using microchip-enabled ID cards to track attendance, despite winning a lawsuit. The cards didn’t raise attendance enough to cover the cost.

LA students win cars, iPads for attendance

I had perfect attendance in fourth grade at Ravinia Elementary School in 1961-62. The teacher gave me a plastic trophy — painted gold — that he’d won in a dance contest at the Hotel Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

Los Angeles public schools gave new cars to two graduating seniors with perfect attendance, reports the Los Angeles Daily News. Five elementary students won iPads.

Of 357 seniors with perfect attendance, Vanessa Umana and Euri Tanaka each won the drawing for an $18,000 Chevrolet Sonic. Clear Channel Media donated the cars and many of the other prizes.

Over the last year, LAUSD has awarded monthly prizes to hundreds of kids who answered “here” every time their teacher took attendance. Rewards donated by local companies included bicycles, gift cards to Subway sandwich shops and guest passes to Knott’s Berry Farm and Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Six campuses also will receive $3,000 each to spend on attendance programs. (Does a magnet for gifted students need an attendance program?)

Attendance improved during the year-long contest, said Debra Duardo, executive director of Student Health and Human Services. That means fewer kids miss lessons and the district collects more money from the state, an average of $32 per student per day.

Vanessa credits her work ethic to her mother, Minerva, a pharmacy technician, and father, David, a Navy mechanic who served three overseas deployments while she was growing up.

“That shaped me as a person and taught me how to have goals and be independent,” she said. “They always encouraged me to go to school so it would lead me to have a better life.”

Graduating with a GPA of 4.2, Vanessa has been accepted at UC San Diego. She plans to major in biology, with a long-term goal of becoming a doctor.

The grand prize for attending school is an education, not a Subway gift card or a Chevy.  Vanessa knows that. She didn’t need to be bribed to show up. What about kids with less education-minded parents?

I kept my attendance trophy on my dresser. It disappeared when my parents sold the house, when I was in college. I’ve still got the education.

Teaching grit

Teachers can help students develop “non-cognitive” abilities such as adaptability, self-control and motivation, argues Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson in a working paper, Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality.

Using 2005-10 North Carolina data on absenteeism, suspensions and grades as a proxy, Jackson finds non-cognitive factors predict college enrollment and lifetime earnings more strongly than cognitive ability, notes Education Gadfly.  Evaluating teachers on their affect on student test scores doesn’t capture their full contributions to student outcomes, Jackson concludes, suggesting evaluations should include teachers’ affect on student suspensions and absences.

I fore see problems. Student suspensions would be a less accurate way to measure students’ self-control if teachers knew they’d earn a higher rating — and perhaps more money — for a lower suspension rate. High school grades are a good way to predict college and career success since they measure work ethic and motivation as well as academic learning. But grade inflation would go wild if teachers were evaluated based on their students’ grades.

True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught? is the title of University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth’s 2009 TED talk.

“Non-cognitive abilities” are ways of thinking, writes David Conley, a University of Oregon education professor, in an Ed Week commentary.

Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?

Executive functioning — the brain “monitors and adjusts to circumstances to accomplish specific aims and objectives” — is a critical part of the learning process, writes Conley.

Four-day school week raises achievement

When rural schools move to a four-day week, test scores go up, along with student and teacher attendance, reports a study by Georgia State and Montana State researchers. And schools save money on transportation and utility bills, notes Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

The study looked at fourth-grade scores in Colorado, where more than a third of districts — typically small, poor and rural — have moved to a longer day and a shorter week.

Overall, districts with a four-day week started out with lower average scores than schools on traditional schedules, but saw a significant increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on both reading and math tests after they switched to the four-day week. Specifically, the researchers found that the shortened week was associated with a 7 percentage point gain in math scores and a 3 percentage point gain in reading. In reading, the improvement took place the year after the schedule was switched; in math, the improvement took place during the year the schedule was switched. In both cases, the improvements seem to have stuck for multiple years after the shift.

The report suggests a number of potential explanations, including improved attendance, increased teacher job satisfaction, and better teaching methods. (The longer school day might allow for longer lessons, for instance.)

A four-day week creates child-care problems for parents, the researchers warned. It could give unsupervised children more time to get into trouble. Or it could make it easier for teens to hold part-time jobs, possibly decreasing the dropout rate.

Of course, what’s true in rural areas with long bus rides to school may not apply to urban and suburban schools.

School uniforms don’t affect achievement

School uniforms don’t affect achievement, but may improve attendance slightly for girls in middle and high school, a new study shows.

 

‘Why do I have an F?’

“Why do I have an F?” ask community college students who aren’t coming to class and doing the assigned work. “They want extra credit, chances to make up tests, magic points that appear out of nowhere just because they asked,” writes a remedial English instructor.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Some community colleges don’t participate in federal loan programs, saying students can pay the low tuition on their own and avoid debt.  Should all students have the right to access loans?

The can’t-fail school

New York City’s top-ranked school is under investigation for cooking the books, reports the New York Times. Theater Arts Production Company School, a middle and high school located in a low-income Bronx neighborhood,  graduated 94 percent of seniors, more than 30 points above the citywide average. The school earned a near-perfect score in “student progress,” based partly on course credits earned by students.  The school’s no-failure policy requires teachers to pass all students who attend class, regardless of their performance; no more than 5 percent of students can get D’s.

In practice, some teachers said, even students who missed most of the school days earned credits. They also said students were promoted with over 100 absences a year; the principal, rather than a teacher, granted class credits needed for graduation; and credit was awarded for classes the school does not even offer.

The school’s former Advanced Placement calculus teacher said he was pressured to pass students who didn’t deserve it.

Last year, every student passed the class even though each received a 1 — the lowest score — on the Advanced Placement test, in part because they had not taken precalculus, he said. Only one had passed the Math B Regents, a minimal standard.

Even some students complained to the Times about the no-failure policy.

Some said that it sometimes hurt their motivation to know that a classmate would pass even if he did not come to class. One said that his current average was a 30 — but that he could bring it up to a 95 with a few days of work — and that teachers sometimes handed out examples of student work that he copied from.

“You would have to be an epic failure to fail at this school,” said Deja Sawyers, a 10th grader. When students do not do their work, “there’s no consequences,” she said, adding that she did not get homework.

Another student, Luisa Cruz, said, “Everybody always passes; it’s really rare to fail.”

“It makes no sense,” she said. “You’ve got to learn from your mistakes.”

The college acceptance rate for graduates is 100 percent, but students’ SAT scores are low and many end up in remedial classes in college.

College acceptance is meaningless: It includes students who go to open-admissions or not-very-selective colleges, take a few remedial classes and drop out.  Sending graduates to college to retake eighth-grade English and math is nothing to brag about.

‘Turnaround’ school hit by teacher absenteeism

Teachers at at a low-performing Rhode Island high school were fired last year, then rehired when they agreed to reforms designed to turn Central Falls High around. But teacher absenteeism is high at the “turnaround” high school, reports the Providence Journal. “More than half of the high school’s 840 students didn’t receive a grade in one or more classes for the first quarter” because they missed so much instruction, reports the Journal.

Since the school year started Sept. 1, there has not been a single day when all of the 88 teachers at Central Falls High School have shown up for work.

On that first day, two teachers called in sick and a third took a personal day.

In addition, several teachers resigned after the start of the school year.  Administrators have struggled to hire replacements and substitutes.

Bitterness remains over the mass firing of all the school’s teachers in February, jobs that were eventually won back through a compromise agreement in May. In exchange for their jobs, the teachers agreed to a list of changes administrators said were necessary to turn around the school, which has among the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the state.

Some teachers resent the new requirements, which include tutoring and eating lunch with students each week, attending after-school training sessions and being observed by third-party evaluators.

Fourteen teachers were judged “unsatisfactory” by outside evaluators out of 71 who were observed.

Student absenteeism also is a problem at Central Falls High. Students and teachers complain that the school is disorderly and dangerous.

Officials blame the union contract, which gives teachers 15 paid sick days and two personal days a year: Teachers can accumulate up to 185 sick days.  Teachers with six years on the job are “entitled to 40 days of extended sick leave at full pay,” which goes up to 50 days after 15 years of service.  Six veteran teachers are out on stress-related medical leave; they’ve been replaced by long-term substitutes.

Teacher absenteeism has gotten worse each month, reports the Journal. In recent weeks, an average of 19 teachers a day out of 88 positions have been absent.

Nationwide, 5.3 percent of teachers are absent on any given day, writes Walt Gardner in his Ed Week blog. Stress pushes up the absentee rate.

Principal in the bedroom

Hoping to get two brothers  to go to school, Principal Ernest Jackson and a school psychologist walked uninvited into a home in Chester, New York to rouse the boys, 12 and 16 years old.  Jackson faces trespass charges.

A criminal complaint alleges Chester Academy Principal Ernest Jackson entered the home without permission when the two boys didn’t come to school in late September, and actually tried to coax them out of their beds.

You don’t walk into someone’s house,” Melanie Hunter said. “I could’ve been coming out of the shower.”

The mother wasn’t home. The father, who filed a complaint, doesn’t live with the family.

The principal, now on leave, shouldn’t have walked into the house. As for the mother who can’t get her sons to wake up and go to school, you’ll be able to live with your boys for years to come.  They won’t be able to finish high school, get jobs and move out of the house.

Update:  Principal Jackson and the psychologist were reinstated after witnesses confirmed they were invited into the house by a the students’ 20-year-old cousin. “The state has now cleared Jackson and Kavenagh of misconduct and the Village of Chester police have dropped their investigation for trespassing for lack of evidence.” reports the Times Herald-Record.