Social services alone won’t improve learning

Cincinnati has piloted community schools, which “wrap health, dental, therapeutic, and family support services around existing schools” to “improve students’ learning and life prospects,” writes Paul Hill of University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. The idea has spread to New York City and Philadelphia.

However, social services along won’t improve student outcomes, he warns. Students from poor families need a high-quality academic education in addition to social supports.

Oyler School in Cincinnati offers a full range of support services -- at a high cost.

Oyler School in Cincinnati offers a full range of support services, but costs are high and the effect on achievement is not clear.

Oyler School, Cincinnati’s model community school, provides an array of health services, including vision and dental care and mental health counseling.

However,  “the links between even intensive services and student learning are weak and tough to find,” Hill writes. “In Cincinnati, the strongest link between wrap-around services and outcomes like normal progress in school comes from attendance gains: on-site health services mean a parent or guardian no longer needs to take children out of school to wait all day to be seen at an emergency ward.”

“Careful studies” have found that students’ learning growth in the Harlem Children’s Zone “is a result of improvements in the schools,” rather than improved social and health services, he writes.

“Despite enormous support from Cincinnati hospitals and businesses, only Oyler has the full menu of services,” Hill notes. Community schools are expensive.

NYC’s door-to-door push to involve parents

Tameka Carter, left, and Bliss Requa-Trautz, knocked on doors of families with Public School 112 students in the Edenwald housing projects in the Bronx. Photo: Karsten Moran, New York Times

In hopes of turning around struggling schools, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has spent a million dollars to “train parents in organizing techniques and to hire people to knock on the doors of roughly 35,000 parents,” reports the New York Times.

“Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said. “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.”

The initiative is modeled after Cincinnati’s “community schools.”

 So on a hot afternoon in late August, one of the outreach workers, Tameka Carter, a single mother of four from Brooklyn who said she had always been active in her children’s schools, went from building to building in the Edenwald housing project in the Bronx, knocking on doors of families with children in Public School 112.

When Ms. Carter did find the parents who were listed on her clipboard, typically mothers, they listened as she explained what it meant that their child’s school was becoming a “community school.”

Parents were asked to rate “how much they would value potential new programs, like medical services, tutoring or summer activities” or “an opportunity for parents to sit at the decision-making table.”

“Meaning?” Maria Pena, a 31-year-old mother of three, asked.

Ms. Carter explained that she could “sit at the table” with P.S. 112’s “community school team,” a group of parents and staff members who would decide what programs the school needed.

“I would definitely sit,” Ms. Pena said. “The problem is if they would listen.”

The administration will spend $106 million over two years to add social and health services at schools.

Parents will come to student performances or award ceremonies, but not to workshops on how to help their children with schoolwork, says Susan Barnes, principal of P.S. 112. “Most of my parents are non-readers,” she said. “People don’t want you to know that they can’t read or write.”

Most types of parental involvement have little or no effect on children’s academic performance, said Keith Robinson, a University of Texas professor who’s studied the issue. Parents’ expectations — will their child go to college? — does make a difference.

Bad NYC schools get cash, counselors

New York City’s lowest-performing schools will get more money and staffing, a longer school day and on-site social services, said Mayor Bill de Blasio at an East Harlem school, reports the New York Times.

Criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s strategy of closing low-performing schools, the mayor said, “We reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools.”

He spoke at the Coalition School for Social Change, where the attendance rate is 74 percent. It is one of 94 “renewal schools” with low test scores and graduation rates that will extend the school day by one hour. Teachers will have extra training.

. . .  the centerpiece of the proposal involves turning these institutions into so-called Community Schools, which try to address the challenges students face outside the classroom, with offerings like mental health services for those who need them or food for students who do not get enough to eat at home.

Nationally, community schools’ performance is “uneven,” according to the Times. In Cincinnati, a national leader, “some community colleges still showed dismal academic performances even after years of work and millions of dollars of investments.”

Where has De Blasio’s approach worked at any scale? asks Eduwonk. Why not target help at “middling schools” while continuing Bloomberg’s “aggressive strategy” (closure) on the worst.

“The track record on turning around the lowest-performers is pretty stark,” he concludes. “In the context of that evidence base do those parents and children deserve more immediate relief now?”

The renewal plan could “delay action on schools that are in desperate straits and should be reorganized or closed in fairly short order,” editorializes the New York Times.

Cincinnati’s Catholic teachers are ‘ministers’

“Thou shalt not” do — or publicly support — premarital sex, extramarital sex, unmarried cohabitation, in-vitro fertilization, a gay “lifestyle” or a host of other issues, if you want to teach in Cincinnati Catholic schools. All teachers must sign a new “morality” contract that focuses on “pelvic issues,” reports CNN.  All teachers are now “ministers” to make it easier to fire them.

It stems from a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, in which the justices cite a “ministerial exemption” that gives religious institutions greater latitude when hiring and firing employees.

Molly Shumate, a first-grade teacher, plans to quit her job rather than pledge not to publicly support her gay son, she told CNN. “If in five or 10 years he finds a partner and he wants to be with that person, I’m going to be in the front row with the biggest bouquet.”

The Cincinnati Archdiocese has lost several lawsuits for firing teachers who didn’t abide by Catholic doctrine.

Computer teacher Christa Dias, who was single, used in-vitro fertilization to become pregnant and was then fired. She sued the archdiocese for discrimination and a jury awarded her more than $170,000.

. . . Also last year, a dean of students at a Cincinnati Catholic high school was let go after supporting same-sex marriage on his private blog.

And a female gym teacher at a high school in the Columbus, Ohio, diocese was fired after publishing the name of her partner in an obituary column announcing her mother’s death. She sued and the diocese settled.

I think the archdiocese will find it significantly harder to hire teachers.

Turnaround in Cincinnati

It’s possible to turn an urban school district around without cheating, writes Greg Anrig in The Atlantic. Cincinnati schools have improved thanks to a “data-driven collaborative strategy to promote good teaching and learning,” rejecting school reform fads, he writes.

In 2009, newly promoted Superintendent Mary Ronan launched an elementary initiative aimed at revitalizing the district’s 16 worst-performing elementary schools.

 . . . a wide variety of instructional approaches (Montessori, Success for All, Direct Instruction, etc.) were not being followed as designed in classrooms. (Auditors) also saw that many of the schools taught English for less than 45 minutes a day, that teachers were partial to whole-group instruction instead of breaking the class into smaller groups, and that testing data was not being used for any practical purpose.

Administrators and “lead teachers” adopted changes including “90-minute blocks of literature-rich units, small-group activities with teachers rotating among students, and reorienting teachers’ and administrators’ approach to test results, so that they could be used as diagnostic tools for identifying particular areas in which students need greater support.”

Data-driven instruction is not a reform idea?

In addition, principals and lead teachers from the targeted schools were trained in solving problems as a team with “minimal confrontation or defensiveness.”

Four years later, all 16 targeted schools have emerged from “academic emergency” with 12 rising to the mid-level  “continuous improvement” ranking or higher.

“Deep collaboration between administrators and teachers” is the first step, writes Anrig. “Also required are effective approaches for developing coherent instructional systems with active teacher input; close attentiveness to testing data to identify problems students are having so they can be provided with extra support; and strong connections between the schools, parents, and community groups.” Tests are OK as a tool to improve instruction, but not to “punish or reward teachers,” he concludes.

Study: Teacher evaluation lifts scores

Evaluation can improve mid-career teachers’ effectiveness in math, but not reading, according to a study of Cincinnati’s Teacher Evaluation System (TES), reports Education Next.

 . .  . teachers are more effective at raising student achievement during the school year when they are being evaluated than they were previously, and even more effective in the years after evaluation. A student instructed by a teacher after that teacher has been through the Cincinnati evaluation will score about 11 percent of a standard deviation (4.5 percentile points for a median student) higher in math than a similar student taught by the same teacher before the teacher was evaluated.

Well-designed performance evaluation “can be an effective form of teacher professional development,” conclude researchers Eric S. Taylor and John H. Tyler.

During the yearlong TES process, teachers are observed in the classroom four times, once by the principal or another administrator and three times by a “high-performing, experienced teacher who previously taught in a different school.”

The evaluation measures classroom management, instruction, content knowledge, and planning, among other topics.

After each classroom observation, peer evaluators and administrators provide written feedback to the teacher and meet with the teacher at least once to discuss the results. At the end of the evaluation school year, a final summative score in each of four domains of practice is calculated and presented to the evaluated teacher.

. . . For beginning teachers (those evaluated in their first and fourth years), a poor evaluation could result in nonrenewal of their contract, while a successful evaluation is required before receiving tenure. For tenured teachers, evaluation scores determine eligibility for some promotions or additional tenure protection, or, in the case of very low scores, placement in a peer assistance program with a small risk of termination.

Teachers who were the least effective in raising student scores before the evaluation and those who earned relatively low TES scores showed the greatest improvement. Despite the high cost — $7,500 per teacher — TES is a cost-effective way to improve student performance, the study found.

Also on Ed Next, Thomas Kane, who led the Gates Foundation’s project on measuring teaching, writes on Capturing the Dimensions of Effective Teaching.

Observation matches value-added data

Elementary teachers rated well by observers also were rated as high-performing by a value-added analysis of their students’ progress, concludes a Consortium for Chicago School Research report on Chicago’s teacher evaluation pilot. Low observation ratings also matched poor value-added data.

A similar correlation was found in several studies on Cincinnati’s teacher-evaluation system, notes Teacher Beat.

Both principals and external evaluators observed and assessed teachers’ classroom performance.

• Principals and observers gave similar numbers of lower scores, but principals gave the top rating more often than the other observers did, across all 10 of the evaluations standards. Interestingly, much of this variation disappeared when researchers controlled for the teachers’ prior evaluation scores, suggesting that principals may be drawing on background knowledge in assigning scores. While this doesn’t exactly fit the narrative of vindictive principals, it does show that who you get as an observer potentially matters.

• Most of the principals were close to the external observers in terms of how strictly they applied the evaluation standards, but there were a few outliers on both ends. Eleven percent of principals regularly rated teachers lower than the observers while 17 percent tended to rate them higher. Another reason to consider more than one observer in a teacher-evaluation system.

Teachers and principals said observations lead to more meaningful discussions of how to improve teaching, but principals said they needed more training on how to help teachers analyze their evaluation.

Study: Observers can spot best teachers

Cincinnati teachers who receive high ratings from trained observers also have high value-added scores, concludes a study by Harvard, Stanford and Brown researchers reported in Education Next.

The 10-year-old Teacher Evaluation System (TES) includes three observations by a an experienced teacher from outside the school and one by a school administrator. Evaluators and administrators must complete an intensive training course and accurately score videotaped teaching examples.

Teachers’ scores on the classroom observation components of Cincinnati’s evaluation system reliably predict the achievement gains made by their students in both math and reading. These findings support the idea that teacher evaluation systems need not be based on test scores alone in order to provide useful information about which teachers are most effective in raising student achievement.

TES evaluate all first-year teachers and fourth-year teachers up for tenure. After that, teachers are evaluated every fifth year. Teachers may volunteer for TES to earn the high scores needed to qualify as a lead teacher or TES evaluator.

Teacher Beat looks at the push to devise teacher evaluation systems.

Students aren’t citizenship-ready

Preparation for active citizenship — an understanding of the nation’s founding principles and documents, the structure of government, and the ability to analyze and think critically about politics and power — isn’t on the education agenda, complains Diana Jean Schemo on Remapping Debate. Education advocates want students to be “college- and career-ready,” but not necessarily “citizenship-ready.”

Broadly speaking, preparation for active citizenship really connotes two related areas: civics and citizenship education. Civics, said Mary McFarland, past president of the National Council for the Social Studies . . . teaches (students) about the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the Federalist papers, among other key documents. Civics explores the relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and the role of a free press. It explains the tension between state and federal law, the role of judicial precedent and what kinds of issues might turn up at the ballot box.

. . . (Citizen education teaches students)  to distinguish between fact and opinion and between fact and fictions masquerading as facts. Citizen education teaches students to evaluate the strength of arguments on a given issue, to separate reason from emotion, and to challenge assumptions.

But civics remains a stepchild, Schemo writes. In the U.S. Department of Education,  “civics falls not under the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, but under the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.” It’s seen as a way to “build character” and improve the school climate, not as training for citizens of a democracy.

Citizen education went awry in Cincinnati when Hughes High School students of voting age were bused to a polling place and handed Democratic sample ballots only.

Mark Stepaniak, an attorney representing CPS, admits students were taken on school time in donated church vans to vote last week and were given sample ballots listing only Democrat candidates. But the ballots weren’t handed out by a school employee. They were handed out, Stepaniak said, by Gwen Robinson, a former CPS principal.

A Republican candidate and an anti-tax coalition filed suit but appear ready to settle for an agreement to ban electioneering at school-related events.