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.

Nashville teachers recruit students

In East Nashville, District school principals are asking teachers to go door to door to recruit students, reports Nashville Public Radio. It’s standard practice for charter school staffers.

“I think we’re just moving to the place where we do have to sell ourselves,” said LaTonya White, principal of Rosebank Elementary School.

Nashville has open enrollment. Per-pupil public funding of roughly $10,000 follows the student to the school of choice.

East Nashville has a number of “struggling, under-capacity schools.”

Half-a-dozen Rosebank teachers showed up  on a Saturday to canvass for students. Many teachers don’t think marketing is their job, said Carla Douglas, an art teacher who donated her time.

Cities collaborate with charters

More than 20 school districts, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, are collaborating with charter schools on teacher training, ways to measure student progress and other issues, writes Richard Whitmire in Education Next.

Districts have signed “compacts” with charters — with funding from the Gates Foundation.

In Denver and in Aldine and Spring Branch, Texas, superintendents have invited high-performing charters to share space in schools. Charter and district principals and teachers interact with each other. Students take some classes together.

District superintendents want to import some of the charter classroom culture they see. At Northbrook Middle School in Spring Branch, students have adopted a new attitude about academic success. Now, “it’s cool to know the answers.”

Charter school leaders need building space, and access to students. Districts have helped charters coordinate services for special education students and by setting common performance metrics for low-performing charters.

Don Shalvey, who’s leading the compact initiative for Gates, is a former school superintendent and founder of the Aspire charter network.

In Denver, teachers from the charter school Highline Academy and the district school Cole Academy of Arts and Science collaborate on curriculum plans and interim assessments. Photo courtesy Denver Public Schools

In Denver, teachers from the charter school Highline Academy and the district school Cole Academy of Arts and Science collaborate on curriculum plans and interim assessments.
Photo courtesy Denver Public Schools

Spring Branch adopted SLANT (sit up, listen, ask and answer questions, nod for understanding and track the speaker) from its charter partner. Now they’re thinking of adopting YES Prep’s math curriculum.

Texas provides no facilities funding for charters, so YES Prep saves millions by co-locating. The district gets to report the charter’s higher test scores as its own.

Aldine plans to adopt YES Prep’s college-prep curriculum, writes Whitmire. Again, the charter gets shared space it would struggle to afford without the partnership.

In San Jose, Franklin-McKinley Superintendent John Porter invited Rocketship and KIPP to open schools in the low-income, heavily immigrant district. To compete for students, a district elementary school developed a science theme in partnership with the city’s Tech Museum.

The case for closing elite schools

At New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High, 71 percent of students come from Asian families, while 2.9 percent are black or Latino. Does it matter?

Elite exam schools like New York City’s Stuyvesant High should be closed, argues Reihan Salam, a Stuyvesant alum, on Slate. “Mayor Bill de Blasio, state lawmakers in Albany, and the United Federation of Teachers have called for scrapping Stuyvesant’s current admissions formula,” which relies on an entrance exam.

Seventy-one percent of students who made the cut-off in 2014 were Asian, often from immigrant families. Only 2.9 percent were black or Latino.

Some want to admit the top-testing students at each public middle school, ensuring that more blacks and Latinos — and fewer Asians — qualify.

Others would emulate the college admissions process, adding teacher recommendations, grades and portfolios of students’ work.

The politicians and the education experts who are so fixated on the racial balance at Stuyvesant neglect the fact that Stuyvesant is not built to support and nurture students who need care and attention to excel academically and socially. It is a school that allows ambitious students who know how to navigate their way around a maddening, complex bureaucracy to connect with other students with the same skill sets.

Hyper-competitive students thrive in the sink-or-swim environment. Others struggle to stay afloat. Salam wants to “spread gifted and talented kids across a wide range of schools offering different instructional models.” No school will be considered the best.

What’s wrong with letting very smart, very competitive students go to school together? Those who want a smaller, more supportive school have other choices.

Gifted kids are neglected, argues Checker Finn.

Ranking the U.S. in soccer, education

If you think the U.S. is bad at soccer, “we’re even worse in education,” writes Fordham’s Brandon Wright.

War Against Boys: The boys are losing

The War Against Boys still rages, writes Christina Hoff Sommers in the revised edition of her 2000 book.

The boys are losing, writes Nathan Glazer in an Education Next review. Schools continue to ignore boys’ “distinctive characteristics” and “the gap in school achievement between boys and girls” is “even more substantial and troubling.”

Sommers describes trends in education that hurt boys, including “the
ednext_XIV_3_waragainstboys_coverdecline of recess, punitive zero-tolerance policies, myths about juvenile ‘superpredators,’ and a misguided campaign against single-sex schooling.”

“As our schools become more feelings centered, risk averse, competition-free, and sedentary, they move further and further from the characteristic sensibilities of boys,” she writes.

“The movement to give special attention to girls and their needs was part of the grand drive to equality that has dominated American life and politics for decades,” writes Glazer, a Harvard professor emeritus in education and sociology. “But the drive for equality for the sexes was accompanied by a litigious and bureaucratic fervor that often went beyond common sense.”

Career tech programs that have engaged boys are under pressure to enroll more girls, Sommers writes. Few girls sign up for welding or pipefitting. Few boys want to be cosmetologists or child-care workers.

The Obama administration hopes to use the $1.1 billion Perkins Act to push more girls into “nontraditional” vocational and technical training, notes Glazer.

Sommers points out that in 2010 women made up 64 percent of graduate students in social science, 75 percent in public administration, 78 percent in veterinary medicine, and 80 percent in health sciences. Will that attract the attention of politicians and of bureaucrats enforcing Title IX?

Thirty-two percent of 27-year-old women have earned a four-year degree, compared to only 24 percent of men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sure, let ‘em all be winners

Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easy? asks Alfie Kohn in the New York Times. In a column adapted from The Myth of the Spoiled Child, he defends “participation” trophies for all — if we must have competitions with winners and losers. “Grit” lovers who think kids should earn rewards and honors want children to be miserable now to prepare for the miseries of adulthood, Kohn believes. They think children shouldn’t “be allowed to feel good about themselves” without “tangible accomplishments.” Conditioning approval on children’s behavior is a big mistake, he argues.

 (According to research), when children feel their parents’ affection varies depending on the extent to which they are well behaved, self-controlled or impressive at school or sports, this promotes “the development of a fragile, contingent and unstable sense of self.” Other researchers, meanwhile, have shown that high self-esteem is beneficial, but that even more desirable is unconditional self-esteem: a solid core of belief in yourself, an abiding sense that you’re competent and worthwhile — even when you screw up or fall short.

I think Kohn confuses parents’ unconditional love of their children with the world’s opinion of other people’s children. If Mom and Dad love their kids only when they score the winning goal or ace the test, that’s a serious problem. Children need to feel lovable.

But kids who grow up thinking that everything they do — however ordinary — will be cheered by non-family members are going to be very frustrated adults. And they won’t have the grit to deal with frustration and keep on going.

Outside your family, who think you’re wonderful just the way you are, the world is just not that into you.

When I was an adolescent, I found it comforting that the world did not revolve around me. It was less responsibility.

Elite rejection

Don’t despair if you didn’t get into an elite college, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni advises 12th-graders. It doesn’t mean you’re less capable or worthy.

It may mean only that you lacked the patronage that some of them had, or that you played the game less single-mindedly, taking fewer SAT courses and failing to massage your biography with the same zeal.

A friend of mine in Africa told me recently about a center for orphans there that a rich American couple financed in part to give their own teenage children an exotic charity to visit occasionally and mine for college-application essays: admissions bait. That’s the degree of cunning that comes into this frenzy.

Dumb luck plays an important role too. Top colleges get many, many applicants who are very well qualified. They could decide by dart board and get a great bunch of students.

I was rejected by Radcliffe (girls didn’t apply to Harvard then) and wait-listed by Yale. It was the first time I’d ever tried and failed. It hurt, even though I got into Stanford. Being rejected turned out to be great practice for job hunting and life.

Districts of Choice compete for students

California’s Districts of Choice are competing for students, writes June Kronholz in Education Next.  State law lets choice districts accept transfers without approval from students’ home districts.

The Riverside Unified School District east of Los Angeles was losing enrollment till it expanded choice options and opened the door to transfers.

. . . the district launched a science and technology middle school, a dual-language immersion elementary, an all-digital high school, an arts-centered grade school, a virtual school starting at grade 3, and more. Kids from other districts could enroll in the new programs, or, if the programs were oversubscribed, could enter admissions lotteries and, in some cases, stood the same chance of winning as Riverside youngsters.

Ninth-grade students at Riverside STEM Academy work together in a STEM Research Methodologies class

Ninth-grade students at Riverside STEM Academy work together in a STEM Research Methodologies class.
(Photo/Courtesy Riverside STEM Academy)


In 2013–14, the third choice year, 535 students transferred in to Riverside schools. Enrollment — and state funding — rose.

Thirty-one districts in the state have declared themselves “districts of choice.”

Districts can’t recruit star athletes or other outstanding students, writes Kronholz. ” Transfers can’t exacerbate racial segregation, and a district can’t take so many students that the transfers undermine another district’s financial stability.” They can’t reject special education students or  English Learners.

The law is controversial, writes Kronholz. Riverside parents aren’t always happy to see transfers compete for seats in popular programs.

Superintendents are wary of upsetting colleagues in neighboring districts, says Adonai Mack of the school administrators association. Many superintendents “aren’t entrepreneurial,” he adds.