(Ex-)boy wins state honors in girls’ track 

Tia Goward, “Ice” Wangyot and Joei Vidad competed in the 200-meter sprint in the 2016 Alaska State Track Championships in Anchorage. Photo: Bob Hallinen/Alaska Dispatch News

A (biological) boy won all-Alaska honors in girls’ track and field, reports the Daily Caller.  Nattaphon “Ice” Wangyot, 18, who identifies as a girl, won fifth place in the 100-meter dash and third place in the 200-meter.

“I’m glad that this person is comfortable with who they are . . . but I don’t think it’s competitively completely 100-percent fair,” said Saskia Harrison, who just failed to qualify for the finals.

“Genetically a guy has more muscle mass than a girl, and if he’s racing against a girl, he may have an advantage, ” another runner, Peyton Young,  told the Alaska Dispatch News.

Wangyot, who moved to Alaska from Thailand two years ago, also competed in girls volleyball and girls basketball earlier this school year.

Is it fair to let someone who’s physically male compete against girls?

Friedman: Competition drives innovation

Competition from charter and private schools is the key to transforming education, concludes Pursuing Innovation, a new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

District school students make achievement gains when their schools are competing with charters or private schools that accept school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, according to 30 of 42 studies analyzed.
MPCPMPSACTMost educational choice programs result in “modest improvements” at district schools, the report found.

However, in Florida (tax-credit scholarships) and Milwaukee (vouchers), “significant increases in publicly funded educational options resulted in bigger increases in public school students’ achievement.”

Despite significant improvement in Milwaukee’s district schools, the city’s choice students outperform Milwaukee Public Schools students in math and, especially, in English Language Arts. On Wisconsin’s statewide “Badger” tests, choice students did better than similar students in district schools.

“Empowering parents with the ability to choose a school that best suits the child’s needs is working in Wisconsin and resulting in students performing better academically,’ said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children.

Winning school

Shawn Young, founder of Classcraft, uses the game in his physics class. 

Competition shouldn’t just be for athletes — or brainiacs — writes Greg Toppo in Game Plan for Learning in Education Next.  Academic competition can engage and motivate students, writes Toppo, author of The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter.

Schools “use sports, games, social clubs, and band competitions to get students excited about coming to school,” he writes, but rarely “use academic competition to improve instruction for more than just a few top students.”

That’s starting to change.

Shawn Young, a 32-year-old Canadian physics teacher, has created a peer-driven classroom learning and management system, dubbed Classcraft, that resembles a low-tech, sword-and-sorcery video game. In it, students work in teams to meet the basic demands of school — showing up on time, working diligently, completing homework, behaving well in class, and encouraging each other to do the same — to earn “experience” and “health” points.

Arete (originally named Interstellar) lets students compete to solve math problems with rivals anywhere in the world. Tim Kelley was inspired by watching the school rowing team compete to improve their personal bests in endurance.

Kelley began to wonder how one might replicate that fighting spirit in the classroom. He soon imagined a computer application that would use students’ day-to-day results to match them up with comparably skilled contestants in head-to-head academic competition — in everything from classroom pickup games to bleacher-filling, live-broadcast amphitheater tournaments.

Yes, Kelley hopes to make math a spectator sport.


The power of high school ‘speech’

Democracy Prep students from the Bronx went to Yale to compete in a speech tournament, reports The Guardian. The black and Latino charter students hope to earn college scholarships for success in “competitive acting.” They’re already wonderfully articulate.

Los Angeles explores all-charter district

Los Angeles Unified is exploring conversion to an all-charter school district, but the school board’s real goal seems to be gaining more autonomy to compete with expanding charters, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Philanthropist Eli Broad, who's proposed a huge charter-school expansion in Los Angeles, at Harlem Success Academy.

Philanthropist Eli Broad, who’s proposed a huge charter-school expansion in Los Angeles, at Harlem Success Academy.

“It’s not fair that the current system provides autonomies to the charter schools and not to traditional public schools,” board member Monica Ratliff said.

Charter schools will have space for half the district’s students, if the Broad Foundation’s eight-year expansion plan becomes a reality.

Converting the huge district to charters would require state approval and the support of a majority of teachers.

Richard Vladovic, another board member, said the chances of L.A. Unified becoming an all-charter district were “slim and none.”

Prizes for none — except for sports

A number of Boston private schools no longer give academic prizes and honors “to keep those who don’t get them from feeling bad,” writes Concord Review creator Will Fitzhugh. However, these schools haven’t stopped keeping score in games or honoring elite athletes. It’s OK to excel in sports.

Andra Manson broke the high jump record for high school boys by jumping 7 feet 7 inches.

Andra Manson broke the high jump record for high school boys by jumping 7 feet, 7 inches.

The Boston Globe devotes about 150 pages a year to covering high school sports and one page a year to naming valedictorians at public high schools, he writes.

“We are comfortable encouraging, supporting, seeking and celebrating elite performance in high school sports,” writes Fitzhugh.  “We seem shy, embarrassed, reluctant, ashamed, and even afraid to encourage, support, and acknowledge — much less celebrate —outstanding academic work by high school students.”

When [mid-20th century] I was in a private school in Northern California, I won a “gold” medal for first place in a track meet of the Private School Conference of Northern California for the high jump [5’6”] — which I thought was pretty high.

My “peers” in the Bay Area public high schools at the time were already clearing 6 feet, but I was, in fact, not in their league.

. . . The current boys high school record, set in July 2002, by Andra Manson of Kingston, Jamaica, at a high school in Brenham, Texas, is 7 feet, 7 inches. [high jump, not pole vault].

Knowing that the record was moving up, a large group of high school athletes was motivated to work harder and jump higher, Fitzhugh concludes.

Gentrification stops at the schoolhouse door

When urban neighborhoods gentrify, why don’t their public schools improve? asks Ester Bloom in The Atlantic

Gentrification usually “stops at the schoolhouse door,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones in Grist. Newcomers often send their kids to private or charter schools, not to the low-performing local school.

University of Hartford Magnet School band and strings lessons, dance, Flying Magnets Running Club, and mentoring.

University of Hartford Magnet School offers band and strings lessons, dance, a running club and mentoring.

The exceptions are schools that compete for middle-class students by becoming magnet schools or starting gifted-and-talented programs, writes Bloom. However, “money put toward enticing middle-class parents is money that can’t be put toward students who might need those resources more.”

Hartford, Connecticut has created dozens of urban magnet schools that attract students who live outside the city, reports This American Life. Nearly half of Hartford students now attend integrated schools, up from 11 percent before the magnet initiative.

How exactly did Hartford do it? The city persuaded patrons to buy in. It wooed children of diverse backgrounds. And instead of having students learn science through worksheets, the city gave students access to a planetarium, an outdoor garden, a butterfly vivarium, a trout pond, and a LEGO lab.

. . . A planetarium is not a cheap solution, but if you build it, they will come—and they might well stay.

That strategy didn’t work in Kansas City, which spent $2 billion over 12 years trying to lure white,  middle-class, suburban kids to the inner city, reports Cato.

The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

Perhaps Hartford will do a better job of creating magnet schools that provide a high-quality education — not just perks.

By the way, Hartford has two K-8 charters that are all black/Latino. A pre-K-2 charter is integrated.

Life and death of an urban high school

Once the largest high school in the U.S., Queens’ Jamaica High had only 24 students in its final graduation class, writes Jelani Cobb in The Life and Death of Jamaica High School in The New Yorker.

Cobb, who went to Jamaica High in its prime, earned a diploma in 1987 and went on to Howard.


The Jamaica High School building last year and, at right, in 1981.

The New York City Department of Education closed the once respected high school due to “persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty per cent,” he writes. Four new “small schools” now share the old building.

The high school started to slip when talented students in northern Queens were given the option of attending two other schools, a magnet and an exam school, on college campuses, Cobb writes.

In 2004, the Bloomberg administration let students apply to any high school in the city. Savvy parents found the best schools. Less-savvy parents took what was left.

Once a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix, Jamaica High became 99 percent minority and 63 percent low-income in the year before it closed.

In Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, hunger strikers hope to save Dyett High School, a low-performing school that has lost students to competing schools.

Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of "destabilization" in not providing basic resources.

Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of destabilizing the school in 2014 by starving it of resources.

A community group wants to run it as a neighborhood school with a focus on “leadership and green technology.” The principal envisions a school with an sports theme. Another proposal would create an arts theme.

“Schools are ecosystems, each with its own history, culture, and intricately woven set of social relationships, writes Eve Ewing. “Schools are community anchors. They not interchangeable, nor are they disposable. Schools are home.”

Bronzeville parents have been choosing alternatives to Dyett for years now, just as Queens parents have been choosing alternatives to Jamaica High. Can they be persuaded to return to the neighborhood school?

Schools improve to compete with charters

Charter school competition is improving district-run schools in New York City, argues Eva Moskowitz in the Wall Street Journal.

Her Success Academy charter schools serve low-income, minority students, yet students “not only rank in the top 1% in math and top 3% in English among all state schools, but they take top honors in national debate and chess championships,” writes Moskowitz.

Critics charge her schools and other charters cherry-pick the best students and dump harder-to-educate students in district schools. If that’s so, “any academic gains by charters are offset by losses in district schools,” she writes.

The city is divided into 32 community school districts. Math and reading scores improved from 2006 to 2014 in community school districts with the most charters and fell in areas with few or no charters, Moskowitz writes.

Of the 16 charter-rich districts, 11 rose in the rankings. And of the eight among those 16 with the highest charter enrollment, all rose save one. The district that jumped furthest, rocketing up 11 spots between 2006 and 2014, was District 5 in Central Harlem, which has the city’s highest charter-school enrollment (43%).

And what about the 16 charter-light districts? Thirteen fell in the rankings, and not one rose. For example, District 12 in the Bronx, which in 2006 ranked higher than Central Harlem, now ranks 13 spots lower. District 29 in Queens, which in 2006 ranked 15 spots higher than Central Harlem and has fewer poor students, now ranks lower.

Average charter-school enrollment was 20% for those districts that rose in the rankings and 6% in those districts that fell.

If there holes in this, I don’t know New York City well enough to spot them.

NYC Chancellor Carmen Fariña should be looking for ways to emulate successful charters, rather than dissing them, writes Richard Whitmire. “New district/charter collaborations were announced in Cleveland, Minneapolis, Rhode Island and Florida, the Center on Reinventing Public Education reported last month. They will join the more established compacts well under way in places such as Denver, Houston and San Jose.”

Detroit Public Schools woo middle-class families

Detroit Public Schools has closed more than 80 schools due to severe drops in enrollment. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

Detroit Public Schools has closed more than 80 schools due to severe drops in enrollment. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

Detroit Public Schools is trying to “attract middle-class families to one of the worst school systems in the country,” writes Sarah Butrymowicz on the Hechinger Report. The district is competing with charter, suburban and private schools — and the tendency of middle-class parents to move when their oldest child reaches school age.

Dara Hill, a college professor and mother of a four-year-old, diligently scribbled notes as the principal of Detroit’s Nichols Elementary-Middle School led her and several of her neighbors on a tour of the school. A room for special education students was brimming with stuffed animals, but the hallways were sparsely decorated. Work displayed in the kindergarten classroom was charming and developmentally appropriate. Why were there six students sitting to the side during gym class?

Nichols . . . typically performs at or slightly above average on state tests. It’s also a five-minute walk from Hill’s home . . .

An education professor, Hill joined a parent group called the Best Classroom Project. Parents, mostly middle class, share information and coordinate school visits.

School officials hope to use the Project to “reach the city’s small middle class as a means of ultimately growing a larger one,” writes Butrymowicz. In the district’s downtown offices, a “war room” is devoted to strategizing on how to raise enrollment.

On one wall, a Sun Tzu quote a translation of “The Art of War” hangs next to a poster someone has titled, “THE QUESTION: How shall DPS compete and win the marketplace?” The answer, posted next to it, is “Empowered DPS employee’s operating via synchronized, lean agile and leveraged work efforts.”

But it’s not all corporate doublespeak.

Officials gathered community volunteers to walk with children to school and are working with the city’s lighting authority to get broken streetlights near schools replaced first. They’ve picked 20 schools to serve as community hubs. They’re open 12 hours a day and filled with resources and classes for parents. Music or art is now taught at every elementary school — although many schools can’t afford to to offer both.

They’ve also launched new academic programs, like the three-year-old Benjamin Carson High School of Medicine and Technology. Many students there said they returned to the district from charter schools because they were attracted by Carson’s small size and focus on science. They praised the school and its academics, but in the spring, in the school’s first year of state testing, only 9 percent of 11th-graders passed the state math test and just 1 percent did in science. About 40 percent were proficient in reading and writing.

“A handful of parents from the Best Classroom Project opted to send their children to high-performing DPS schools this fall, but Hill’s leading contender is a private school,” writes Butrymowicz.