Uncommon Schools wins Broad Prize

Uncommon Schools has won the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. A 32-school charter network in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, Uncommon Schools educates primarily low-income black students. The schools have narrowed achievement gaps, the review board found.

All Uncommon seniors took the SAT in 2012. They averaged a score of 1570, higher than College Board’s readiness mark and higher than the average for white students nationwide.

CREDO: Charters do better in reading

Charter students show greater learning gains in reading and similar gains in math compared to students in traditional public schools, concludes the National Charter School Study 2013 by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

The neediest students show the strongest gains: Low-income students, blacks and English Learners “gain significantly more days of learning each year in both reading and math” if they attended charter schools rather than traditional public schools, the study found.

More charter schools are high performers and some underperforming charters have closed, concludes CREDO, which analyzed data from 26 states and New York City.

“The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged, and special education students,” says Dr. Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO.

Charter school enrollment has grown among students who are in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students, the study found.

Charters do the best for the worst students, according to an MIT analysis reported by the Boston Globe.

Lower-income students who performed poorly on tests while attending traditional public schools did much better after enrolling in charter schools. Moreover, their improvement was greater than fellow charter students who had previously tested well in traditional public schools.

In other words, those most in need of educational improvement tended to benefit the most from charter schools.

A string of recent studies have found urban charter schools produce learning gains, while suburban and rural charters have mixed results.

If I Were a Black Kid…

Despite being kicked out of high school for assaulting a teacher, Ta-Nehisi Coates is asked often to speak to predominantly black schools, he writes in If I Were a Black Kid…  in The Atlantic. Teachers, including his mother, hope he’ll be able to inspire their students.

What I generally try to do is avoid messages about “hard work” and “homework,” not because I think those things are unimportant, but because I think they put the cart before the horse. The two words I try to use with them are “excitement” and “entrepreneurial.” I try to get them to think of education not as something that pleases their teachers, but as a ticket out into a world so grand and stunning that it defies their imagination.

Black kids often are told to pursue education so they won’t get shot or go to prison, Coates writes. That’s not enough, he thinks. They need to know that “every subject they study has the potential to open up a universe.”

A senior editor at The Atlantic, Coates is the author of The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood.

The AP/IB challenge gap

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses could help close the “high-end achievement gap” —  if more low-income, black and Latino students take these rigorous courses, concludes Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students. The report is by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools.

Low-income students are one-third as likely to enroll in AP as their middle and high-income classmates. While 25.1 percent of Asian-American students take at least one AP course, that drops to 11.9 percent for whites, 9 percent for Latinos and 6 percent for blacks.

Ninety-one percent of public high school students attend schools that offer AP courses.

. . .  preparation prior to high school is part of the problem, and the nation’s schools need to work hard on that. But a recent analysis of PSAT scores by the College Board suggests there are far more students who have the potential to be successful, but are not enrolling. The College Board found that 72 percent of black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students whose PSAT scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP math course, as well as 69 percent of black students and 65 percent of Hispanic students whose scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP science course, were left out of the program.

San Jose Unified has doubled AP participation rates for under-represented subgroups, the report finds.

In Washington state, the Federal Way went beyond open access to AP and IB courses. Now  automatically enroll students who scored proficient or better on the state exam are enrolled automatically in AP or IB.

Teachers found that some of the new AP/IB students didn’t need additional supports to be successful in AP/IB — they had been ready all along — but others did. Schools relied on the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program that was already in place . . . the district extended instructional coaching support to ensure teachers were capable of meeting the demands of their new classes, offering techniques and strategies for differentiating lessons to reach all their students.

The Road to Equity: Expanding AP Access and Success for African-American Students, a new report by the Broad Foundation, looks at six urban districts where more black students are passing AP exams.

Graduation rate nears 75%

The public school graduation rate is nearing 75 percent, according to Education Week‘s Diplomas Count 2013.   It hasn’t been this high since 1973.

While racial and ethnic achievement gaps are narrowing, Asian-Americans (81 percent) and whites (80 percent) do much better than Latinos (68 percent) and blacks (62 percent).

Diplomas Count also looks at dropout recovery programs.

Chicago closes 50 schools

Chicago is closing 49 elementary schools and one high school. All are underenrolled and underperforming.  Most are in black neighborhoods.

Closing neighborhood schools won’t help low-income, inner-city students, writes Marilyn Rhames, a charter school teacher who backs most education reforms.

How will destabilizing up to 30,000 students and making many of them cross into vicious gang territory to attend rival schools make them learn better? How will increasing class size to well over 30 students improve academic results? How does making the African-American community, which will bear 90 percent of the burden, feel bullied and disenfranchised work to enhance parental and civic involvement with the school district?

. . . There aren’t enough iPads, air conditioning, new libraries, and start-up IB programs at the new schools to make me go along with this.

Closing only the worst schools would have given the district time to perfect its implementation plans, Rhames writes. ” Right now the district is asking firefighters to double as glorified security and crossing guards!”

In this story, a Chicago mother says “if you’re not teaching children, it needs closing.”

Black male collegians need grit, grades

Black men’s college success on white campuses depends on “grit” as well as academic preparation, according to a study by Ohio State Professor Terrell L. Strayhorn.

Strayhorn tracked 140 mostly first-generation college students at a large public university. He found that those who scored higher on an eight-item measure of grit earned higher course grades after taking into account prior achievement, age, transfer status and school engagement, among other factors.

. . . “The ability to persevere in the face of obstacles is a key to college success for black men. You can’t change where a student grows up, or the quality of the high school he attended. But grit is something that can be taught and instilled in young men and it will have a real effect on their success.”

Grit is usually defined as “a mix of resilience, perseverance, self-control, focus, and positive mindset,” notes Ed Week. People disagree on whether grit is a character trait, or a skill that can be taught.

Strayhorn envisions pre-semester “boot camps” with “learning activities and experiences that (a) nurture students’ capacity to persevere despite setbacks or failure, (b) clarify their personal and professional goals, and (c) provide them strategies for overcoming obstacles to achieving such goals.”

Study: Vouchers raise college-going for blacks

Black students who used vouchers to attend New York City private schools were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college compared to similar students who lost the voucher lottery, write Matthew M. Chingos, a Brookings fellow, and Paul E. Peterson, a Harvard government professor, in Education Next. But vouchers had little effect on Hispanics’ college-going rates.

In the 1990s, philanthropists created the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation (SCSF), which offered three-year vouchers worth up to $1,400 annually to as many as 1,000 low-income families with children entering first through fifth grade. With the average Catholic school tuition at $1,728, parents had to pay some of their children’s school costs.

After three years, black students who won the voucher lottery had significantly higher test scores than the control group. The long-term study finds a large effect on college enrollment, but only for blacks.

The vouchers’ impact on college enrollment was larger than the effects of small class sizes in Tennessee, for much less cost. It was much larger than the impact of exposure to a highly effective teacher, Chingos and Peterson write.

They’re not sure why vouchers improved academic outcomes for blacks, but did little for Hispanics.

. . .  it appears that the African American students in the study had fewer educational opportunities in the absence of a voucher. . . . There is also some evidence that the public schools attended by Hispanic students were superior to those attended by African American students.

In addition, many Hispanic families chose private school for religious reasons, while most black families “had secular education objectives in mind.”

Reformers take over failing Memphis schools

Tennessee is putting schools with very low test scores and graduation rates into a state-run district, reports the New York Times.  Memphis, where the vast majority of public school students are black and poor, is the “crucible of change,” aka “a veritable petri dish of practices favored by data-driven reformers across the country and fiercely criticized by teachers’ unions and some parent groups.”

Most of the schools will be run by charter operators. All will emphasize frequent testing and data analysis. Many are instituting performance pay for teachers and longer school days, and about a fifth of the new district’s recruits come from Teach for America, a program in which high-achieving college graduates work in low-income neighborhood schools. And the achievement district will not offer teachers tenure.

There are signs of progress, but also complaints about “racial sensitivity.” That is, fewer than half the new district’s teachers are black, compared to 97 percent of students.

Cornerstone Prep, a nonprofit charter group took over the prekindergarten through third grade at a public school in in a very poor Memphis neighborhood, replacing all the teachers.  ”More than a quarter of the new staff was hired through the Memphis Teacher Residency, a program for young college graduates, and Teach for America,” reports the Times.

Mid-year tests showed rising scores. But parents complain of strict discipline.

 “They don’t understand black folk,” said Sara L. Lewis, a member of the merged Memphis and Shelby County School Board. “They don’t understand our values or events in our history.”

But Sarah Carpenter, a Memphis mother and grandmother on an advisory council to the achievement district, said students are “engaged and learning.”  Children will get used to higher expectations, she said.

New achievement district school staffers are wooing parents in their boundary zones (they must take all who apply) with door-to-door visits and open houses.

 Malia Oliver, a mother of a current kindergartner, was impressed. When Allison Leslie, executive director of Aspire’s Memphis operations, asked to sit in on a special-education consultation for Ms. Oliver’s autistic son, “that just meant so much to me,” Ms. Oliver said.

But locals complain experienced teachers will be displaced.  “A lot of our teachers are going to lose their jobs,” said Charlie Moore III, pastor of the Life Changing Church of God in Christ in Orange Mound.

Do state takeovers work? The Atlantic looks at New Jersey’s plan to take over Camden schools and potential takeovers in Ohio and Maryland.

The track record for state takeovers is shaky “probably because they don’t tend to change a whole lot,” said Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank in Washington, D.C. “The union contract stays in place, the bureaucracy stays in place. All that’s gone is the school board.”

That’s why districts are turning to nonprofit charter management companies  to take over chronically low-performing schools.

Gifted and racially balanced education

School districts are looking for ways to end racial inequality in gifted education, writes Sarah Garland on the Hechinger Report.

As a second grader in 1975, she was bused from her middle-class neighborhood to inner-city Louisville, Kentucky. Her school was integrated. Her accelerated “Advance” class was mostly white and suburban; 11 percent of Advance students were black. “From second grade until my senior year in high school, my classes never had more than two black students at a time,” Garland writes.

More than two-thirds of black middle and high school students who did well on the Advance exam were denied admission by teachers and counselors who made the final determination, a 1990s lawsuit brought by black families showed. Only a third of whites were rejected.

Can gifted education be racially balanced?

Washington, D.C. public schools have reintroduced gifted education — in part to entice more middle-class whites into public schools, Garland writes. One gifted program is an affluent neighborhood. But another is at Kelly Miller, a middle school in a low-income black  neighborhood with a growing number of Hispanic immigrants.

Unlike traditional gifted programs, which usually require a test to get in, the D.C. programs are open to any student who wants to enroll. D.C. is aiming the program both at students who are book smart and those who may struggle on traditional measures of achievement but have other extraordinary talents that are harder to measure with a test.

The principal at Kelly Miller, Abdullah Zaki, explains that the idea is to expand the concept of giftedness. “If there’s a kid who is not reading at grade level but has the gift of gab and can argue you down in a heartbeat, they’re obviously interested in debate,” he says. “We can take their natural gift and talent and hone and polish it.”

Black parents haven’t rushed to enroll. Zaki now calls it an “honors” program, because parents don’t get “gifted and talented.”  Teachers are struggling to reach high achievers and low achievers in the same classroom.

Kelly Miller is also offering a more traditional version of gifted education, with a track of accelerated math and literacy courses for students who score well in those subjects.

D.C. officials will evaluate the ”schoolwide enrichment model” at the end of the year, Garland writes.

She’s the author of Divided We Fail: The Story of an African American Community that Ended the Era of School Desegregation

Here are the demographics of the class of ’17 at New York City’s super-elite Stuyvesant High, which uses an admissions test only:

—Stuyvesant offered admission to 9 black students; 24 Latino students; 177 white students; and 620 students who identify as Asian.

The other elite academic high schools also are majority Asian. Asian-American students make up 14 percent of the city’s public school enrollment.