Foundation opens its own charter school

After years of funding education causes, the Kauffman Foundation has opened its own charter school in Kansas City to serve an area with no high-performing schools, reports the Star.  The first class of 100 fifth graders start the day shortly after 7 am and leave at 5 pm — a nearly 10-hour day — unless they’re required to stay another hour for detention. Eventually, the school will educate 1,000 students in fifth through 12th grade.

With $10 million in startup funds, school leaders studied successful urban schools. They decided students needed more learning time and a strict homework regimen.

Longer breaks are built into the day. Longer planning periods for teachers. Students will have physical education every day. Holiday vacations will be longer.

But in the end, everyone will have to embrace the sentiments of teacher Sandy Gelrach, who said, “I want to be at a school where you stay as long as it takes.”

Teachers will take students’ calls about homeowork till 8 pm.

They’re going to burn out their teachers very quickly.  The kids too.


‘Trigger’ parents enroll in charter

McKinley Elementary, a low-scoring school near Los Angeles, won its fight to block a “parent trigger” takeover. However, the brand-new Celerity Sirius Charter School opened this week with 500 students split between a nearby church and a second site added to meet the demand.

McKinley’s enrollment was in the 400s last year and not all students have left, so the new charter must be drawing from other schools in the low-performing district.

School is haven for foster kids

Designed for foster children and others in troubled families, a Bronx charter school offers “a small student-teacher ratio, an extended school day, many tutor options and special training” for teachers,  reports AP.  The Haven Academy is sponsored by the New York Foundling, a private child-welfare agency, and has access to the agency’s large staff of counselors.

Private donations pays for the extra support.

The school has three full-time employees who focus solely on the social and emotional needs of the students. On any day, five to 10 Foundling counselors may be enlisted for student visits lasting from 30 minutes to a full day. All 200 Foundling counselors are invited to school functions.

The school was formed mindful that the only way students will progress academically “is to address the social stuff,” said Gwendy Fuentes, who coordinates support services between the school staff and child welfare workers.

Fuentes said it is not uncommon for counselors to help children who have been removed from their parents or have moved, sometimes multiple times a year.

Test scores are rising: 84 percent of second graders perform at or above grade level in reading and writing.

Dancing for ‘advanced’

Teachers and students rap and dance about earning advanced test scores at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.  I like: “Figurative language ain’t no thang.”

Haynes runs from pre-K through middle school: About half the students are black, one quarter Hispanic and the rest mostly white. Scores are high, especially in middle school.

A life-changing lottery

With six applicants for every space, Democracy Prep‘s lottery is a life changer for Harlem children, writes Marcus A. Winters in City Journal. Winners attend the highest-scoring middle school in Harlem, ranked eighth citywide. Most losers are zoned to attend the Academy of Collaborative Education, the city’s worst middle school based on test scores and school safety. ACE, labeled “persistently dangerous,” is across the street from Democracy Prep.

In the New York City Department of Education’s annual survey last year, when asked to evaluate the statement “I feel safe in my school,” 79 percent of ACE’s teachers “strongly disagreed,” while the remaining 21 percent just plain disagreed.

All of Democracy Prep’s teachers said they felt safe at school.

About half of ACE’s students entered the Democracy Prep lottery and lost, estimates the charter’s founder, Seth Andrew.

Lottery winners typically start sixth grade at the charter school reading at the fifth-grade level and finish the year at the eighth-grade level, according to an outside test the school administered.

Democracy Prep doesn’t boast a special curriculum, fancy classroom-management techniques, or smaller-than-average class sizes. Its success—like that of many good charter schools—has three primary ingredients: efficient use of funds, a culture of high expectations, and a “no excuses” approach to school discipline.

The charter doesn’t spend any more money per student, but is able to pay its young teachers 10 percent more than the district’s pay scale and add a variety of enrichment activities.

. . . great teachers often jump at the chance to work in a school that pushes excellence. Last year, 4,000 teachers applied for about 20 openings at Democracy Prep.

The school enforces a strict discipline policy, teach students to sit at their desks and concentrate on their work.

On the day I visited Democracy Prep, the school took the uncommon step of requiring the sixth-graders to eat lunch in absolute silence because they had been “mean” to one another recently.

The United Federation of Teachers, which wants the city shut down low-performing charter schools, filed a lawsuit to keep the district from closing ACE and 18 other low-performing district-run schools.

Life’s a carnival

The Education Buzz is up at Bellringers. It starts with a reminder that media teachers can win free copies of the Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition. Deadline is Sept. 20.

On Stories from School, Eve Rifkin reveals that she’s the enemy of public education: After years teaching at a large public high school, she worked with two colleagues to  start a small charter school.

It became a moral imperative for us to open a small public school in which kids would be known by all of the adults that worked there.

. . . Six years later, we have graduated close to one hundred students, many of whom were the first in their families to graduate from high school and go on to college. We approach our work with a “one-kid-at-a-time” mindset because we can. We were never afforded this privilege when we worked at a school of two thousand students.

I had no idea that what I had been doing this whole time was causing the destruction of public education. On the contrary, my decision to open a small non-profit charter school was the most pro-public education choice I could have imagined. At that time, the only students I knew who were getting a highly rigorous and personalized education were the ones whose parents could afford to send them to private school. And that was just unfair.

She’s tired of being seen as a spawn of Satan by other public school teachers.

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Life: One (magnolia-scented) bubble bath at a time.

Scores rise at Stanford school — too late

Stanford New School’s charter elementary posted much higher test scores in 2010. But signs of improvement came too late.  The three-year-old elementary in East Palo Alto, run by Stanford’s School of Education, was closed in April for poor performance and classroom management problems by the Ravenswood City School District board.

Start-up schools take a few years to get off the ground, Dean of Education Deborah Stipek told the Palo Alto Weekly.

“If you look at many charter schools, the first few years don’t look that great — and then there’s often a jump.”

East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS), run by Stanford’s former partner, Aspire, posted low scores in its early years, Stipek said. It’s now the top-performing public school in East Palo Alto with consistently high test scores, despite serving an all-minority, low-income student body.

Stipek complained, with justice, that the Ravenswood board had a conflict of interest. By closing the Stanford school, the K-8 district reclaimed 150 students, boosting revenues.

The Ravenswood board kept open the Stanford-run high school, which was started nine years ago. Its scores remain quite low, especially compared to Aspire’s fledgling high school, Phoenix. Why did the board keep it open? Well, East Palo Alto students are much more likely to earn a diploma and go on to college (usually community college) if they go to the  Stanford charter instead of  Sequoia Union High School District schools. But it’s also true that closing the high school would send students and revenues to Sequoia, not to Ravenswood. The K-8 district had an incentive to close the elementary school but not the high school.

From Sweden to NY: Self-paced school

In a Kunskapsskolan Education (KED) school, middle-class Swedish children set their own curriculum and learn at their own pace. It’s the anti-KIPP, says Take Part. And it’s coming to the U.S.  A group of New Yorkers have applied to open a Manhattan charter middle school on the KED model, reports, which notes, “The KED model aligns with the progressive educational practices used in many District 2 schools serving middle-class neighborhoods.”

KED promises personalized learning:

The steps and courses offer different kinds of lesson formats, such as lectures, workshops, seminars, laboratory experiments etc, which you and your personal tutor will put together in your weekly schedule. If you feel that any subject is particularly difficult, you can choose to devote more time in your personal schedule to teacher-led learning or independent studies in this subject.

New students set academic goals with the help of a tutor and their parents, KED says. The goals are used to create an educational plan with goals for each week and each term. The tutor monitors progress; parents follow online through a web portal that shows the student’s results and teachers’ comments.

KED is highly structured, says Claudia Hindo, who’s on the KED Manhattan board.

“Students, their parents, and their teachers set high achievement goals, measured by proficiency goals, and all students will be expected and supported in reaching and/or exceeding all NYC proficiency standards . . . Rather than ‘laissez-faire’ then, students are actually far better known to their teachers and it is impossible to fly beneath the radar. As proof of the system, Kunskapsskolan students consistently outperform their peer schools, year after year.”

The Manhattan charter will serve students with special needs, those who aren’t fluent in English and students from low-income families, Hindo asserts. “We are excited that data proves Kunskapsskolan’s educational model has been successful across a wide range of abilities and groups.”

It’s likely KED Manhattan will appeal to affluent, educated parents who see learn at your own pace as learn faster. But setting personal learning goals could work for a range of students, if they’re followed closely to ensure they’re meeting targets. I’d like to see a KED option.

Update: Here’s a link to a 2008 Economist story that compares KED schools to IKEA.

Order in the school

Columbus Collegiate Academy, the highest-performing middle school in Columbus, Ohio, won a national award for improving students’ achievement.  Nearly all students are low-income and black.  What’s the secret? This Examiner story cites excellent teachers, a curriculum designed to teach what’s in the state standards and a “laser-like focus on academics.” I was struck by the emphasis on order.

(In each classroom), identical signs illustrate the hand signals students should use for common requests like tissues, pencils, or questions, and where teachers give out individual and class merits and demerits for good or bad behavior. The school’s culture is one of personal and group restraint, with all available energy and attention trained on the urgent task of getting each student prepared, ultimately, for college. Social studies, science, and history teacher Kathryn Anstaett explains that “an aura of professionalism” pervades the school. She and Ben Pacht both agree that the school’s established structure—its clear guidelines for student behavior, instructional practices, and discipline—frees the kids and grownups alike to focus on learning.

Co-director John Dues ends lunch by counting “one, two, three, ” signaling students to stand, push in the chair, discard trash and get in line.  “The cafeteria spotless, the students soundless, Dues directed the children back to their classrooms.”

The Fordham-sponsored charter has a longer day and year — the equivalent of an extra 64 days — and tries to use every second.

Update: James Lileks remembers his junior high school vice principal. Mr. Lear wasn’t anyone’s friend.

Mr. Lear’s preferred method of getting a kid to behave was to lift him up by the short hairs on the nape of his neck, which are directly connected to the portions of the brain that handle pain, fear, humiliation, and resentment. What earned this? Horseplay. Tomfoolery. And, of course, hijinx. But if you said a bad word you walked on tiptoe to his office, held aloft by your neck hairs.

There were never any fights at school, and no one swore out loud.

When a local mother visited the high school Lileks’ daughter might attend, a student called her “bitch,” for no apparent reason, “and all the other kids giggled and whooped.”

Hebrew charter school attracts non-Jews

The Hebrew Language Academy, a dual-language charter school located in a Brooklyn yeshiva, is drawing non-Jewish students, reports the New York Times. About a third of the 150 students are black (including some Muslims) and several are Hispanic.

But despite its diversity, the school still faces scrutiny over how it will handle religion and the complicated politics of the Middle East.

. . . Some civil libertarians have criticized the school, saying that it is too difficult to navigate the church-state divide, particularly around Israel, a country with explicit ties to a religion.

The school is explicitly pro-Israel, but “teachers say they check with the school’s lawyers before veering into any lesson with ties to Judaism.”

Students receive an hour of Hebrew instruction daily.  Some non-Jewish parents say they wanted their children to learn a second language. A black father who worships at a Nation of Islam mosque, gives another reason: “By going to school with Jewish children, they are going to be getting a good education,” said (Willie) Moody. “In that community there’s no foolishness when it comes to education.”