Master teachers take the lead

A master teacher, an assistant and blended learning produced “great results” at a new charter school with very disadvantaged children, concludes Public Impact‘s Opportunity Culture project. Touchstone Education opened Merit Preparatory Charter School in Newark in 2012 with a class of sixth graders. Most were several years below grade level; 90 percent came from low-income families.

By March 2013, seven months into the school year, students demonstrated two years of growth in reading and 1.25 years of growth in science. In math, where Touchstone leaders were unable to hire a master teacher, students made three-fourths of a year of growth by March.

The model allows master teachers, who lead teams of novice and developing teachers, to earn up to $100,000 a year, within per-pupil funding. Tiffany McAfee, the master teacher in literacy, worked with first-year Teach For America teacher Jonathan Wigfall in the school’s first year.

Laptop-equipped students were grouped by skill level. McAfee lead whole-group instruction and helped students work through their playlists of individualized lessons, while Wigall rotated among students to help them with questions and keep them on track.

For example, one day students worked in groups to study slides on figurative language,then watched a music video while listening on headphones,taking notes on examples of figurative language in the lyrics. Meanwhile, both teachers moved through the room, overseeing their work. Students then came together for a whole class discussion with McAfee, who asked higher-level questions about the purpose of figurative language and the author’s intent.

Helping less-experienced teachers improve their skills is part of the master teacher’s job. McAfee and Wigfall reviewed the week’s data every Friday and planned the following week’s lessons. The master teacher also worked with the school’s reading specialist and the special education teacher to plan the daily, three-hour reading block. (Students are pulled out for an hour of P.E.)

Next year, Merit Prep will hire a master teach in math in hopes of achieving gap-closing progress.

Charlotte, North Carolina is redesigning teachers’ jobs to improve low-performing schools, write Public Impact’s Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel in Education Next.  Again, the idea is to give more students access to excellent teachers, while using novices in support roles.

Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.New Teaching Roles Create Culture of Excellence in High-Need Schools explains the plan. In One Teacher’s View of Becoming a Paid Teacher-Leader, a veteran teacher talks about becoming a multi-classroom leader.

There aren’t enough whites to go around

School segregation remains a reality: “74 percent of African Americans still attend majority nonwhite schools, compared to just over 76 percent in the late 1960s,” writes The Nation‘s Greg Kauffman.

But there’s a demographic reality to consider, responds Matthew Yglesias in Slate. U.S. schools are running low on white kids.

Non-Hispanic whites were 54 percent of the under-18 population in 2010, compared to 74 percent in 1980, according to the Census Bureau. Furthermore, among kids under the age of 5, non-Hispanic whites are a minority.

Meanwhile, the white people are not distributed evenly across the country. You’re not going urban minority kids to Maine and Idaho or the Texas panhandle so that they can attend more integrated schools. Nor are we about to ban the practice of rich people (who are disproportionately white) from sending their kids to private schools.

So you’re going to face a situation where most schools are majority-minority and the vast majority of minority kids are in majority-minority schools and there’s not going to be anything you can do about it other than try to make those schools be really good schools.

We can’t integrate our way to better school performance, agrees Sara Mead. That includes socio-economic integration, the dream of “smart liberal school reformers in recent years.” Like whites, middle-class students from two-parent families are in short supply and not evenly distributed.

The challenge is to design schools to meet the needs of low-income, minority students. The no-excuses model adopted by some urban charter (and Catholic) schools can make a difference. Are there other models with evidence of success?

School discipline 101

Suspension helps create safe, orderly, schools — and tells parents they share responsibility for their child’s behavior, writes Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academies in the New York Post.

Success Academy Harlem 5 suspends 14 percent of students at least once during the year, compared to 9 percent for  PS 123, a district school in the same building. The charter had one violent or disruptive incident (a theft) in 2010-11, the most recent year for which data is available, compared to 92 incidents at the district school.

Most “parents like high standards for student conduct,” Moskowitz writes. It’s one reason they choose a Success charter.

It’s not just about safety. Order and civility are critical ingredients in a positive learning environment. Even something like making fun of another student’s answer in class — a comparatively mild misbehavior — can shut a student down intellectually and emotionally, particularly one with a learning disability.

To be sure, discipline isn’t the whole answer. Educators must also build positive relationships with students, create a warm and nurturing school environment, set clear expectations and work closely with parents to develop individualized behavior plans for children who struggle.

But suspensions also have a place. They’re a school’s version of giving a child a “time out.” By keeping a student out of school for a day or two, they convey to the child, in the simplest and most concrete way possible, that there are minimum standards of conduct for being part of the school community.

Sending a child home for a day or two puts the burden of children’s misbehavior on the parents, Moskowitz writes. “Many politicians give lip service to supporting teachers — yet would undermine them by depriving them of the tools they need to create a safe learning environment.”

Dropout Nation disagrees: “Suspensions rarely help kids understand how their behaviors affect their schoolmates and the cultures of the schools they attend.”

Left behind in Silicon Valley

“When I came to this country, I saw the American dream. You get an education, go to college . . . Even American citizens can’t get the American dream now,” says Roberto Aguirrez, a parent group leader, in Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools. I wrote the report for Innovate Public Schools.

Aguirrez is working to bring a charter K-8 school to Morgan Hill, the San Jose suburb where he lives. But it won’t happen soon enough for his fifth-grade daughter. If he can’t get her into a good charter middle school — there are wait lists at all the high-performing charters — he’ll pay for private school.

“You know that movie? I’m not waiting for Superman,” he says.

Aguirrez and his wife earned college degrees. They were able to help their daughter with homework when she fell behind. They could afford to hire a tutor. When teachers said their kids were doing “OK,” they could read the report card and see that wasn’t true. Most Latino parents don’t know their children are scoring below basic, says Aguirrez.

Silicon Valley draws talented people from around the world. In 2011, 64 percent of the valley’s college-educated, high-tech professionals were born outside the U.S.

Only about one in five Latino and black students in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is on track to complete high school in four years and go on to college, and even fewer will qualify for a high-tech job.

It’s not hopeless. The Alum Rock elementary district, which serves a low-income, heavily immigrant neighborhood in east San Jose, used to have dreadful schools. PACT, a church-based parent group, demanded the district authorize charter schools and start new, small autonomous schools (a bit like Boston’s “pilot” schools). The new schools are doing very well and the traditional district schools are improving. Alum Rock parents have real choices now.

Charters and Alum Rock’s autonomous schools dominate the top-ranked schools for Latino success, notes the  San Jose Mercury News. (Innovate ranked schools with at least 38 percent Latino enrollment, the region average.)

The top five middle schools for Latino algebra proficiency are KIPP Heartwood charter in Alum Rock at 81 percent; Renaissance Academy at 59 percent and Adelante at 53 percent, both in Alum Rock; Solorsano Middle in Gilroy at 48 percent and ACE Charter in San Jose at 47 percent.

At Jefferson High in Daly City, 78 percent of Latino students graduate UC/CSU ready — the highest percentage among comprehensive high schools. Other schools with high percentages of college-ready Latino grads are six charters: Summit Preparatory in Redwood City at 90 percent; KIPP San Jose Collegiate at 83 percent, Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix at 62 percent, Downtown College Preparatory at 49 percent, Leadership Public Schools-San Jose at 46 percent and Latino College Preparatory at 39 percent.

In Morgan Hill, where Aguirrez and his wife are raising their children, 9 percent of Latino high school graduates qualify for state universities. (Update: The district says the number is off because one of its high schools was left out of state data.) Right next door in Gilroy, which has more Latino and low-income students, 20 percent are college eligible. Gilroy also has two elementary schools that make the top 10 list for Latino success in reading and math. Why can’t Morgan Hill do as well as Gilroy?

Educating the children of poorly educated, low-income, immigrant parents is very difficult. But some schools are showing it’s possible.

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.

Uneducated grads may get tutoring

For years, Muskegon Heights (Michigan) students were denied a quality education, says the failed district’s emergency manager, Dr. Donald Weatherspoon. He hopes to provide free educational support services to graduates in the last six  classes in hopes they can improve their reading and math skills. It’s not clear what sort of help will be offered or how Muskegon Heights will pay for it.

Nearly all ninth-graders at Muskegon Heights High School started at least three grades behind in reading and math, according to Mosaica Education, the charter company that’s taken over the district’s low-performing schools.

Ninety-two percent of ninth graders tested at a sixth-grade level or lower in math; 82 percent were three or more years behind in reading.

“It’s a hard realization because those kids will go out in the world and not be prepared,” Weatherspoon said during a discussion of the scores with the Muskegon Heights Public Schools board.

High school teachers are struggling to figure out the best curriculum for students who are so far below grade level in skills and knowledge, he said.

The problem gets worse in middle school and much worse in ninth grade. After that, the least-successful students are likely to drop out.

Percentage of Muskegon Heights students at least three grades behind

Grade Reading Math
Fifth 23% 12%
Sixth 43% 34%
Seventh 42% 46%
Eighth 53% 57%
Ninth 92% 82%
10th 77% 81%
11th 84% 83%
12th 73% 80%

U.S. News ranks best high schools

U.S. News has come out with its 2013 Best High Schools Rankings. Nearly all the top-ranked schools are specialty schools, magnets or charter schools. Arizona’s BASIS, an ultra-rigorous charter network, has two schools in the top five. Twenty-eight of the top-ranked 100 high schools are charter schools.

The survey looks at the performance of students overall and disadvantaged students compared to similar students in the state; if schools post above-average results, the survey analyzes Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test results.

Teaching the ABCs of self-control

Schools are teaching the ABCs of self-control to help disadvantaged students succeed, reports the Washington Post.  The story starts at D.C. Prep Public Charter School, a “no excuses” school for students in grades four through eight.

The children do not speak in the hallways or classroom unless spoken to by a teacher. They navigate the hallways single file. Throughout their eight-hour school day, they bring to each class charts on which they record, as the teachers decree, behaviors, both good and bad, listed on a key. This key lists 26 behaviors, A through Z. Failure to meet any of them results in detention.

Students serving in-school suspension wear green mesh pinnies over their navy-blue polo shirts and leave the classroom last. They are not allowed to speak for the day and nobody speaks to them.

Ibby Jeppson, DCP’s director of resource development, said students need to understand the “expectations of the broader culture” they hope to enter.

In an e-mail, Jeppson says that the message needs to be clear to students and parents alike: “The small-stuff expectations are linked to important life skills: being on time, being dependable and being there every day, dressing appropriately.”

. . . “Research shows that willpower and self-discipline are stronger predictors of success than pure intellectual talent,” Jeppson says.

Others schools have turned to character-based education, “mindfulness meditation” and “social emotional learning” to teach self-control, reports the Post.  It’s all part of the campaign to build persistence, resilience and “grit.”

A 2012 documentary, Room to Breathe, describes an attempt to calm a troubled San Francisco school by teaching meditative breathing and body and mind awareness. 

‘Trigger’ parents choose LAUSD, charter

What happens when a school district works with a “parent trigger” campaign instead of fighting it? “Parents at 24th Street Elementary School have overwhelmingly chosen a partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and a charter school to run the persistently low-performing Jefferson Park campus,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Eighty percent of eligible voters chose to let the district manage K-4 classes and let Crown Preparatory Academy, which already runs a middle school on campus, run a program for students in grades five through eight.

Under LA Unified’s reform plan, parents will participate in a hiring committee. Teachers who want to stay at the school will have to interview with the committee to keep their jobs.

Parents said they were impressed with the district’s ability to offer pre-school education and services to disabled students. They said they liked the charter because of its demonstrated ability to raise academic achievement.

Eighty-seven percent of 24th Street Elementary students qualify for a subsidized lunch; 75 percent are Latino and 23 percent are black.

Kindergarten, play and standards

Teachers are blaming new standards for taking the joy out of kindergarten, writes Deborah Kenny, a charter school founder in New York City, in the Washington PostKindergartners should learn by playing, she writes. But she thinks the standards are getting a bum rap.

Last year, as Harlem Village Academies prepared to open new elementary schools , our principals visited dozens of kindergarten classrooms. The upper-income schools focused mostly on active play, interesting discussions and crafts, including papier-mache projects that delighted children for hours. In the lower-income schools we saw regimented academics, reward-and-punishment behavior systems and top-down instruction. In one South Bronx classroom, the only time children spoke during the course of three hours was to repeat drills of the sounds of letters over and over.

Why the disparity? Many educators are placing the blame squarely on the Common Core — national learning standards recently adopted by 45 states and the District and supported by the Obama administration — and asserting that they lead to poor-quality teaching and take all the joy out of kindergarten.

The standards’ goals —  ”teach students to think independently, grapple with difficult texts, solve problems and explain their thinking in a clear and compelling way” — are noble, Kenny writes. That can be done well or badly.

Take vocabulary, for example. The Common Core standards state that kindergarten students should be able to “distinguish shades of meaning among verbs that describe some general action (e.g., walk, march, strut, prance) by acting out the meanings.” Imagine a classroom full of 5-year-olds marching, strutting, walking and prancing for 10 minutes to different kinds of music while laughing and learning vocabulary. . . . So while some schools might choose to teach vocabulary in a rote, boring way, clearly the standards are not to blame.

Teaching to the new standards demands more of teachers, Kenny writes. Principals need to hire good teachers and then let them learn from each other, try different strategies, learn from mistakes and improve. Principals also need the power to fire teachers who aren’t up to the job.

Via Eduwonk.

This anti-CCSS math blog critiques the standards’ call for kindergartners to “decompose” numbers.