More time may not mean more learning

Boston public schools will add 40 minutes to the teaching day at more than 50 elementary and middle schools.

More time doesn’t guarantee more learning, writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic. Quality matters as much as quantity, according to a new report from the Center on Education Policy.

Researchers analyzed 17 low-performing schools in 11 districts that expanded the school day. Test scores and graduation rates improved. But the longer day wasn’t the only change.

Successful schools used “community partnerships to provide extra enrichment programs and services the school’s budget couldn’t cover,” writes Richmond.

Teachers who have more opportunities to collaborate with each other tend to be more effective at their jobs, particularly in their work with students. “An hour of professional development seems to be almost as helpful to teachers, and in some cases more helpful, than an hour in the classroom,” said Matthew Frizzell, a policy center research associate and one of the report’s co-authors.

Boston schools with longer days have seen mixed results, reports the Boston Globe.

For many schools, a longer day has failed to dramatically boost academic achievement or did so only temporarily. The uneven results prompted school district officials to scrap the extra minutes at some schools and the state to pull funding or pursue receiverships at others.

But other schools have successfully used an extended day to boost MCAS scores or expand offerings in the arts and other electives.

“I think there are lessons to be learned,” said John McDonough, interim superintendent. “We know time matters, but it only matters if it is used well.”

At the Eliot K-8 Innovation School, which added an hour to its school day, there’s more time for enrichment, reports the Globe.

On Monday morning, 25 third-graders built and programmed motorized cars out of Legos in a robotics class. Students said they did not mind the longer school day.

“Time goes by fast,” said John D’Amico, 8.

As the students buzzed the cars around the classroom, their regular classroom teacher, Holly McPartlin, mentored a new teacher downstairs, observing her teach and then providing feedback.

Eliot is considered a model of good implementation. But the Edwards Middle School, once “the poster child for the success of the extended-day movement in Massachusetts,” has seen performance slide after “a high turnover of principals,” reports the Globe.

Effective schools raise scores, not cognition

Effective schools — as measured by raising test scores — don’t raise students’ cognitive abilities, concludes a study of 32 Boston schools. Instead, these schools help students achieve at higher levels than their cognitive abilities predict, write the researchers in Education Next.

The study evaluated state test scores and measures of “fluid cognitive skills” for 1,300 8th graders attending traditional public schools, exam schools that admit only academically talented students and charter schools.


Charter schools with wait lists (and lotteries) showed the strongest results. “Each year of attendance at an oversubscribed charter school increased the math test scores of students in the sample by roughly 50 percent over the progress typical students make in a school year, but had no impact on their fluid cognitive skills.”


State tests measure “crystallized knowledge,” which “matters a great deal for success in school and beyond,” the researchers write.

But it’s possible that students who do well in these schools but falter in college suffer from limited cognitive skills. Effective schools should experiment with ways to raise students’ “processing speed, working memory, and fluid reasoning skills,” researchers conclude.

Study: Charters do more with less

Public charter schools produce similar or higher test scores with much less money, concludes a productivity analysis by researchers at the University of Arkansas’ department of education reform. Overall, charters are 40 to 41 percent more cost effective in reading and math compared to traditional public schools, the study concluded.cover-productivity-of-charters

The return on investment is almost 3 percent higher if a student spends one year in a public charter school and a 19 percent higher if a student spends half of their K-12 education (6.5 years) in a charter school.

Researchers analyzed National Assessment of Education Progress reading and math scores and data from CREDO studies. They controlled for students’ poverty and special education status.

Walton Family Foundation, which supports school choice, funded the study, but did not play any role in designing it, researchers say.

Massachusetts has some of the most effective charter schools in the nation, especially in Boston, yet the state Senate refused to raise the cap on charter seats, writes Jim Stergios in the Boston Herald. It’s like the old segregationists standing in the schoolhouse door, he writes.

Update: The productivity comparison is unfair because charters educate fewer English Learners and special ed students, who generate more funding, responds the National School Boards Association.  In addition, “traditional public schools are much more likely than charter schools to provide costly services such as transportation and extracurricular activities such as athletics, band, theater, and civic clubs.”

Boston: No excuses, high performance

Boston has the highest-performing charter schools in the country, writes MATCH founder Michael Goldstein on Flypaper. Why? Boston has lots of elite colleges, talented people — and the highest proportion of “authentic” adherents to the “No Excuses” model.

CREDO studies have identified top charter cities, measured in “days of learning.”

Two-thirds of Boston charters are “No Excuses” schools, writes Goldstein. Sharing a common philosophy, the schools share ideas and talent.

The Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education (SGSE), embedded at Match Charter Schools, provides teachers to all the No Excuses charters in Boston. SGSE is able to train rookie teachers whose students go on to get unusually high value-added numbers. . . . The message: “Here is what will be expected of you in a No Excuses school. That job is not right for everyone, but if it’s the one you want, we’ll help you practice, practice, practice to become good in that context.”

. . . Will Austin from Uncommon teaches a rookie teacher about effective math instruction; that teacher, in turn, takes a job at KIPP; now Uncommon’s ideas have moved to KIPP; and so forth. When Kimberly Steadman of Brooke teaches literacy to a rookie teacher, even fellow instructors (from other charter schools) perk up and jot down notes.

New York City, New Orleans, D.C., and Los Angeles charter students show large gains on CREDO studies because of No Excuses charters, writes Goldstein. “Boston outperforms these cities is because it has even more.”

We know what works, but it’s not easy

We Know (A Few) Things That Work to improve high-poverty schools, write economists Greg J. Duncan of University of California at Irvine’s School of Education and Richard J. Murnane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  In Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education, they describe the success of Boston’s pre-K program, the University of Chicago’s K-12 charter school network and New York City’s small high schools of choice. 

MATCH tutoring is effective, cheap

“High-dosage” tutoring has produced large achievement gains at MATCH Education‘s Boston charter schools, according to a Pioneer Institute study.  “MATCH-style tutoring is less expensive and has proven far more effective than widely accepted reforms such as reduced class size and extended school days,” said Cara Stillings Candal, author of  Match-ing Students with Excellent Tutors.

Match Education set up math tutoring in Lawrence, Massachusetts schools. “After one full year of implementation at two grade levels, those students have seen historic achievement gains,” the study finds.

The success of the Match Corps is based on the ability to get well-educated young people to dedicate a year to tutoring, fully integrating the program into the life of the school, the presence of a strong accountability system to ensure its effectiveness and strong relationships among teachers, tutors, students and their families. Every Match tutor calls the parents of the students he or she tutors at least once a week.

To make the program more appealing to elite graduates of the nation’s top colleges, Match provides housing options for its tutors and pays them a stipend ($14,300 for the 2013-2014 academic year). At its high school for example, Match turned the top floor of its building into a dormitory; having tutors on site allowed every Match student to have at least two hours of tutoring daily.

 Alan Safran, MATCH Tutors, says there’s a large pool of people interested in tutoring, despite low pay. It’s a lot easier than being a classroom teacher.

MATCH-style tutoring produced big gains for low-income, black males in Chicago, according to another study, writes Owen Phillips on EdCentral.

Disadvantaged 9th- and 10th-graders scored in the 34th percentile on city math tests at the experiment’s end; the control group was at the 19th percentile.  “The improvement was roughly equivalent to three years’ worth of math instruction,” writes Phillips.

Students spent an hour each day in two-on-one tutoring based on the MATCH model. They also “met once a week in groups to develop emotional literacy, impulse control and interpersonal problem-solving skills.”

Tutored students also had fewer absences and were more likely to be on track for graduation.

The tutors in this experiment were recent college graduates and had no formal teaching credentials or previous experience. They were paid just $17,000 a year. . . . The tutors could individualize lesson plans, and spend less time managing the classroom and more time developing relationships with the students to maximize time-on-task.

The program cost $4,400 per student. By comparison, the Tennessee Star Class Room Reduction experiment cost about $19,600 per participant, notes Phillips.

Class size does matter, especially for disadvantaged students, argues Northwestern Professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach in a summary of the academic literature.

Study: Charters don’t ‘push out’ weak students

Charters don’t “push out” low-performing students, according to a new study in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal.

Researchers analyzed testing and demographic data from 2000-01 through 2006-07 in a large urban district with many charter schools. They found low-performing students are slightly more likely than high achievers to leave charter schools, but low performers also are more likely to leave nearby district-run schools. The pattern appears to be the same.

Update: Actually, low performers are a bit more likely to leave district-run public schools near charters, Jay Greene points out. Are they being pushed out? Or perhaps they’re transferring to charters.

Boston’s highly effective charter schools are “ready, willing, and able to enroll more students,” but “the powers are blocking the city’s best schools from growing,” writes James Peyser in Education Next.

College rah rah bah

“Millions of young people will never attend four-year colleges,” writes Sarah Carr in the Wilson Quarterly. “America must do more to equip them to secure good jobs and live fulfilling lives.”

From President Obama on down, “college for all” is seen as the solution to poverty, writes Carr. In New Orleans, the city of Carr’s book, Hope Against Hope, reformers created college-prep charter schools for low-income, black students.

At schools that have embraced the college-for-all aspiration, career and technical education is seen as being as outdated as chalkboards and cursive handwriting. Instead, the (mostly poor and mostly minority) students are endlessly drilled and prepped in the core humanities and sciences—lessons their (mostly middle- or upper-income and mostly white) teachers hope will enable the teenagers to rack up high scores on the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams and go on to attend the four-year college of their dreams (although it’s not always clear whose dreams we’re talking about).

Idealism should be tempered with pragmatism, Carr writes. Only one-third of low-income college students earn bachelor’s degrees by their mid-20s. Drop-outs may be thousands of dollars in debt.

A 2011 Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity, described strong demand for “middle-skill” workers with vocational certificates or associate degrees. For example, electricians average $53,030, dental hygienists  $70,700 and construction managers $90,960, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“College for all” isn’t a smart state or national education policy, but can make sense as the mission of a single school, responds Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH, a high-performing charter school in Boston.

In Boston, many traditional high schools describe themselves as college prep, but they’re sort of half-hearted about it. Few alums actually graduate from college. College rah-rah is absent. But so is career rah-rah. There is no rah-rah. I’m not sure how Carr thinks about such schools.

College is the dream of low-income black and Hispanic parents, Goldstein writes. When a large, open-admissions high school in Boston surveyed parents — mostly black or Hispanic single mothers without a degree — more than 80 percent wanted their son or daughter to go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that educators in urban college prep charters, see career and technical education as “outdated.”

. . . I think more typically — there’s a perception that the vo-tech offerings themselves are terrible, with really bad track record of actually connecting kids to the right jobs, the air-conditioning repair jobs that Carr writes about.

Boston’s vo-tech high school is considered by far the worst public school in the city.

MATCH has considered launching an “excellent” vocational charter school, then measuring how graduates do in the job market, he writes.

I think everyone wants their kids to go to college because everyone thinks it’s the only way to get a good job. A high-quality school focused on qualifying graduates to train as electricians, mechanics, welders, dental hygienists, X-ray techs, etc. would be very popular.

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.

Dropouts are ‘recovered,’ lost again

One third to one half of dropouts return to their old high school for a second try, but few earn a diploma, reports Education Week.

In 2008, Washoe County, Nevada (Reno) realized it was graduating a little more than half its students in four years; 18 high schools were dubbed “dropout factories.”

In response, the district launched a massive graduation initiative: early-warning data systems to alert principals to at-risk students, graduation advisers to keep students from leaving, and intense outreach to bring back the students who had already left.

“We’ve gotten pretty good at finding and recovering students through our re-engagement centers, but we still find it a big challenge to keep them from redropping out once we’ve found them,” says coordinator Jennifer Harris. “Many of the reasons that led students to disengage in the first place are still there when the students come back.”

A number of cities, including Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon have set up “re-engagement centers” to help dropouts “find a new school or online classes; connect with social workers and therapists when needed; and plan for college and a career.”

Boston’s South Roxbury re-engagement center, which is next to a technical high school and evening campus, brought in 501 of 867 dropouts contacted. Most, 441, were referred to district schools, alternative campuses, and charters, 60 were referred to adult ed or GED programs and the rest used an online lab and credit-recovery courses. Fifty-four students graduated by the end of the school year; 38 more were on track to graduate by August.

In Chicago, where slightly more than 60 percent of students graduated from high school on time last year, a network of charter schools specializes in serving recovered dropouts or students who were struggling in their traditional schools. The 22 schools in the Youth Connection Charter School network are small, and each draws on community groups and local colleges and universities to provide an array of supports and services, including opportunities for students to earn college credits as they are making up their missing high school credits.

YCCS claims a higher graduation rate than the Chicago Public Schools.

Ed Week‘s interactive game, A Difficult Path, shows the steps that lead to dropping out, starting with not asking the teacher for help with a difficult class.