Collaborate with charters

Columbus City Schools (Ohio) is renting an empty school site, but charter schools need not apply, writes Stephanie Groce, vice president of the school board.  “The administration explained to me that they do not want to lease that building to any school that might compete for students with Columbus schools.” Learn to collaborate, Groce writes in the Columbus Dispatch.

Tucked away in a church in the Weinland Park neighborhood, just a few blocks from the vacant building, is Columbus Collegiate Academy, a public charter school that outperforms every middle school in Columbus City Schools. On its most recent report card, 100 percent of seventh-grade students scored proficient or better in math, a feat that none of our middle schools can claim. The students served by the academy are 94 percent economically disadvantaged and 81 percent African-American.

Columbus Collegiate needs room to expand. No dice.  The district rejected proposals from Columbus Collegiate and two other high-performing charters.  A music-education business will rent the building.

District leaders keep the city’s charters at arms’ length, she writes.

When I visited Columbus Collegiate Academy last winter to learn about its program, I asked the executive director: How many principals and administrators from Columbus City Schools have come to visit you? The answer: none. I guess there’s nothing we can learn from a school that outperforms all of our middle schools.

The district and its charter should “share best practices and resources willingly, including facilities,” Groce writes.

Fordham Institute authorizes Columbus Collegiate, notes Education Gadfly.

Order in the school

Columbus Collegiate Academy, the highest-performing middle school in Columbus, Ohio, won a national award for improving students’ achievement.  Nearly all students are low-income and black.  What’s the secret? This Examiner story cites excellent teachers, a curriculum designed to teach what’s in the state standards and a “laser-like focus on academics.” I was struck by the emphasis on order.

(In each classroom), identical signs illustrate the hand signals students should use for common requests like tissues, pencils, or questions, and where teachers give out individual and class merits and demerits for good or bad behavior. The school’s culture is one of personal and group restraint, with all available energy and attention trained on the urgent task of getting each student prepared, ultimately, for college. Social studies, science, and history teacher Kathryn Anstaett explains that “an aura of professionalism” pervades the school. She and Ben Pacht both agree that the school’s established structure—its clear guidelines for student behavior, instructional practices, and discipline—frees the kids and grownups alike to focus on learning.

Co-director John Dues ends lunch by counting “one, two, three, ” signaling students to stand, push in the chair, discard trash and get in line.  “The cafeteria spotless, the students soundless, Dues directed the children back to their classrooms.”

The Fordham-sponsored charter has a longer day and year — the equivalent of an extra 64 days — and tries to use every second.

Update: James Lileks remembers his junior high school vice principal. Mr. Lear wasn’t anyone’s friend.

Mr. Lear’s preferred method of getting a kid to behave was to lift him up by the short hairs on the nape of his neck, which are directly connected to the portions of the brain that handle pain, fear, humiliation, and resentment. What earned this? Horseplay. Tomfoolery. And, of course, hijinx. But if you said a bad word you walked on tiptoe to his office, held aloft by your neck hairs.

There were never any fights at school, and no one swore out loud.

When a local mother visited the high school Lileks’ daughter might attend, a student called her “bitch,” for no apparent reason, “and all the other kids giggled and whooped.”