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.”

A start-up ethos at Rocketship

Richard Whitmire’s On the Rocketship looks at the high-flying, fast-growing Rocketship network of charter schools. Rocketship

Rocketship is fueled by the “start-up ethos,” writes Conor Williams on TPM. The network “began as the brainchild of John Danner, a tech startup guy who cashed in his chips and became interested in the achievement gap.”  After teaching for three years and helping to start a KIPP charter school, Danner set out to provide “one million high-quality school seats…[in] 2,500 charter schools” in 30 years.

Rocketship “operates by backward mapping,” writes Whitmire. “First define your long-term goal, then decide how you will measure it, and then determine the steps that will get you there.”

Rocketship students work on computers for part of the school day, using adaptive software that lets them work at their own level and move at their own pace. Teachers target instruction to smaller groups, while aides supervise learning labs.

Rocketship’s first schools have been wildly successful in San Jose, but expanding rapidly while maintaining quality is proving to be a challenge.

On their way

Work Hard. Go to College. Change the World! is the motto of Democracy Prep Charter High in Harlem. The first graduating class shows where they’ll be going to college in the fall.

Alise vs. the Mayor

Alise vs. the Mayor the first in a pro-charter mini-series, pits a cute 10-year-old girl who loves reading against Mayor Bill deBlasio, who tried to close her school. Alise Alexander is a student at Success Academy‘s Harlem Central.

The school’s fifth graders — nearly all black and Latino and more than three-quarters from low-income families — scored first in the state in math in 2013 notes The Blaze.

A HuffPost story on public school “apartheid” complains that a Harlem Children’s Zone charter school is better equipped, more cheerful and serves a much better lunch than the ones district students get.

(At the Promise Academy charter), the brightly lit hallway is decorated with the student’s artwork. Every class has three teachers, 20 students and an abundance of computers, lab equipment and books. More grown-ups monitor the hallways.

One floor up is public middle school 469. It is Depression-era Kansas to the Promise Academy’s Oz. The hallway is grim, undecorated, and poorly lit. A group of older boys shove one another against lockers, which are mainly unused because they are too easy to break into, and a gaggle of eighth grade girls are huddled together whispering, plotting, gossiping. There are several hundred children bursting with energy and one security guard at one end of the hallway leaning against the wall.

The classrooms are largely devoid of books and equipment. One room has square black tables pushed together into groups suggesting a scientific purpose. It is easy to imagine beakers bubbling over Bunsen burners, but that was a long time ago, before the kids threw the scalding beakers at one another and a teacher.

. . . At some point, we tacitly consented to the notion that providing only 20 percent of the children in Harlem, those that win the lottery and go to charter schools, with adequate teachers, equipment and food, is a morally acceptable public policy.

The story is nonsense, writes Robert Pondiscio. He works for Democracy Prep, which runs a second charter school in the same building. “We run it on public dollars, at a per pupil rate that is lower, not more, than district schools.”

If the charters provide more for students than the district-run schools, why not expand the charters so more students can enjoy adequate teachers, equipment and food, plus lighting and supervision?

Graduation is just the beginning

San Jose’s Downtown College Prep — the charter school in my book — is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its first graduating class at commencement ceremonies for the class of 2014.  Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, will be the  keynote speaker.

DCP now has three middle and high schools — the fourth will open in the fall — and more than 500 alumni. Nearly all are Latinos from low-income families. Eighty percent of incoming students are 2+ years below grade level in English and/or math. Ninety-six percent will be the first in their family to go to college.

All DCP seniors apply to four-year universities and 96 percent go directly to college

DCP students are 4 times more likely than all California Latino high school graduates to enroll in a state university

DCP students are four times more likely to complete college in six-years than their low-income peers nationwide

DCP was ranked #36 out of 2,000 schools in California by U.S. News in 2013 and 2014.

Donations made today here will be matched by the Sobrato Foundation.

High-challenge high schools

Once again, Oakland’s American Indian Public Charter High has topped the Washington Post‘s list of the nation’s most challenging high schools. The index measures the percentage of students taking a college-level exam. It also shows the percentage of students who qualify for a subsidized lunch and the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test.

The Oakland school board revoked the charter of three high-scoring American Indian schools last year, due to financial improprieties. AIPCHS and its sister schools remain open on appeal.

The list excludes selective schools, such as Stuyvesant in New York City, and schools that attract primarily high achievers, such as BASIS Scottsdale, a charter that became very popular with parents of high achievers. Mathews explains:

We do not include any magnet or charter high school that draws such a high concentration of top students that its average SAT or ACT score exceeds the highest average for any normal-enrollment school in the country. This year, that meant such schools had to have an average SAT score below 2005 or an average ACT score below 29.3 to be included on the list.

The Challenge Index is designed to identify schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests. It does not work with schools that have no, or almost no, average students. We put those schools on our Public Elites list.

Here are alternative ways to rank high schools.

Two-thirds of the most challenging schools don’t field an 11-member football team, writes Mathews.

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. 

A ‘no excuses’ school day

A Day in the Life of a No Excuses Charter School Student is highly regimented and repressive, writes Sarah Goodis-Orenstein on the Center for Teaching Quality site. After four years teaching English at a “no excuses” charter in Brooklyn, she switched to a more progressive charter school. She blogs at Making Room for Excuses.

At 7:40, the first period teacher rolls her cart in and immediately begins to issue commands. “Aside from two pencils, and your IR book in the top left corner of your desk, your desk should be cleared. As soon as you get your classwork packet, begin on your Do Now. You have 3 minutes.” A timer is set and placed under the document camera, and any students not on-task within thirty seconds are first reminded to get started, and then issued a demerit, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly.

Class proceeds to enfold in a highly-systematic structure with a review of the warm-up, some sort of mini-lesson, some sort of guided practice, and a chunk of independent practice before the exit ticket is collected. Packets in hands high over their heads, the teacher snaps, and the last page is signaled to be torn from the staple in a crisp sound of unison tearing.

The teacher bustles out as the next teacher and her cart rolls in, ideally with less than 1 minute wasted in this transition, a transactional cost that, over the course of the year, equates to literal days of wasted learning.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks  of 10 or 15 minutes are “the only opportunities for unbridled conversation,” she writes. “Otherwise, during and between classes, students’ voices are to be ‘off’ unless specific accountable talk procedures or partner share expectations have been put into place.”

Students learn “that rigidity and compliance are predictors of success, and that imagination and interpersonal skills are of nominal use,” Goodis-Orenstein concludes. “They also likely learn that school is boring, that it has little relevance to their lives, or in the case of my last school, it is a place where white ladies try to control Black and Latino children.”

And, yet, no excuses schools narrow the achievement gap, giving students choice in life they wouldn’t have otherwise. And they tend to have long wait lists.

NYC’s teachers’ union enemy #1

Eva Moskowitz, who runs New York City’s largest charter network, is teachers’ union enemy number one, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, an old-school liberal Democrat, campaigned against Moskowitz:

 In May at a forum hosted by the United Federation of Teachers, or UFT, the potent government-employee local: “It’s time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place. . . . She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.” In July, on his plans to charge charters—which are independently run public schools—for sharing space with city-run public schools: “There’s no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, O.K.?”

As mayor, he’s cut funding for charter construction, announced a moratorium on co-location and threatened to “roll back” co-locations already approved. 

“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,”says Moskowitz, who’s also a Democrat. “It’s just wacky.”

As she reminds every audience, the 6,700 students at her 22 Success Academy Charter Schools are overwhelmingly from poor, minority families and scored in the top 1% in math and top 7% in English on the most recent state test. Four in five charters in the city outperformed comparable schools.

If Success Academy can’t find space to expand, “most at-risk children would be sent back to failing schools,” says Moskowitz.

She’s backing charter-friendly Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another Democrat, reports the Journal.

Dissatisfied parents started a school

Is Your Child in the Right School? asks the Heritage Foundation. South Carolina mom Lisa Stevens wasn’t satisfied with her child’s school, so she got together with other parents to start a charter school.