New ways to do high school 

At Omaha’s Bryan High, students may plant potatoes, care for chickens, tour Union Pacific headquarters or sort and ship books at a school-based distribution center, reports Education Week.

“Students can choose from 16 career clusters and two pocket academies—one focused on urban agriculture and natural resources and another on transportation, distribution, and logistics—or TDL, for short.”

Katrina Whitford, another junior, holds a chicken in her lap as she works in an animal science class at Bryan.

Katrina Whitford, a junior, holds a chicken as she works in an animal science class. Photo: Ryan Henriksen, Education Week

The story is part of Ed Week‘s Diplomas Count report, which focuses on new ways to do high school.

Another story looks at a new Denver high school that’s struggling to make its model work.

Northfield High was designed to place all students, regardless of past achievement, in rigorous International Baccalaureate classes. Students can pursue “pathways” in the arts, business, biomedical sciences and other subjects of interest.

The school also pledged to base grades on mastery, rather than homework completion or class participation.

Teachers were supposed to help run the school and share counseling responsibilities.

However, the principal was forced out in October after complaints about discipline. A majority of teachers will not return next year. The advisory program has been changed.

The second year’s incoming class will be predominantly Latino with fewer white and black students choosing the program.

The four-year graduation rate is up to 82 percent, notes Ed Week. Neerav Kingsland adds: “Expected to hit 102% with new credit recovery program.”

Denver improves with choice, charters

Denver has expanded choice and charters — and improved student achievement, writes David Osborne, director of Reinventing America’s Schools at the Progressive Policy Institute, in Education Next.

Since 2005, Denver Public Schools (DPS) “has closed or replaced 48 schools and opened more than 70, the majority of them charters,” he writes. The district also has opened charter-like “innovation schools.” Eighteen percent of students are now in charters and 19 percent in innovation schools.

Charters and traditional schools receive equitable funding and use a common enrollment system.

On-time graduation rates and test scores have increased significantly, far faster than the state average, writes Osborne. “DPS has more than doubled the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses, and black students now take advanced math classes at the same rate as whites (Hispanic students lag by only 1 percentage point).” College-going rates are up for low-income students as well.

Charters retain more hard-to-teach kids

While critics claim charters “push out” hard-to-teach students, urban charter schools are better at retaining students with disabilities and English Language Learners than district-run schools, concludes Marcus Winters.

Four years after entry into kindergarten, 65 percent of students with disabilities remained at their Denver charter school,  while district schools retained only 37 percent of special-ed students, writes Winters.

Victor Uriarte and his daughter Daniela, 11, celebrate the winning of the lottery of West Denver Prep. Photo: Hyoung Chang, Denver Post

Victor Uriarte and his daughter Daniela, 11, celebrate winning a seat at West Denver Prep, a high-performing charter network,  in a lottery. Photo: Hyoung Chang, Denver Post

Students learning English are more likely to remain at a charter than a district school. In New York City, 82 percent of ELLs who enrolled in charters for kindergarten remained in their schools four years later, compared with 70 percent in traditional public schools.

ELLs and students with disabilities made “substantial” learning gains in Boston charter schools compared to district schools, concludes a new MIT study.

Charters enroll fewer students with disabilities or an ELL designation. That’s because fewer apply, writes Winters. He advocates a common-enrollment system to make it easier for parents to apply.

Common enrollment nearly eliminated the gap in ELLS entering charters in Denver, his analysis found.

Can districts and charters get along?

Is Detente Possible?  between school districts and their charters, asks Fordham. The report looks at district-charter collaboration in Boston, Cleveland, Denver, the District of Columbia and Houston.

Using the foreign relations metaphor, Washington, D.C. is the “superpower summit” where “two sectors of similar size and influence are compelled to work together while jealously guarding their own interests.”

“Isolationism” is the theme in Houston: Each sector does its own thing.

Boston is characterized by “protectionism under pressure.”

While collaboration is “limited and often fragile,” districts and charters “now communicate with one another better than in the past, and some even share instructional strategies.”

‘Personalized learning’ helps in math, reading

“Personalized learning” appears to be raising math and reading scores at 23 schools, according to “interim research” by Rand for the Gates Foundation.

Teacher Pete Knight works with students at an Oakland middle school.

Teacher Pete Knight works with students at an Oakland middle school.

The 23 urban charter schools in the study predominantly enroll low-income students with below-average scores. Yet students ended the school year above or near the national average. The lowest performers improved the most.

Most teachers use technology — adaptive software programs with short lessons and quizzes — to personalize instruction. Students work at their own pace and their own level, moving forward only when they’ve demonstrated mastery. Typically, teachers work with small groups while other students are working independently.

Slightly less than half of teachers said students use technology for educational purposes about a quarter to half of the time, and about 20 percent said students use technology between 50 to 75 percent of the time. Among the remainder, nearly 20 percent reported an even higher level of technology usage, and nearly 20 percent reported a fairly low level of technology usage.

Most schools used common elements, notes Chalkbeat

  • “Learner profiles,” or records with details about each student;
  • Personalized learning plans for each student (students have the same expectation but have a “customized path”);
  • Competency-based progression, in which students receive grades based on their own mastery of subjects rather than on tests that all students take; and
  • Flexible learning environments, in which teachers and students have physical space and time in the schedule for small-group instruction or tutoring.

Denver’s  Grant Beacon Middle School has used blended learning to personalize for three years, reports Chalkbeat. Test scores and student engagement have improved, says Alex Magaña, the principal. Denver may create several new schools modeled on Grant Beacon.

I wrote about experiments with blended learning in Oakland schools — mostly district schools — in Education Next.

For more on using blended learning to personalize, check out: Blended. Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve SchoolsHow to get blending learning right and Does blended learning work?

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.

Evaluation varies: Tale of 2 cities

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 3.57.07 PM

Teacher evaluations vary widely, points out This Week in Education. Observation counts 30 percent in Denver, and 60 percent in New York City. Student performance counts 30 percent in Denver, 20 percent in New York. From Scholastic Administrator.

Testing takes 1.7% of class time

Urban students spend 1.7 percent of the school year taking state and district-required tests, according to a Teach Plus report, The Student and the Stopwatch. However, third and seventh graders in “high-test” districts spend up to five times more time taking tests.

“It is time to shift the national conversation on testing from the amount of test time to the quality of tests and ensuring that teachers have the information they need to help their students succeed,” said Dr. Celine Coggins, CEO of Teach Plus.

Teach Plus has corrected errors in estimating the time burden of Illinois state tests, reports Catherine Gewertz in Ed Week. As a result, the highest-testing district, Denver, spends 3.3 times more time taking tests compared to the lowest-testing district, Chicago.

Charters adopt common applications

Applying to charter schools is getting easier in some cities, reports Education Week. Charter schools are adopting universal enrollment systems and common applications, so parents can apply to multiple charter schools at the same time.

• Denver launched a centralized enrollment system called SchoolChoice in 2010 for all district-run and charter schools in the 85,000-student system.

• In New Orleans, the Louisiana Recovery School District, in partnership with the Orleans Parish School Board, debuted a universal enrollment system called OneApp for charter and district-run schools in February 2012 and is now entering its third year of a unified lottery system serving the city’s 44,000 students.

• The Newark and District of Columbia school systems are making plans to implement universal enrollment systems for their district-run and charter schools for the 2014-15 school year.

Before OneApp, New Orleans parents had to deal with multiple applications, deadlines and lotteries. Now they apply once for both district-run and charter schools, ranking their choices in order of preference. Each student gets one “best offer.”

Urban districts compete with charters

Urban school districts are changing  to compete with charter schools, according to researchers Marc J. Holley, Anna J. Egalite, and Martin F. Lueken in Education Next.

While some districts try to block the spread of charters, others are cooperating and collaborating with charters, replicating successful charter school practices and marketing their services to students and families.

For example, Denver Public Schools created the Blueprint Schools Network to “re-create within its own buildings the innovation seen in top charter schools, and keep the state funding.”