iPads that work

After writing about the iPad disaster in Los Angeles Unified, Hechinger’s Anya Kamenetz talked to a Chicago teacher who’s using iPads to help students succeed.

When the iPad first came out in 2010, Jennie Magiera made fun of her friends for buying them: “Nice job–you got a giant iPhone that can’t make phone calls!!”  But when a grant bought iPads for her fourth and fifth grade class, the teacher quickly found a path to transforming her teaching and learning practice. While tests are only one measurement of success, she went from having just one student out of 15 “exceed” on state tests in fourth grade, to having 10 “exceed” the next year.

Magiera is now the digital learning coordinator of the Academy of Urban School Leadership, a network of 29 public (non-charter) schools serving low-income students. She’s seen technology reveal hidden talents.

A disruptive, low-scoring student used “screencasting” to create a video explaining his math strategy.

“The answer was 15 cents and he wrote $16. . . . when I go into his screencast video, it was 60 seconds of the best math I’ve ever seen as a math teacher.”

The student had arrived at the wrong answer because of a tiny mistake, but he had devised his own original path through the problem, using his knowledge of fractions to create a system of proportions, a concept he wouldn’t be introduced to for another year or two. “He solved it completely on his own, narrated it beautifully, had the most amazing thought process.”  From watching this one minute of video, Magiera got insights into this student’s math skills that she hadn’t learned from having him in the classroom for over a year.

When the student rewatched his video, he caught his mistake.

She saw his reactions go from defiance (“lady, I already did it for you once, you want me to watch it now?”) to pride (“yeah! I got that!”) to dismay (“Oh my god, I messed that up! I can’t believe it! I was so close,”). And finally he asked her, “Can I do it again?”

Another student was afraid to speak up in class. Magiera used the iPads to let students participate in a text-based chat as part of the class discussion. The shy student was “the best in the conversation . . .  thriving and flourishing in a community of thought.”

Training great principals

How to Train and Retain Great Principals in Struggling Urban Schools on PBS NewsHour looks at a Chicago campaign to recruit, train and support leaders who can turn around low-performing schools.

No credential, no job for Vallas

Once superintendent in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, reformer Paul Vallas is unqualified to lead the Bridgeport, Connecticut school district, because he lacks an administrative credential, a Superior Court judge ruled. She said Vallas can’t stay in the job while appealing.

The state board of education created an independent study program for Vallas to meet the credential requirements, which normally require 13 months of study at a Connecticut college or university. The judge rejected the board’s alternative.

Like a number of urban superintendents, Vallas isn’t a professional educator. “A longtime state legislative aide and budget director for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, he took over the job of running the Chicago schools in 1997 after the state put them under Daley’s control,” notes Governing. Narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary for governor of Illinois in 2002,” he was hired to run Philadelphia schools after Pennsylvania took them over. Then he went to New Orleans to run the Recovery School District.

“I think it’s bizarre that we’d allow paper credentials from programs with lackluster reputations disqualify a candidate with an extensive track record,” writes Rick Hess. “Seems to me like it makes a lot more sense to just judge Vallas on what he’s done, his skills, and his temperament. I think Vallas is an impressive guy and that it’d be a bad thing if he were actually pushed out of office.”

Normally hostile to reformers, Diane Ravitch published a defense of Vallas by a commenter who worked for him in Chicago.

Rapper: You’ve earned a worthless diploma

Black male graduates of Chicago high school are “four, five steps behind people in other countries,” rapper Lupe Fiasco told young men at a Mass Black Male Graduation and Transition to Manhood ceremony.

The local rapper began by saying, “Congratulations, you have graduated from one of the most terrible, substandard school systems in the entire world. You have just spent the last . . . 12 years receiving one of the worst educations on earth.”

. . .  “Transition to manhood is the most important thing that’s going on right now. The caps and the gowns and your tassels and your honorary blah blah blahs don’t mean nothing. . . . They just represent to someone else that you’ve achieved something. But then when you look back at it, what have you achieved?”

The rapper, a product of Chicago-area schools, told the young men to earn and maintain their manhood, “one of the last things that we can control.”

Philip Jackson, the event’s organizer, called the speech a needed “dose of reality.”

Violent sports teach manhood in Chicago

“Athletics help young men channel their aggression in acceptable ways,” develop “grit” and move toward success, writes guestblogger Collin Hitt on Jay Greene’s blog.

. . . some of  Chicago’s toughest high schools that are embracing a new sports program that often includes violent sports. It is called Becoming a Man – Sports Edition, which is teaching adolescent boys boxing, wrestling, martial arts, archery and other Olympic sports like handball.

Young athletes in the privately run program receiving coaching and counseling and meet to discuss family issues.

Students were randomly assigned to the sports program or a control group. Arrests for violent crimes were 44 percent lower for participants and grades were significantly higher, a University of Chicago study found. Researcher Sara Heller predicted higher grades would lead to higher graduation rates.

Dropouts are ‘recovered,’ lost again

One third to one half of dropouts return to their old high school for a second try, but few earn a diploma, reports Education Week.

In 2008, Washoe County, Nevada (Reno) realized it was graduating a little more than half its students in four years; 18 high schools were dubbed “dropout factories.”

In response, the district launched a massive graduation initiative: early-warning data systems to alert principals to at-risk students, graduation advisers to keep students from leaving, and intense outreach to bring back the students who had already left.

“We’ve gotten pretty good at finding and recovering students through our re-engagement centers, but we still find it a big challenge to keep them from redropping out once we’ve found them,” says coordinator Jennifer Harris. “Many of the reasons that led students to disengage in the first place are still there when the students come back.”

A number of cities, including Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon have set up “re-engagement centers” to help dropouts “find a new school or online classes; connect with social workers and therapists when needed; and plan for college and a career.”

Boston’s South Roxbury re-engagement center, which is next to a technical high school and evening campus, brought in 501 of 867 dropouts contacted. Most, 441, were referred to district schools, alternative campuses, and charters, 60 were referred to adult ed or GED programs and the rest used an online lab and credit-recovery courses. Fifty-four students graduated by the end of the school year; 38 more were on track to graduate by August.

In Chicago, where slightly more than 60 percent of students graduated from high school on time last year, a network of charter schools specializes in serving recovered dropouts or students who were struggling in their traditional schools. The 22 schools in the Youth Connection Charter School network are small, and each draws on community groups and local colleges and universities to provide an array of supports and services, including opportunities for students to earn college credits as they are making up their missing high school credits.

YCCS claims a higher graduation rate than the Chicago Public Schools.

Ed Week‘s interactive game, A Difficult Path, shows the steps that lead to dropping out, starting with not asking the teacher for help with a difficult class.

Chicago closes 50 schools

Chicago is closing 49 elementary schools and one high school. All are underenrolled and underperforming.  Most are in black neighborhoods.

Closing neighborhood schools won’t help low-income, inner-city students, writes Marilyn Rhames, a charter school teacher who backs most education reforms.

How will destabilizing up to 30,000 students and making many of them cross into vicious gang territory to attend rival schools make them learn better? How will increasing class size to well over 30 students improve academic results? How does making the African-American community, which will bear 90 percent of the burden, feel bullied and disenfranchised work to enhance parental and civic involvement with the school district?

. . . There aren’t enough iPads, air conditioning, new libraries, and start-up IB programs at the new schools to make me go along with this.

Closing only the worst schools would have given the district time to perfect its implementation plans, Rhames writes. ” Right now the district is asking firefighters to double as glorified security and crossing guards!”

In this story, a Chicago mother says “if you’re not teaching children, it needs closing.”

Chicago teachers’ union targets mayor

Angry about school closings, the Chicago Teachers Union will seek to unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Asked at a news conference if she would consider a run for mayor, CTU President Karen Lewis quickly and loudly said, “No. Thank you.” But then she added, “Not yet.”

Union officials plan to register voters and recruit candidates for the city council and state legislature.

The Board of Education is expected to vote May 22 on the plan to close 53 elementary schools and one high school program.

“There is no democracy here,” Lewis said on Monday. “So, if the mayor and his hand-picked corporate school board will not listen to us, we must find those who will.”

Ed reform needs ‘happy’ rebranding

Education reform should be the “happy” movement, reports Education Gladfly in its April Fool’s Day edition. “Closing sh***y, no good schools” is seen as mean and divisive. After rebranding, “This school evokes a World War II bomb shelter” can become “We must transform education for the twenty-first century.”

Rather than “This teacher’s grasp of pedagogy is on par with that of a Barbie doll, her classroom presence wouldn’t fog a mirror, and her content knowledge is surpassed by my dog,” say, “We must open up new, twenty-first-century career opportunities for our struggling education professionals.”

The April Fool’s ‘Fly also reports on “tough times” for Chicago union leader Karen Lewis, who’s under attack from members for being too soft.

Dissidents’ demands:

Classes no bigger than eight kids
Tenure after one year of teaching (rounding up any partial years)
Rahm Emanuel’s head on a plate
Rahm Emanuel’s hide as a coat
Rahm Emanuel’s ears on a cat
Ten-year moratorium on standardized testing
Free ponies for all

Chicago “Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced (from his ski chateau) his decision to close all Chicago public schools.” He recommended home schooling.

Report: Close bad charters, expand good ones

Urban charter schools outperform traditional public schools in five cities, concludes Searching for Excellence, a Fordham report conducted by Public Impact. However, urban charter students trail students in their home states, who are much less likely to be living in poverty.

The study looked at charter performance in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis. In each city, charter quality varied greatly from school to school.

 . . . there are deeply troubled charters—some whose academic results can’t even match up with their long-suffering district peers. but on the other hand, there are fantastic charters—some whose academic performance competes with the best schools in their states.

Fordham calls for closing the worst-performing 10 percent of charters and expanding the top 10 percent.

In Cleveland, the policy of closure and aggressive replication of high-performing schools would, Public Impact estimates, result in charter schools vastly outperforming the district schools in five years. Moreover, this policy would put Cleveland’s charters on track to perform on par with the state average by year five.

Charter schools educate 30+ percent of public school students in seven cities — New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, DC,  Kansas City, Flint, Gary; and St. Louis — and 20+ percent in 18 cities.