Instead of suspension, ‘positive redirection’

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Sci Academy charter, which has the highest test scores of any open-enrollment school in New Orleans, has cut suspensions.

Sci Academy, a New Orleans charter school in a poor, black neighborhood is known for high test scores and college-bound graduates, writes Beth Hawkins in U.S. News. Along with two other schools in the Collegiate Academies network, it used to be known for strict discipline and a high suspension rate. Now the school is transforming discipline — without sacrificing order.

Sci Academy teachers try to prevent confrontations before they happen, writes Hawkins. If that doesn’t work, a student who’s disrupting class or fighting with a classmate is sent to the Positive Redirection Center, which is staffed by two adults.

After students fill out a questionnaire with sections labeled, “Own it,” “Fix it” and “Learn from it,” they get help framing and rehearsing a conversation with the school community member they harmed.

When Sci Academy students stay in the center for more than a couple of hours, they continue their work on a bank of computers that classroom teachers keep current. Center staff can administer exams.

The referring teacher or staffer talks to the student within 24 hours, says  Cornelius Dukes, dean of positive redirection. The key question: “What help do you need from me to prevent this from happening again?”

The school uses data to identify “students who need behavioral or emotional support,” writes Hawkins. There are four mental health professionals on campus. Data-crunching also shows “patterns that suggest a teacher needs coaching or a part of the school day needs to be restructured.”

Pride is high, scores are low at Afrocentric school

Second grader Lamiya Benton claps during the unity circle, which begins each day at Sizemore. Photo: Alyssa Schukar, New York Times

In a Chicago “neighborhood riddled with crime, blight and poverty,” an “Afrocentric” charter school has strong supporters — and very low test scores — reports John Eligon for the New York Times. The district wants to close Sizemore Academy. Backers say the K-8 school has instilled confidence in children suffering from “the residual effects of slavery.”

Like dozens of African-centered schools across the country, Sizemore embodies much of what racial justice activists are screaming from rooftops. Suspension is a last resort. Teachers address students by courtesy titles and their last names. The accomplishments of blacks are front and center in lesson plans.

But students — 97 percent from low-income families — test well below the district average in reading and math. Scores are low at most Afrocentric charters, concludes a recent study by Martell L. Teasley of  the University of Texas at San Antonio.

While Chicago Public Schools “values providing enriching cultural experiences for all our students, it is unacceptable to fail to teach students basic math and reading skills, no matter which school model is used,” said Emily Bittner, a district spokeswoman in an email.

The day starts with African drumming, reports Eligon. Students “raise their right fists to salute both the American and the red, black and green Pan-African flags.” They chant, “We are African people” and commit themselves to “sustainable living, self-determination and self-respect.”

The theory is that in a world where negative images of blacks breed hopelessness, a curriculum centered on the strength, beauty and accomplishments of the African diaspora lifts disadvantaged black children. And that prepares them for success better than a traditional Eurocentric education, which advocates say reduces blacks in history to little more than slaves and the token civil rights hero.

. . . To create a familial bond, students address the faculty and staff as “Mama” and “Baba,” meaning mother and father in Swahili. . . .

Students are taught to conduct themselves by seven ancient Egyptian virtues: truth, justice, righteousness, order, balance, harmony and reciprocity.

. . . First graders, who already had learned to sing a song in Spanish, were learning to speak Igbo, a major language in Nigeria.

The Illinois Charter Commission voted yesterday to keep Sizemore open, reversing the district’s decision to close the school. The commission’s staff said the school is making progress.

D.C. boarding school serves traumatized kids

Monument founder and CEO Emily Bloomfield (brown jacket) joins a chair yoga exercise. 

A new public boarding school in Washington, D.C. is trying to serve children who’ve suffered trauma, violence,  family disintegration and homelessness, writes Erin Einhorn on the Hechinger Report.

Forty fifth graders started in August at Monument Academy. They live at the school from Sunday to Friday evening.

“Students as old as 12 are reading at a kindergarten or first-grade level or exhibiting behaviors like thumb-sucking,” writes Einhorn.

Monument, which hopes to house and educate children in grades five through 12, has hired as many therapists as teachers. Yoga and meditation and part of the curriculum.

There’s a risk in concentrating troubled children, concedes Marlene Magrino, the principal. But Monument will teach social and emotional skills explicitly, offer therapy to every child and have very small classes.

A few months after opening, the school still is struggling with behavior issues.

Recently in a science and math class, two teachers spent the first 30 minutes trying to settle the class as one girl wrote on her arm, another pulled her desk down into her lap, a third shoved construction paper cards she’d made for her boyfriend under the door into the hallway and a fourth stood on a sofa doing a dance move that resembled twerking.

The teachers refused to start class until every student — they were all girls since the school is experimenting with separating sexes in most classrooms to reduce conflicts — had written an apology to a reporter and an administrator who were watching the class.

One student apologized “for acting like im a animal,” spelling that last word “anmial,” and decorating the note with a picture of a dog.

Magrino sees improvement. A boy swore at her, but controlled his anger without knocking over furniture.

The model costs about $48,000 per student per year.

A school grows in Brooklyn

Principal Melissa Jarvis-Cedeño keeps an eye on her start-up school by working in the hall rather than in her office. Photo: Julienne Schaer

In This is how you start a school, Hechinger’s Sara Neufeld talks with the founding principal, a teacher and a parent at a new charter high school in the poor Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville.

Brooklyn Ascend High offers “a liberal arts curriculum that promotes critical thinking over exam prep,” writes Neufeld.  As an alternative to suspension, teachers use “reflective circles.”

Melissa Jarvis-Cedeño grew up not far from her new school. Her mother was an alcoholic. She survived abuse by relatives. “By age 18, she was pregnant with her second baby when she arrived upstate for college,” writes Neufeld. She married, earned two degrees and worked as an English teacher and school administrator.

Her older son, a high school dropout, is in prison on gun and drug charges. Her younger son is working on a master’s degree in public health.

In third grade at a “no excuses” charter, 8-year-old Jeremy Peña still gets more homework than his older brother, Jann. Photo: Julienne Schaer

In third grade at a “no excuses” charter school, Jeremy Peña still gets more homework than his older brother, Jann. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Jovanka Anderson, a Dominican immigrant, enrolled her younger son in a “no excuses” charter. He had more homework than his older brother, who attended a middle school magnet for gifted and talented students. Jann Peña won the lottery to attend Ascend, a one in seven shot.

As a ninth grader, Jann “tested at a sixth-grade reading level on the school placement exam in August and at midway through fifth grade in math.”

Jovanka Anderson and her husband, Emilio Peña, are high school dropouts. They want their children to go to college.

Like four of five Ascend teachers, Taylor Delhagen, 31, came “from a nearby charter where they had success producing high test scores among low-income students but felt stifled in what they see as a more vital task: developing human beings,” writes Neufeld.

Disabled son was pushed out of district school

Beth Hawkins’ autistic son was pushed out of his district school in Minneapolis — and embraced by a charter, she writes on Real Clear Education.

According to Hillary Clinton, “Most charter schools . . . don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.” District schools “do, thankfully, take everybody,” the candidate said at a forum.

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Any school — district or charter — can “push out” a problem student, writes Hawkins, an education writer.

When a student’s needs are too hard to meet, a school may “discipline the student often and loudly, until the parent gets the message,” or send the student to an alternative school. Some segregate problem students in special ed programs or “flat-out tell students, ‘This might not be the school for you’.”

The district school thought her son’s problems stemmed from his “bad attitude.” She thought his “good” school was bad for him.

Her 13-year-old son now attends Venture Academy, a blended-learning charter. “Students create their own learning plans, choosing what they find interesting from a menu of online and bricks-and-mortar options,” writes Hawkins.

A few days into the school year, the charter’s social worker called to say her son “had done something tough with aplomb.” His teachers “wanted my input on how to reinforce the victory going forward.”

“It was the first time the call was about playing to his strengths,” Hawkins writes. “It was the first time I was called on as the expert on my own child.”

Is Success Academy too strict?

New York City’s Success Academy charters have very high test scores and very strict discipline policies, writes Vox’s Libby Nelson.

One principal drew up a “Got to Go” list with the names of 16 disruptive students, reports the New York Times. Nine left the school, in part due to frequent suspensions.

A different Success Academy school suspended kindergartners and first-graders 44 times in one year, with one child suspended 12 times, reports PBS’s NewsHour.

Students at a Success Academy school in Harlem work on a writing exercise. Credit: Nicole Bengiveno, New York Times

Students at a Success Academy school in Harlem work on a writing exercise. Credit: Nicole Bengiveno, New York Times

One parent complained of her son’s suspensions on camera. Eva Moskowitz, the charter network’s founder and CEO, published the student’s disciplinary record, which included punching and choking teachers and throwing a classmate into a wall.

Success Academy runs 34 New York City schools with 11,000 students, most of them black or Hispanic and poor, writes Nelson. “This year, 93 percent of Success Academy students tested as proficient in math in 2015, compared with just 35 percent of kids in New York as a whole; 68 percent tested as proficient in reading, compared with 30 percent citywide.”

Admirers point to a strong curriculum and intense teacher training.

Critics argue that the schools are narrowly focused on test preparation, including rewards for students who score well on practice tests and a combination of detention and study hall for those who do not.

Research suggests that pushing out low performers doesn’t explain Success Academy’s incredible success, writes Nelson. The scores are too high.

Strict discipline does matter. Suspending disruptive students allows Success to maintain safe, orderly classrooms. That’s a big draw for many parents and a huge “educational advantage” over district-run schools.

In affluent suburban schools, bright students “almost never share a classroom with challenging, high-needs kids,” writes Robert Pondiscio. Public school administrators “marginalize and punish kids who act out – even for infractions that are beneath notice at chaotic inner-city schools.”

Oracle will house Design Tech High

Oracle will build a 550-student school on its Silicon Valley campus to house Design Tech High School, a charter dedicated to “design thinking.”

Founded in 2014, Design Tech focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math). It’s now housed in temporary quarters.

The school is reaching out to girls, Latinos and blacks, who are not well-represented in Silicon Valley jobs. But the Redwood City school will not be a “pipeline” to jobs at Oracle, said Ken Montgomery, the executive director and co-founder.

Oracle is donating land and building a high school on its Redwood Shores campus.

Oracle is donating land and building a high school on its Redwood Shores campus.

“We believe the world is changing so quickly and unpredictably, any specific skill might become obsolete,” he said. “We teach mindset, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and collaboration.”

Oracle CEO Safra Catz said the company’s founder, Larry Ellison, told her 17 years ago “he’d love to have a school where students learn to think.”

 Oracle volunteers will work with Design Tech students on science and technology projects.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife are starting a preschool and K-8 school in nearby East Palo Alto. In theory, those students could go on to the Oracle-subsidized high school in Redwood City.

The education of Jose Garcia

Five years after he earned his diploma, Jose Garcia returned to Rauner College Prep as a teacher. Noble Street Network of Charter Schools, which runs 16 schools in Chicago, is hiring and training its graduates, reports Becky Vevea, WBEZ education reporter, in The Education of Jose Garcia.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014. Photo: Becky Vevea, WBEZ

Garcia tutored Spanish-speaking second graders when he attended Denison, but he didn’t major in education and doesn’t have teaching license. “He got just two weeks of training over the summer and he doesn’t have a teaching license,” writes Vevea.

But he’ll spend a year assisting experienced teachers before getting his own classroom.

Like Noble’s other new teachers, Garcia is enrolled in the Relay Graduate School of Education. In late-afternoon classes, master educators teach strategies such as the “self-interrupt.”

There’s no campus, no lectures, no discussions of John Dewey or Rudolph Steiner. Mostly, it’s a lot of practice on how to manage a classroom.

He will earn a master’s degree – -but not a teaching license. “To be licensed through an alternative route, like Relay, Jose must have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA,” writes Vevea. With very low grades in his first year at Denison, he finished with a 2.8.

Mid-way through the year, already “exhausted and overwhelmed” by his co-teaching responsibilities, Garcia takes over two sophomore English classes, replacing a teacher on medical leave.

In a survey at year’s end, he’s surprised by how many students wrote, “Mr. Garcia didn’t give up on me.”

This year, Garcia is a counseling seniors on college options and teaching two sections of a new class called Identity and Justice Studies.

Creating a school

Matthew Levey worked for three years to create “an economically diverse, academically rigorous charter school in Brooklyn,” reports the New York TimesInternational Charter School opened this fall.

Congratulations! Now, it’s going to get hard

Fourteen percent of students from the least-educated, lowest-income families will earn a college degree by their late 20s, reports the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked 10th graders for 12 years.

Only 41 percent of low-income students with high test scores earned a bachelor’s degree, wrote Susan Dynarski in the New York Times. “A poor teenager with top scores and a rich teenager with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Democracy Prep's class of 2019 celebrates commencement.

Democracy Prep’s class of 2019 celebrates commencement.

Getting low-income “first generation” kids into college is hard,” writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News. “Getting them to graduate from college is harder.

As a teacher at New York City’s Democracy Prep Charter High School, he’s proud to see the school’s 61 graduates head off to colleges that include Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Emory. All are Latino or African-American.

Democracy Prep calls them the “class of 2019” to stress that their goal is a bachelor’s degree. But how many will make it?

For years, pioneering charter school networks like KIPP, YES Prep, and others won legions of admirers by ensuring that nearly every student they graduated went to college, usually the first in their families to do so. A 2011 report from KIPP itself, however, found that only 33 percent of their earliest cohorts of students had actually earned a college degree. On the one hand, that’s roughly four times higher than the rate for disadvantaged students as a whole. But it was far below KIPP’s own internal goals and a wake-up call for a reform movement that had long championed college as an essential path to upward mobility.

Since then, KIPP and others have become increasingly focused on “college match.” This typically means identifying colleges with high graduation rates both overall and for low-income students, generous financial aid, and other factors from high-touch academic advising to a diverse social environment, all of which make it more likely for “first generation” kids to persist, succeed, and earn a degree.

KIPP Through College helps graduates choose courses, keep up their grades and deal with financial aid issues.

Democracy Prep, which has two small graduating classes in college, also stays in touch with alumni. So far, nearly nine out of 10 Democracy Prep students remain enrolled.

In a story on D.C. charters, Debra Bruno describes how Thurgood Marshall Academy has boosted its college-graduation rate.