Can Austin High be saved? Should it be saved?

Austin High School on Chicago’s West Side is fighting to survive, writes Kate N. Grossman in The Atlantic. Like dozens of low-performing schools in low-income neighborhoods, Austin has lost students to charters, magnets — and district schools in safer neighborhoods. Loyalists want to turn Austin back into a neighborhood school. Can Austin High be saved? Should it be saved?

“With 391 students, including just 57 freshmen across three academies in a building meant for nearly 1,700, Austin is one of 35 Chicago public high schools that are well under half full,” Grossman writes.  “Ten schools aren’t even a quarter full.” Most are in low-income black neighborhoods that are losing population.

Three-fourths of Chicago’s high schoolers chose not to attend their neighborhood school this year. That leaves the city’s “most challenging and low-achieving students” in half-empty schools. With funding tied to enrollment, there’s no money to maintain programs and staff.

Austin was closed in 2004 for “weak performance and chaos,” and reopened in 2006 as three small academies. Achievement remained low. Enrollment fell steeply. A recruitment drive has fizzled.

At Austin, only four families came to a well-planned open house in March, despite sending 430 invitations . . .

. . . just 8 percent of 712 eighth graders in Austin’s attendance boundary chose Austin in 2014.

Citywide, 31 percent of high school students who rejected their neighborhood school chose charters; the rest picked a district-run school.

Detroit parents will do almost anything to send their children to better schools, reports Detroit Chalkboard. Parents can choose a charter, magnet or suburban schools, but they must provide their own transportation.

Monique Johnson leaves home just after 6 a.m. with her son Shownn, 13, an eighth-grader. They “catch a ride to a bus stop eight blocks from their home, avoiding closer stops that are too dangerous. Their first bus comes at 6:20.

Shownn is exhausted at that hour and sometimes sleeps on his mother’s shoulder during the 25- to 40-minute ride along Schoolcraft Road toward Woodward Avenue. The bus drops the pair at the corner of Woodward and Manchester in Highland Park. Mother and son typically wait 20 minutes for their next bus, the No. 53, while peering warily through the dim light cast by the Walgreens across the street.

. . . Mother and son typically arrive at University Prep Science & Math Middle School, a well regarded charter school in the Michigan Science Center, around 7:30 a.m. and Johnson waits with her son until his classes begin at 7:50.

She gets at home about 9:30. “That’s about three and a half hours before she has to leave again on another four buses to return to Shownn’s school and bring him home.”

I guess she doesn’t think it’s safe for her 13-year-old son to make the journey by himself.

Big districts hire more cops than counselors

School security officers outnumber counselors in some of the nation’s largest school districts, including New York City, Chicago, Miami-Dade County and Houston, reports Matt Barnum for The 74.

Some cities, such as New York City, hire high numbers of both security staff and counselors, the analysis found.

Others, such as  Houston and Los Angeles, don’t have many guards or counselors. Both school districts have their own police force.

Most school security officers have little training in dealing with troubled and special-needs students, reports The 74.

College readiness includes coping, character

I am for peace
Perspectives Charter students organized a peace march in Chicago last year to urge young people to reject violence.

First-generation, low-income college students need more than academic skills to succeed in college, many educators now believe. College readiness includes social and emotional skills, writes Hechinger’s Emmanuel Felton in The Atlantic.

“Plenty of kids” are eligible for college, but not really ready, says Laura Jimenez of the American Institutes for Research. “If your class is at eight in the morning, are you going to be able to get up and get to class? Are you going to seek help when you need it?”

At five Perspectives Charter schools, which serve low-income Chicago students in grades six through 12, every student takes a daily class called A Disciplined Life that stresses what might be called character education. Only 8 percent of Perspectives students passed Common Core-aligned tests last year, writes Felton. However, 93 percent of graduates attend college and 44 percent graduate in six years, a high success rate for disadvantaged students.

Ronald Brown, a senior at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, says Perspectives’s focus on social-emotional skills set him up to tackle the demands of the selective, mostly white and affluent liberal-arts college.

“Perspectives prepared me,” said Brown. “Be open-minded, try new things, challenge each other and yourself intellectually, time management, all of that came easy. And when I hit academic barriers, I persisted and kept moving forward. I took advantage of tutoring, the counseling center, the math center, the writing center, anything that could help.”

At KIPP and YES Prep, predominantly low-income black and Latino students do well on state reading and math tests, but struggle in college. Both charter networks have turned to social and emotional learning to boost their college success rates.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) “identifies five essential aptitudes: self-management, self-awareness, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness,” writes Felton. “But none of these skills are straightforward to measure—and how educators stress and relay them to kids looks very different from school to school.”

51gaLpYzZ4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Educators hope teaching non-cognitive skills “will help students develop the inner fortitude and confidence to push through personal and learning challenges,” writes Katrina Schwartz on Mind/Shift.

Character development programs have become more popular,” but it’s not clear which character strengths improve student success.

In Character Compass: How Powerful School Culture Can Point Students Towards Success, Scott Seider, a Boston University education professor, discusses how three high-performing Boston charter schools, all primarily enrolled black and Latino students, try to develop character.

The strongest predictors of good grades were perseverance and school-connectedness, he found.

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.

The power of intensive tutoring

At Chicago Vocational Career Academy, which is desperately trying to raise its test scores and graduation rate, nearly all students come from low-income black families. Most ninth graders are years behind in reading and math. Intensive tutoring provided by MATCH Education is helping students catch up, reports Maya Dukmasova in the University of Chicago Magazine.

On a day in early June, three girls sat face to face with tutors in the Math Lab, which they attend in addition to their normal math class.

They were working on division with unknown variables. “Number 23 is a little curveball but I bet you can do it,” Nichole Jannah, a recent college graduate, told her student.

Math tutor Amelia Hansen works with one student at a time. Credit: Maya Dukmasova

Math tutor Amelia Hansen works with one student at a time. Credit: Maya Dukmasova

Veronica, a freshman, started the year with a D in math. With daily help from a tutor, she finished the year with a high B.

Sarah, also a freshman, raised her math grade from a C to an A with the help of her tutor. “When I go into math class, I fly through work,” she said, snapping her fingers.

“Everything in education policy right now is about getting teachers to do a better job teaching grade-level material,” says Jens Ludwig, who co-directs UC’s Education Lab. But good algebra teaching can’t help students who haven’t mastered third-grade arithmetic.

Being able to successfully teach in the classroom involves years of practice and training in pedagogy and classroom management. . . . To get results as a tutor, he says, requires only knowledge of the material, good rapport with people, and commitment.

MATCH recruits recent college graduates — and a few career switchers — who are willing to work full time for $17,000 a year plus benefits.

Before the school got MATCH tutors in fall 2013, the first-year on-track rate — the percentage of freshman passing all their classes — was in the low 70s. Now 86 percent are on track to graduate.

CVCA was able to cancel its summer credit-recovery classes for failing students, writes Dukmasova. “Instead the school focused on offering higher-level math and honors courses.”

Magical thinking on school tech

School technology inspires a lot of magical thinking, writes Larry Cuban.

Massive Open Online Courses — free to anyone with an Internet connection — were supposed to “revolutionize” and “transform” higher education. Cuban writes. In the Gartner “hype” cycle, MOOCs have reached the “Trough of Disillusionment” in only three years.

The move to teach coding in elementary school and computer science in high school is in the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” writes Cuban.

Britain’s national curriculum now requires “computing” in secondary schools.

In the U.S., coding and computer science “are being sold to school boards and parents as ways of teaching logic, thinking skills, as well as preparation for future jobs,” Cuban writes. He’s dubious.

Chicago Public Schools is “rolling out computer science classes at all levels” and plans to make computer science a graduation requirement, writes Scott Shackford.

Computer science educators worry about maintaining quality, he writes. “Just because every high school in the country is ordered to provide computer science classes doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be any good and that students will learn from them.”

Technology won’t save our schools, writes Austin Dannhaus on edSurge. “Education technology has seen over $3 billion of venture capital investment in the last two years. A corresponding rise in education outcomes, however, has been much more elusive. “

$7 billion didn’t help worst schools

Pouring $7 billion into America’s worst schools has produced few “turnarounds,” reports Caitlin Emma in Politico.  Nationwide, “about two thirds of (School Improvement Grant) SIG schools nationwide made modest or no gains — not much different from similarly bad schools that got no money at all,” she writes. “About a third of the schools actually got worse.”

In Miami, a high school in Little Haiti has moved from an “F” rating to a “B,” with help from SIG money. Achievement remains low, but not as low as it used to be.

Security is a concern at Christian Fenger High School in Chicago. Credit: Peter Hoffman, Education Week

Security is a concern at Christian Fenger High School in Chicago. Credit: Peter Hoffman, Education Week

At a low-performing school in Chicago, nothing changed. Fewer than 10 percent of juniors are proficient in reading, math and science, the same level as before.

Miami Superintendent Alberto Carvalho lined up “the support of teachers, unions and parents,” before SIG money arrived, writes Emma. With union buy-in, he was able to move strong teachers to low-performing schools, transferring weaker teachers to other placements.

“In Chicago, where teachers fought the program and officials changed almost yearly, schools churned through millions of dollars but didn’t budge the needle, reports Emma.

In 1989, 16 high-poverty, low- scoring elementary schools in Austin, Texas, were awarded $300,000 a year for five years, above normal school spending, to settle a desegregation suit. After five years, little had changed at 14 of the 16 schools, I wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle column. Two schools improved dramatically in achievement and attendance.

Only two of the 16 schools had plans for raising achievement before they got the money, researchers Richard J. Murnane and Frank Levy wrote in an analysis of the “natural experiment.”

In the 14 schools that didn’t improve, the money was used to lower class sizes, but teaching and curriculum stayed the same — and so did results. In the two schools that improved, principals lowered class size, but that was just the start of many changes.

Here’s the Education Department’s new SIG report.

Low-income charter kids earn higher scores

In Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, and Miami-Dade County, low-income charter students scored significantly higher than low-income students in district-run schools on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), notes Education Reform Now.

The difference of 10 scale score points in reading translates roughly into one year’s worth of learning.

On the NAEP math exam, low-income charter students averaged 8 scale score points higher, nearly a year’s worth of learning, compared to low-income students in district-run schools.

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.

Libraries add ‘coder time’ to story time

Librarian Brooke Sheets uses colored cups to teach algorithms and debugging to girls at Los Angeles’ Central Library. Photo: Alex Schaffert-Callaghan, KPCC

To play a drawing game called Phenomenal Turtle, nine-year-old Perla Hernandez had to “break down big complex problems into small sequential steps,” writes Alex Schaffert-Callaghan on KPCC. She was one of a dozen children who came to a Los Angeles’ library for “coder time.”

 Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Librarian Joanna Fabicon “would love coding to be as ubiquitous in libraries as story time.” She works with an afterschool program to reach children at eight LAUSD elementary schools.

Girls feel comfortable coming to the library, said Brooke Sheets, a children’s librarian at the central branch. “More than half the kids in Hernandez’s class were girls, a ratio most computer science programs can only dream of,” writes Schaffert-Callaghan.

At the end of the lesson Hernandez showed her game to the group. “The kids watched as a small green turtle moved quickly across the screen, filling it with a rainbow of intricate pop-art patterns, earning a big round of applause.”

Within 10 years, all New York City schools will offer computer science, pledges Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Chicago plans to require a year of computer science for high school graduates by 2018, reports the New York Times. (Really! How many can add fractions?) “The San Francisco Board of Education voted in June to offer it from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade.”