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?

What’s a rhombus? Ask a 4-year-old


Cheryle Chewning leads a discussion about shapes with her pre-K class at P.S. 93 in New York City. Photo: Steve Remich, Wall Street Journal

Some preschools are teaching math, reports John Higgins in the Seattle Times.

On a recent morning in South Seattle, Kristin Alfonzo challenged her preschoolers to make the number 7 using beads strung across two rows of pipe cleaners. One 5-year-old boy slid four beads across the top and three across the bottom. Another did the reverse, and one kid pushed all seven on one row. “I see many different ways of making 7!” Alfonzo said over the ruckus of kids counting out loud.

Research shows students who start out behind in math rarely catch up, writes Higgins. Seattle educators hope introducing math in preschool — in a playful way — will prepare children to be successful in elementary school.

Statewide, only 53 percent of children arrive in kindergarten with basic math skills. At South Shore PreK-8, where almost two-thirds of students live in lower-income families, 95 percent learn entry-level math skills in pre-kindergarten.

Boston’s city-run preschools use the play-based Building Blocks math  curriculum, which includes geometry.

In a game called “feely box,” the teacher puts a thin foam shape in a box with holes on two sides.

“It has four L [right] angles and four sides,” said Hoang-Son, a boy at Everett Elementary, as he cupped his hand around a rhombus.

“Can you tell us anything else about the sides?” asked his teacher, Sara Gardner.

“All the sides are the same length,” he said.

Someone guessed correctly that it was a square, but Gardner pushed for more, until Hoang-Son confirmed that the equal sides meant it was a rhombus, too.

I learned what a “rhombus” was in seventh grade.

New York City will spend $6 million to roll out Building Blocks in free preschool classes, reports the Wall Street Journal. Preschools will be given “books, related games and seven days of training, plus coaching.”

At P.S. 93 in the Bronx, teacher Gabriela Yildirim “held up a moose puppet named Mr. Mix-up and challenged him to look at several shapes to find one with two parallel lines.” After the moose picked a triangle, the children corrected him. “A trapezoid!” they said.

Yes, trapezoids came up in seventh grade for me.

Still, early learning may not stick. A 2011 study of Building Blocks found “very few differences at the end of kindergarten, and virtually none at the end of first grade.” Researchers speculated that children’s preschool math gains vanished because “primary grade curricula and teachers do not build” on what they’d learned.

Seeking black, Latino success, study ignores charters

Black and Latino boys do poorly in all Boston public schools, concluded a study that ignored charter schools. Boston has the top-performing charter schools in country, CREDO reports. At many, black and Latino boys do well, notes CommonWealth Magazine.

“I was surprised no one contacted us to see what we had learned,” said Owen Stearns, CEO of Excel Academy, which runs two charter schools in East Boston and one in Chelsea. “We’ve been one of the top middle schools in the state for seven years, and 75 percent of our students are Latino.”

At Excel’s East Boston middle school, 100 percent of Latino male 8th graders have scored proficient in English on the state exam for the last four years. In math, the proficiency rate has ranged from 87 to 100 percent.

Excel Academy student Omar Fromenta, college class of '21,  loves science "because it is full of surprises."

Excel Academy student Omar Fromenta, college class of ’21, loves science “because it is full of surprises.”

At the four highest-performing Boston Public Schools, where 40 to 60 percent of black and Latino boys scored proficient, researchers from Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform found teacher collaboration, individualized instruction and a “caring school culture.”

However, researchers criticized the schools’ “colorblind” approach and called for empowering minority students by using “critical race theory” and pedagogy. One example was ” having students reflect on a current inequitable practice (such as the standards and testing movement) to produce a performance or service that showcases their understanding of its harmful effects on students like them.”

At charters with black and Latino boys do well, “building culturally-relevant topics and readings into the school curriculum” is important, but not the priority, reports CommonWealth.

. . . Stearns said the key to high achievement among Excel students is “high expectations around behavior and academics” and “clear alignment among everyone in the building on the need for intellectual rigor and how we interact with students.”

Teacher quality is more important than “cultural competency,” says Stearns.

Ross Wilson, chief of staff for the Boston Public Schools, said the district will “work with our colleagues in charter schools to see what effective best practices are” in a variety of schools.

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.