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.

Race at Roxbury CC

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick named Gerald Chertavian, who founded a job training program, to chair the board of troubled Roxbury Community College, which has been plagued by mismanagement and scandal. A Boston “activist” claims only blacks should run a majority-black college. (Only 48 percent of students say they’re black, but there seems to be a lot of decline-to-state students.)

An Iowa community college has paid nearly $14,000 to settle a free-speech lawsuit by a student who was barred from handing out flyers criticizing college funding for a conference on gay youth.

MIT: Boston charters raise achievement

Winning a charter high school lottery in Boston leads to higher SAT scores, especially in math, and increases students’ odds of qualifying for a state-funded college scholarship, concludes an MIT study, Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness. Charter students take twice as many AP exams and are more likely to pass AP Calculus.  They’re more likely to pass the state graduation exam on their first try and to enroll in four-year colleges and universities instead of community colleges.

Lottery winners who attended for as little as one day were compared to similar students who’d tried to get into a charter but lost out in the lottery.

“Because of the age of charter schools in Boston, it is now possible to examine the long-run effects of attending a charter high school in Boston,” said Parag Pathak, co-author of the study and Associate Professor of Economics at MIT. “Our results suggest that attending a charter high school increases the rates at which students pass the MCAS, boosts students’ SAT scores and AP participation rates, and, perhaps most strikingly, raises the likelihood that they will attend a four-year college.”

The study also found that attending a Boston charter school “markedly” increases the rate at which special education students pass state competency exams.

Charter students are less likely to earn a diploma in four years; some need more time to meet school standards. Within six years, 82 percent of charter school students graduate compared with 78 percent of the control group.

The charter schools in the study received slightly less per-pupil funding than traditional public schools.

Preschool for all — or for the poor?

President Obama wants to spend $75 billion over 10 years on Preschool for All, partnering with states to provide “high-quality” preschool to 4-year-olds from families under 200 percent of the poverty level.

“The path to college begins in preschool,” writes Lisa Hansel on the Core Knowledge Blog. Closing achievement gaps in elementary or middle school is very, very difficult, she writes, citing Chrys Dougherty in ACT’s College and Career Readiness: The Importance of Early Learning.

“Large numbers of disadvantaged students enter kindergarten behind in early reading and mathematics skills, oral language development, vocabulary, and general knowledge,” writes Dougherty.

One study found that kindergarteners’ general knowledge of the world was a better predictor of those students’ eighth-grade reading ability than were early reading skills. This is consistent with research showing that reading comprehension, particularly in the upper grades, depends heavily on students’ vocabulary and background knowledge….

What makes a program high quality? It’s not cheap. Successful preschool programs in Boston and New Jersey hire well-educated teachers and pay them well, reports the Christian Science Monitor.  In addition:

They are full-day programs open to all students of a certain age group, regardless of family income.
They offer curricula linked to system-wide educational standards.
School districts monitor preschool teacher and student improvement on an ongoing basis.

In Boston, preschoolers made significantly greater gains in vocabulary, math and “executive function,” which includes working memory and paying attention to a task. The gains could be seen in third-grade test scores.

New Jersey offers high-quality pre-K in 31 low-income districts. The gains “are still visible in language, math, and science scores in fourth and fifth grades,” reports the Monitor.

“Everyone should applaud programs that are generating big gains for children who desperately need to be ready for school,” said Grover Whitehurst, director of Brookings’ Brown Center on Education Policy. However, we don’t know what factors lead to success, he says. The federal government should not require preschool teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, for example.

High-quality preschool costs $8,000 a year per child, estimates the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers. The group suppors universal preschool rather than targeting help to disadvantaged students.  

In essence, taxpayers would fund pre-K through 12th grade for all students. (And the most effective programs work better if kids have two years of preschool.) Children who aren’t learning vocabulary, general knowledge or self-control at home can benefit from preschool. Most kids don’t need it.