Who’s blocking the door now?

It’s been 53 years since Gov. George Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door” to keep blacks out of the University of Alabama.

Affluent white suburbanites want to limit urban charter schools, complain minority parents in Boston. “So far, 194 mainly non-urban school committees statewide have backed resolutions opposing Question 2,” which would lift the cap on charter schools, reports the Boston Herald.

“You are hurting our children — not yours. Do you actually care what happens to little black and brown children? No, you don’t” said Dawn Foye, a Roxbury mother who sends her son to KIPP Academy in Mattapan.

Boston has the highest-performing charter schools in the nation. Most students come from low-income and working-class Black and Latino families.

Arts ed is back in Boston

Boston Public Schools are strengthening arts education, reports PBS NewsHour. K-8 students now take music, theater, dance and visual art at least once a week.

Study: Head Start boosts grad rates

Head Start has long-term benefits , according to an analysis by Brookings’ Hamilton Project.

Head Start participants are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and receive a post-secondary degree or certification, the study found.

As adults, they’re more likely to use “positive parenting” practices with their children.

Especially for black children, “Head Start also causes social, emotional, and behavioral development in participants that are evident in adulthood measures of self-control, self-esteem and positive parenting.”

Head Start participants were compared with siblings who attended other preschool  programs or none at all.

The analysis suggests that the alternative to Head Start is a very bad preschool, writes Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. “Those green bars . . . show Head Start having a bigger effect compared to other preschools than it does compared to no preschool at all. That can only happen if the other preschools were collectively worse than doing nothing.”

Of course, “doing nothing” means spending time with Mom or Grandma. It’s not surprising that low-income mothers often have to settle for low-quality preschools.

Head Start students in Tulsa. Photo: John W. Poole/NPR

Head Start students in Tulsa. Photo: John W. Poole/NPR

Tulsa’s high-quality Head Start program is producing academic gains in middle school, another study concludes.

“Children who attended Head Start had higher test scores on state math tests” in eighth grade, says Deborah Phillips, a Georgetown psychology professor.  “They were less likely to be retained and less likely to display chronic absenteeism.”

Latino students, including those from Spanish-speaking homes, showed gains. However, black boys did not benefit and there were no gains in reading.

Boston’s preschool success is “percolating up” to higher grades, writes Lillian Mongeau.

Strict discipline lifts school — at a cost


Students aren’t allowed to talk in the halls at UP Academy Holland in Boston.

To turn around a chronically low-performing, disorderly school in Boston, the state education commissioner gave control to a nonprofit network, reports Peter Balonon-Rosen for WBUR. Now discipline is strict and scores are rising, but so are suspension rates. Is it worth it?

Each teacher clasps a stick striped in rainbow colors, with clothespins bearing the students’ names clipped on from top to bottom. If your clothespin is at the bottom, in the red zone, it means you’ve misbehaved. And everybody knows it.

It’s all part of the “broken windows” theory of discipline at UP Academy Holland, a Dorchester public school that was declared “failing” in 2013.

The school turnaround plan tells teachers to “sweat the small stuff,” writes Balonon-Rosen. There are “automatic consequence for rolling your eyes, or wiggling in your seat, or disputing an automatic, on up to fighting and other dangerous acts.”

While Holland’s test scores have gone up, the school suspended many more kindergarten and pre-k students than any school in Massachusetts in 2014-15. In response to a WBUR story, UP Education Network, which runs Holland and four other Massachusetts schools said it would stop suspending pre-K and kindergarten students.

Charters retain more hard-to-teach kids

While critics claim charters “push out” hard-to-teach students, urban charter schools are better at retaining students with disabilities and English Language Learners than district-run schools, concludes Marcus Winters.

Four years after entry into kindergarten, 65 percent of students with disabilities remained at their Denver charter school,  while district schools retained only 37 percent of special-ed students, writes Winters.

Victor Uriarte and his daughter Daniela, 11, celebrate the winning of the lottery of West Denver Prep. Photo: Hyoung Chang, Denver Post

Victor Uriarte and his daughter Daniela, 11, celebrate winning a seat at West Denver Prep, a high-performing charter network,  in a lottery. Photo: Hyoung Chang, Denver Post

Students learning English are more likely to remain at a charter than a district school. In New York City, 82 percent of ELLs who enrolled in charters for kindergarten remained in their schools four years later, compared with 70 percent in traditional public schools.

ELLs and students with disabilities made “substantial” learning gains in Boston charter schools compared to district schools, concludes a new MIT study.

Charters enroll fewer students with disabilities or an ELL designation. That’s because fewer apply, writes Winters. He advocates a common-enrollment system to make it easier for parents to apply.

Common enrollment nearly eliminated the gap in ELLS entering charters in Denver, his analysis found.

Charters work best for neediest kids

Urban charter schools improve the achievement of their low-income, black and Latino students, writes Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan professor, in the New York Times. In predominantly white, middle-class suburbs, “charters do no better and sometimes do worse” than neighborhood schools.

MATCH's disadvantaged students are some of the highest scoring students in Boston.

MATCH students are some of the highest scoring students in Boston. Credit: Kayana Szymczak/New York Times

Lottery studies in Massachusetts and a national study of charter schools funded by the Education Department confirm the pattern, she writes.

A Stanford study of student performance in 41 cities “also concluded that their charters outperformed their traditional public schools.”

Charter schools in Boston, which predominantly educate low-income black students, produce “huge gains in test scores,” her research shows. Charter-school “score gains are large enough to reduce the black-white score gap in Boston’s middle schools by two-thirds.”

Boston’s charters also do a better job at preparing students for college. Charter students are twice as likely to take an Advanced Placement exam as similar students in Boston’s other public schools. Ten percent of charter students pass an A.P. calculus test, compared with just 1 percent of similar students in other public schools. This stronger preparation means that these charter students are far more likely than similar students in traditional public schools to attend a four-year college.

Urban charters have one big advantage: It’s not hard to do better than the district alternative.

The bar is higher in the suburbs. Suburban charters must be drawing parents who value a small school, more flexibility, a non-standard curriculum or . . . They’re choosing something.

Looking at eighth-grade math scores on NAEP, Hispanic charter students in Florida and Arizona “scored about a grade level ahead” of Hispanic students in district schools, writes Matthew Ladner. In Florida, Hispanic charter students outperform the state average for all students in half the states.

Can districts and charters get along?

Is Detente Possible?  between school districts and their charters, asks Fordham. The report looks at district-charter collaboration in Boston, Cleveland, Denver, the District of Columbia and Houston.

Using the foreign relations metaphor, Washington, D.C. is the “superpower summit” where “two sectors of similar size and influence are compelled to work together while jealously guarding their own interests.”

“Isolationism” is the theme in Houston: Each sector does its own thing.

Boston is characterized by “protectionism under pressure.”

While collaboration is “limited and often fragile,” districts and charters “now communicate with one another better than in the past, and some even share instructional strategies.”

Boston charters: Separate and superior

In schools, can separate be equal? asks Farah Stockman in the Boston Globe.

Brooke Mattapan Charter School is one of the highest scoring schools in the city: 67 percent of eighth-graders scored “proficient” or better in science and technology on state exams. That’s better than Boston Latin.

Out of 508 students at the charter school, three are white, including the codirectors’ daughter, notes Stockman.

“There’s nothing about a school that makes it better by having more white kids,” says Kimberly Steadman, codirector of Brooke, who is white.

“Her students routinely outperform those in predominantly white schools across the state,” writes Stockman. It’s separate but superior.

Hartford has spent $2 billion over the last decade building magnet schools — including one with a planetarium! — to attract white families. It’s an impressive effort. And yet, only about half of Hartford’s kids get into a magnet school.

To Steadman, that money might be better spent building excellent schools for black and Latino kids.

Brooke doesn’t try to attract white, middle-class families. “The dance studio with the ballet bar, the music room full of xylophones, and the computer room aren’t featured on the school’s website,” writes Stockman. That might draw parents whose children have other good options, taking space from the kids who really need it.

In Boston’s district-run public schools, the achievement gap is huge. Nearly 40 percent of African-American boys in middle school are classified as “special education” students. School officials involved with the “Boston Compact” came asked Steadman about Brooke’s special programs for black boys.

“We told them we didn’t have any special programs. We just treat them like everybody else. We teach them to read. To think. To stand up for their thoughts.”

“Brooke has one of the lowest attrition rates in the city,” writes Stockman.

So, how do they do it? The school day runs from 7:45 am to 4:30 pm every day, except Wednesday afternoon, about two  hours a day more than most district-run schools. Brooke’s school year is 12 days longer too. “That adds up to more than 350 hours of additional instruction.”

Learning to teach from a teacher


Medical school graduates work as residents to learn how to be competent doctors. The Boston Teacher Residency is training Renee Alves, 22, in an experienced teacher’s classroom, reports Christopher Booker for PBS NewsHour. She “will spend 10 months watching, emulating, and learning as much as she can” from Kayla Morse, who teaches third grade at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury.

Jesse Solomon, who taught math in Boston public schools for 10 years, co-founded the program in 2003.

One thing I saw a lot when I was teaching was– a number of brand new teachers coming into the profession. Smart, committed, hard-working, kind of willing to do whatever it takes– but not really knowing how to teach that first year.

My concern was always that they were learning on the backs on the kids that had them that year, right? So if you’re a first-year teacher in Algebra 1 class, you get another shot next year. For those kids taking Algebra 1, that was their shot at algebra 1. So had in my head that there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

Three of four residency graduates in the past 12 years are teaching in Boston — including Morse, who completed her residency four years ago.

The program “has shown success not only retaining more teachers but hiring more science and math specialists, and placing more Black, Latino, and Asian-Americans in the classroom,” reports Booker.

The program was redesigned when a 2011 Harvard study found that first-year residents’ students earned lower math scores than students of first-year teachers  from traditional programs.

Now, residents are concentrated in fewer schools, says Solomon.

So if you have, you know, seven math residents and seven math mentors and a math clinic teacher educator, you have 15 people all in the same school talking together on a daily basis about what, like, does good math teaching look like– for– for the kids in this school.

Residents assist a mentor teacher four days a week and spend the fifth day taking graduate classes to earn a master’s in education.

Pre-K fails in Tennessee

The benefits of Tennessee’s pre-K program for at-risk children disappeared by the end of kindergarten, concludes the TN-VPK Effectiveness Study. By the end of second grade, children who attended TN-VPK did worse on many achievement measures compared to the control group, Vanderbilt researchers found. The pre-K group did no better on non-academic measures.

All the children came from low-income families. The control group was made up of children whose parents applied for pre-K but didn’t get a slot.

preschool

Many of the pre-K grads and the controls attended low-performing schools. Most fell behind in reading and math in the early grades, the study found.

Tennessee rolled out pre-K quickly, said Dale Farran, co-principal investigator. Quality varies. “What might you get from the same pre-K program if you had a common vision and could push the quality up?”

On paper — if not in reality –TN-VPK is a high-quality program, writes Abbie Lieberman on EdCentral.

TN-VPK meets nine out of 10 of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) quality benchmarks. The state requires teachers to have a bachelor’s degree with specialized training in pre-K, classes are small and have low student-teacher ratios, and the state has comprehensive early learning standards in place.

However, Tennessee spends only $5,895 per pre-K student. Oklahoma’s pre-K program, which spends $7,8678, “has been shown to have a positive impact on student achievement.”

Effective preschool programs don’t come cheap,  writes David Kirp, a professor of public policy at Berkeley, in the New York Times.

Consider what’s happening in Boston. A randomized study showed that prekindergartners there gained between four and seven months’ progress in reading and math, and those gains persisted: 27 percent more of Boston’s preschool children scored “proficient” or better on the state’s rigorous third-grade exams.

Boston spends $10,000 for each preschooler, according to Kirp. “You get what you pay for,” he concludes.

The kind of early childhood education that changes disadvantaged children’s learning trajectories is intensive and expensive. We might be able to afford it for the neediest kids, the ones who are not developing language skills and a base of knowledge at home. But, if it’s not going to be done well, why do it at all?