Raising AP pass rates for blacks, Latinos

Rachmad Tjachyadi collects homework assignments from his AP chemistry students at W.T. White High School in Dallas ISD.
Rachmad Tjachyadi teaches AP chemistry at White High in Dallas

Black and Latino students in Dallas high schools pass the Advanced Placement exams at the highest rate in the country, reports KERA News.

The National Math and Science Initiative has encouraged students to try AP courses.  The Dallas nonprofit “offers Saturday study sessions, pays the hefty exam fees for students, gathers teachers together for professional development and even gives teachers better books or lesson plans if they need them,” reports KERA.

In 1996, when NMSI started working with Dallas high schools, 75 black and Latino students passed at least one AP exam. Last year, 1,270 students passed.

As more Dallas students take an AP exam, the pass rate has fallen. But the overall number of passing students is higher.

Anyone can take his AP chemistry course, said Rachmad Tjachyadi, who teaches at W.T. White High School. Not everyone will pass. “We’re not going to drop the standard for students who have gaps in their preparation,” he said.

Gregg Fleisher, NMSI’s chief academic officer,  would rather see 20 out of 40 students pass an AP physics exam, for example, than 10 out of 10, reports KERA. “What is better for our country — to have twice as many proficient and 20 more who tried it?” he says. “Quite frankly, I think 12 out of 40 is better than 10 out of 10.”

NMSI gives $100 to each student who passes a math, science or English exam, and $100 to the teacher for each passing student. That means that if all 55 of Tjachyadi’s students pass the chemistry exam, he’ll get a check for $5,500. Last year, he got a nice $2,600 for his passing students—right at Christmas time.

Even students who fail the exam can benefit from the challenge, he says. A former student, Grace Knott got a 1 on the chemistry exam, equivalent to a D. However, when half of her classmates failed college chemistry, she was “able to keep up was because of the backing that I got in Mr. T’s class,” she said. Knott is now a biology teacher at a Dallas high school.

Districts drop extra pay for master’s

Teachers with master’s degrees aren’t any more effective than their non-degreed colleagues, say researchers. Now North Carolina, Dallas and Houston are cutting extra pay for advanced degrees.

“Effectiveness is more based on results rather than any checklist of things,” said Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles, who implemented a pay-for-performance system in the district, as he did at his previous district in Colorado. “So years of service and the advance degrees are checklist-type things.”

Yet the backlash in North Carolina grew so intense that the state is now looking at reinstating the extra pay for those teaching classes related to the subject in which they have an advanced degree.

Teacher turnover is up sharply in the state’s largest school district, Wake County.

Teachers should be paid based on how hard their jobs are and how well they’re doing them, argues The New Teachers Project in Shortchanged: The Hidden Cost of Lockstep Teacher Pay

Effective teachers should be able to move quickly up the pay scale in the first five years and earn raises for strong classroom performance, the report recommends. In addition, compensation systems should reward “great teachers in high-need schools.”

‘Exemplary’ school taught only reading, math

A Dallas elementary school with “exemplary” math and reading scores taught no science or social studies to third graders, district officials charge. It was all reading and math all the time.  The music teacher taught math instead. Teachers were told to fabricate grades for students in courses they weren’t taught, reports the Dallas Morning News.

Field Elementary principal Roslyn Carter is on paid administrative leave for falsifying grades.

While the investigation has focused on third grade, other grades also may have been affected.

“I do not know of science being taught in 3rd or 4th grade,” school counselor Laura McMillin said in an e-mail to an investigator. “And I am unaware of social studies being taught at all.”

Third- and fifth-grade students who were failing certain classes were assigned to tutoring instead of enrichment classes such as music, art and P.E., the principal admitted. Ninety percent of third graders missed “specials” to prep for the state exam, a math coach said.

Once students had taken the state exam, teachers were allowed teach science, social studies and enrichment classes for the remaining three weeks of the school year.

Online credit recovery hikes grad rates

High schools are boosting graduation rates by adopting online “credit recovery” programs, reports the Texas Tribune and the Hechinger Report in the New York Times. It’s not clear whether recovering students have learned as much as students who passed the original class.

Brett Rusnock can follow his students’ every move on his laptop: how much time they spend on computers each day at Waltrip High School in Houston, their scores on quizzes and when they stop working. He even gets e-mail alerts when they toil at home into the wee hours. “I can play Big Brother a little bit with this,” Mr. Rusnock said.

Students at Austin High work on their courses in a school computer lab that is run by two teachers and two assistants.

Mr. Rusnock is not a teacher. He is a grad coach, one of 27 in Houston monitoring thousands of students who take so called credit-recovery courses online. Like many other districts across the state, particularly those with high dropout rates, the Houston Independent School District offers these self-paced make-ups to any student who fails a class. In the spring and summer terms, 6,127 Houston I.S.D. students earned 9,774 credits in such courses, which are generally taken in conjunction with a full load of regular classes. About 2,500 more students are enrolled this fall.

Apex Learning provides Houston’s online curriculum; Apex also provides pencil-and-paper tests.

Texas also has raised the maximum age for high school students to 25 and authorized “dropout recovery” charter schools.

T. Jack Blackmon, who heads up the Dallas I.S.D. credit-recovery program, said the old model would continue to crumble.

“It’s the vision for the future as far as I’m concerned: kids going at their own pace,” Mr. Blackmon said. “The traditional school is only good for about a third of the kids, the ones who want football or choir or social activities — kids who have the school bug. For the rest of them, it’s just standing in line, waiting for the factory model to give them an education. A lot of kids don’t want to wait in line.”

While Houston’s grad coaches decide whether students have learned the material and are ready to move on, many districts do not provide that level of support or supervision. In some places, students take computer-generated multiple-choice tests online but don’t have to do any writing to “recover” a class.

Black flight in Dallas

Black parents and education leaders are pulling out of district-run schools in Dallas, reports the Morning News. Some black students go to charter schools; others are enrolled in suburban districts. 

It’s not a surprise to anybody that blacks are leaving DISD,” said Juanita Wallace, president of the Dallas NAACP. “We know that Hispanics are really taking over the school district. The whites are completely gone, and now blacks are going.”

The number of black students in DISD has fallen from 60,000 a decade ago to about 41,000 today. Meanwhile, suburban districts – such as Cedar Hill, Mansfield and DeSoto – and Dallas charter schools show growing numbers of black students. Though DISD’s overall enrollment of about 157,000 students is fairly flat, the percentage of Hispanic students has soared to 68 percent. The percentage of black students, the dominant group from 1975 to 1994, has dropped to 26 percent. White students now make up about 5 percent of the district, down sharply from 57 percent in 1970.

Some blacks say the district focuses on serving the needs of Hispanic students who speak English as a second language. Others say district schools are large and disorderly.

Black students have done poorly in Dallas schools, writes Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s blog.

‘Cage fights’ in high school

At a Dallas high school, the principal and staffers staged cage fights in a sports locker room utility cage, charges a district investigation reported by the Dallas Morning News. South Oak Cliff High students were told to settle their disputes with bare fists; they had no head protection.  The “cage fights” took place between 2003 and 2005, investigators concluded. The school originally was investigated for changing grades of student athletes.

Internal district reports obtained by The News describe a culture of sanctioned violence in which school employees and even the principal relied on “the cage” to settle disputes and bring unruly students under control.

. . . “It was gladiator-style entertainment for the staff,” said Frank Hammond, a middle school counselor in Cedar Hill who was fired from South Oak Cliff High School and has filed a whistleblower lawsuit.

Donald Moten, principal in 2003-05, denies the cage was used for fights.

High school starts at 21

Hoping to lure dropouts back to school, Dallas now lets adults enroll in high school, even if that means a ninth-grade class could include a 21-year-old and a 12-year-old.  A Texas law encourages high schools to enroll students up to 25 years old, several years older than many new teachers.

School fires 100-0 coach

Covenant School in Dallas has fired the girls’ basketball coach who let his team beat Dallas Academy 100-0.  Coach Micah Grimes had posted a message on a youth basketball saying he disagreed with school officials’ apology for the lopsided victory.