Keep ‘no excuses’ — and teach self-discipline

Don’t dump “no excuses” discipline, writes Sharif El-Mekki in Education Post. He attended a no-excuses school that taught him self-discipline. Now the father of five, he’s the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus in Philadelphia.

growing backlash blames rigid discipline policies for paving the road from school to prison, writes El-Mekki. “Rigidity without love or respect is detrimental to our communities.”

However, he worries the pendulum is swinging too far. “Black families should not have to choose between chaotic or callous schools for their children.”

At his school, families want “no excuses in striving for excellence,” he writes.

What these families don’t want is an intense focus on disciplining students without also motivating their children to be self-disciplined. They expect us to help our students be successful despite any trauma they may have experienced or learning challenges they must overcome. They appreciate that we use restorative justice practices and consider cultural context.

“No excuses” extends to administrators and teachers, writes El-Mekki. “Low expectations are just as damning to our communities as rigidity without love and respect.”

From ‘no excuses’ to college success

Chicago’s Noble Street College Prep, a no-excuses charter high school, raises the test scores of students who win its admissions lottery, conclude researchers Matthew Davis and Blake Heller in Education Next.

The benefits don’t end there: Noble Street College Prep students are more likely to enroll in college, stay in college and get into a competitive four-year school.

Nearly all students in the Noble network of schools are Hispanic or black and 89 percent are eligible for subsidized school meals.

Schools in the network feature “frequent teacher feedback, data-driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations,” Davis and Heller write.

The school day and year are longer, giving Noble students 18 percent more learning time than students in district schools.

Students are taught at their level in smaller groups organized by performance.

During morning and afternoon meetings, teachers track individual academic progress, mark behavioral infractions, and hold students accountable as a group for maintaining academic and behavioral standards. Each afternoon, teachers maintain office hours for optional academic support, which becomes mandatory if a student’s performance falls below a certain threshold. Most campuses also feature some form of after-school tutoring provided by outside organizations.

Noble aggressively recruits teachers with a demonstrated track record of success and rewards teachers whose students demonstrate above-average academic growth with performance bonuses.

Ninth graders, who often come from low-performing schools, score below the average for Chicago Public School students, Davis and Heller write. In only a few years, these students “are prepared to enroll and succeed in college”

Charters work for black students

Image result for howard fuller
Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of Milwaukee schools, helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The NAACP’s call for a national moratorium on new charter schools will harm black families, argues Howard Fuller in an Education Week commentary. Low-income and working-class parents are “in desperate need of the types of educational opportunities that are being provided by charter schools,” writes Fuller, who’s now a Marquette education professor and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning.

Twenty-seven percent of charter students are black, nearly double their enrollment in traditional public schools, writes Fuller. “Many of the 1 million names on waiting lists to get into a charter school are black children.”

Black parents continue to vote with their feet to enroll their children in charter schools for good reason—they work. According to Stanford University’s CREDO 2015 Urban Charter Schools Report on students in 41 urban regions across the country, low-income black students attending public charter schools gained 33 percent more learning in math and 24 percent more learning in reading each year as compared to their traditional public school peers.

In early August, New York City released achievement results for its public schools, showing that black and Hispanic charter school students were twice as likely to be on grade level in math as their peers in traditional public schools, and 50 percent more likely to be on grade level in English.

The NAACP claims that charter schools increase segregation. “Why are charter schools being criticized for bringing good schools into communities that have been underserved and neglected for years?” asks Fuller.

Creating top charter schools

The Founders, Richard Whitmire’s new book on how the nation’s best charter schools were created, is being published online by The 74.

“This is the history of high-performing public charter schools — the best of the best, the top 20 percent, the game-changers,” he writes. Charters started 25 years ago in Minnesota, but “this story begins years later in California, spreads east through the unlikely collaboration of top school leaders, and stands apart for its success in guiding poor and minority children from kindergarten all the way through college graduation.”

The book is “a welcome antidote to the pernicious notion that high-performing schools for disadvantaged students are isolated flukes, dependent on a charismatic educator or the cherry-picking of bright students, writes Arne Duncan in The Atlantic. He’s never met a charter leader who claimed to be running a “miracle school,” adds Duncan.

Whitmire analyzes what’s holding back growth of the best charter schools in Education Next.

“The first wave of charter pioneers is nearly all white with excellent college credentials,” writes Whitmire. Yet their schools, often staffed largely by white teachers, target low-income “black and brown students.”

This is a race reality that’s rapidly shifting as charters diversify, but will it shift fast enough to avoid the pushback that’s already bubbling up around the race issue?

High-performing schools need to “attract talented teachers, and in a lot of cities, that just isn’t going to happen,” Whitmire adds. “Plus, the powerful anti-charter movement led by unions and superintendents is fully capable of blocking charters in some cities.”

Finally, it’s critical to shut down low-performing charters, he writes.  Nobody predicted how difficult it would be to close bad charters. “As it turns out, charter parents cling to their failing schools just as closely as parents of traditional failing schools.”

LA schools compete for students

Los Angeles Unified schools are competing for students with charters, reports Anna M. Phillips in the LA Times.

In heavily Hispanic Pacoima, a 90-year-old district elementary school, now known as Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy, is advertising on a billboard and a LA Unified delivery truck.

“With a declining enrollment, you have no choice,” says Principal Richard Ramos, who previously worked at a charter school.

Haddon’s enrollment dipped from 890 K-5 students five years ago to 785 last year, reports Phillips. “It didn’t matter that the principal had expanded the school’s mariachi classes or brought in a decorated speech-and-debate coach if none of the neighborhood’s parents knew about it.”

With the help of $9,000 for a billboard (it also advertises Arleta High) and the truck ad, Haddon is starting the year with 848 students, including 39 transfers from charter schools.

Scores are low at Haddon: Only 18 percent of students are proficient in English, 11 percent in math, according to Great Schools. At nearby Montague Charter Academy and Pacoima Charter Elementary, 22 percent are proficient in English and 20 percent in math. Is that significant? Some parents will think so. Others will prefer mariachi and debate.

The KIPP LA charter network spent $18,000 last year to advertise openings in its 13 charter schools in the area, spokesman Steve Mancini said. “We welcome the competition” from the district.“It’s healthy; it keeps you on your toes. One of the best accountability measures is knowing you have to fill your school every year with students.”

At Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter school network in L.A., the recruiting budget for its 28 schools is $13,000 to $15,000, spokeswoman Catherine Suitor said.

It’s good to see district schools figuring out how to appeal to parents, rather than trying to suppress competition, writes Reason‘s Scott Shackford.

John Oliver mocked the idea that competition might motivate schools to improve.

Focusing on mismanaged schools, Oliver’s rant was “clever, glib and uninformed,” responds Nick Gillespie.

He cited education researcher Jay Greene’s analysis of randomized studies comparing lottery winners and losers (kids with equally motivated parents): Urban students “do significantly better in school if they attend a charter school than if they attend a traditional public school,” writes Greene.

A British comedian’s ignorance isn’t worth all the fuss, writes Robert Pondiscio.

51% in NYC prefer charters

Only one in four New Yorkers said they were satisfied with their child’s education, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Fifty-one percent said they’d prefer a charter school for their own child: In the Bronx, two-thirds said they’d choose a charter school.

Charter students are outpacing district students in the city, reports the Wall Street Journal.

According to new state testing data, citywide student proficiency increased this year on average by 7.6 percentage points in English and 1.2 percentage points in math to 38% and 36.4%, respectively.

. . . proficiency at charter schools this year jumped 13.7 percentage points in English and 4.5 percentage points in math to 43% and 47%, respectively. In other words, charter students have improved by two to four times as much as the citywide average.

Black and Hispanic charter students — who make up nearly 90 percent of enrollment —  “scored 73% higher than their counterparts at district-run schools,” according to an analysis by Families for Excellent Schools.

Black Lives group takes on schools

The Movement for Black Lives has published a policy platform that includes an education plan stressing community control of schools, writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

“The coalition’s proposals are wide-ranging and, depending on who is talking, either aspirational or entirely unrealistic,” writes DeRuy.

The plan calls for a constitutional amendment to guarantee “fully funded” education, no new charter schools, no police in schools and closure of juvenile detention centers.

It attacks the “privatization” of education by wealthy philanthropists “and criticizes charter-school networks for decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources,” writes DeRuy.

When Black Kids Don’t Matter is RiShawn Biddle’s analysis of “why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movement for Black Lives have issued proclamations opposing the expansion of school choice and Parent Power for the very black families for which they proclaim to care.”

The declaration itself was written not by the Black Lives Matter activists within the coalition, but largely by two of NEA’s and AFT’s prime vassals.

One of the coauthors, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, has long been a front for the Big Two (teachers’ unions). . . . Another coauthor, Philadelphia Student Union, has been one of AFT’s lead groups in its effort to oppose systemic reform and school choice in the City of Brotherly Love . . .

After the NAACP voted for a charter moratorium, black leaders defended urban charters’ effectiveness, reports Jason Russell in the Washington Examiner.

Many charters “offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class black children,” said Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

“In communities of color throughout our country, public charter schools are providing pathways to college and careers that previously were not available,” said Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.

According to a BAEO report released in January, “black students in public charter schools learn the equivalent of 36 extra school days per year in math and 26 extra school days in reading,” reports Russell. “The gains are even higher for black students living in poverty.”

NAACP vs. charter schools

The NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools is the subject of a conversation at Dropout Nation between RiShawn Biddle and Capital Prep’s Steve Perry.

The NAACP is “doing the bidding of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which have poured $380,500 into NAACP over the past five years,” charges Biddle. The civil-rights group “is no longer representing the interests of black families who demand high-quality education for the children they love.”

Success Academy kids continue to succeed on state exams.
Success Academy charter students aced state exams: 94% passed in math and 82% passed reading. Photo: Richard Harbus/New York Daily News

In New York City, black and Hispanic charter students are twice as likely to be proficient in math and 50 percent more likely to be proficient in reading as similar students in district schools, reports the New York Post. 

The Success Academy charter network, which primarily educates black and Hispanic students, “had the top five schools in the entire state in math, and two of the top five in English.”

Charter schools don’t suspend more kids

Charter schools don’t suspend more students than nearby district schools, according to Nat Malkus, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow writing on RealClearEducation.

“Charters have come under increasing fire in the media for their alleged disproportionately harsh discipline practices,” he writes. “A widely cited report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA finding that charter schools have higher suspension rates than traditional public schools, particularly for students of color and students with disabilities.”

That’s not true, when charters are compared to the neighboring schools students might otherwise attend, Malkus’ research has found. Half of charters have similar suspension rates. The rest are more likely to be lower than nearby district schools than they are to be higher.

In response to Education Secretary John King’s call for charters to rethink tough discipline policies, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli worries about top-down dictates to remove the suspension tool.

“There’s a big risk that discouraging schools from suspending kids will result in more disorder in the classroom (though in-school suspensions could keep that from happening),” Petrilli writes. “More disorder is disastrous for all kids, but especially poor children of color (who) make up the vast majority of the nation’s charter school population.”

Parents often choose charters because they’re more likely to provide a safe, orderly environment, he writes.

There’s a reasonable case, then, for simply making suspension data transparent to the public and to parents, who can decide which schools to shun and which to patronize.

Flypaper is running more responses to King’s speech on charter school discipline.

Virtual charters: Can they be saved?

Students at all-online “virtual” charter schools do significantly worse than comparable students at brick-and-mortar schools, concludes a 2015 study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Math gains were so poor it was “as though the student did not go to school for the entire year,” CREDO director Macke Raymond told reporters.

In an Education Next forum, Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, argues that Online Charters Expand Learning Optionswhile Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, counters that Online Charters Mostly Don’t Work.

Both agree that all-online learning works only for highly motivated, self-disciplined students or those with strong parental support.

Both call for linking funding of virtual schools to students’ performance. Virtual charters attract very mobile students. The traditional model often gives virtual schools a full year’s funding for a student who gives it a try for a few weeks or months, then moves on.

They disagree on the validity of the CREDO study.

CREDO doesn’t account adequately for virtual students’ high mobility and learning problems before they enroll, Vander Ark argues.

Better measures of academic growth are needed, he writes. These “would include examining the performance of new and returning students, as well as that of on-time and late-enrolled students; defining full-academic year students; and looking at longitudinal student performance, such as progress toward graduation in 4, 5, and 6 years.”

CREDO found virtual students “showed stronger performance both before and after their tenure in virtual schools,” responds Richmond. Other studies also “have documented dismal outcomes in virtual schools, including low course-completion rates and higher-than-average school dropout rates.”

Last month, three national charter school groups released a report calling for “a better regulatory framework to govern full-time virtual charter schools.”