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.

A school grows in Brooklyn

Principal Melissa Jarvis-Cedeño keeps an eye on her start-up school by working in the hall rather than in her office. Photo: Julienne Schaer

In This is how you start a school, Hechinger’s Sara Neufeld talks with the founding principal, a teacher and a parent at a new charter high school in the poor Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville.

Brooklyn Ascend High offers “a liberal arts curriculum that promotes critical thinking over exam prep,” writes Neufeld.  As an alternative to suspension, teachers use “reflective circles.”

Melissa Jarvis-Cedeño grew up not far from her new school. Her mother was an alcoholic. She survived abuse by relatives. “By age 18, she was pregnant with her second baby when she arrived upstate for college,” writes Neufeld. She married, earned two degrees and worked as an English teacher and school administrator.

Her older son, a high school dropout, is in prison on gun and drug charges. Her younger son is working on a master’s degree in public health.

In third grade at a “no excuses” charter, 8-year-old Jeremy Peña still gets more homework than his older brother, Jann. Photo: Julienne Schaer

In third grade at a “no excuses” charter school, Jeremy Peña still gets more homework than his older brother, Jann. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Jovanka Anderson, a Dominican immigrant, enrolled her younger son in a “no excuses” charter. He had more homework than his older brother, who attended a middle school magnet for gifted and talented students. Jann Peña won the lottery to attend Ascend, a one in seven shot.

As a ninth grader, Jann “tested at a sixth-grade reading level on the school placement exam in August and at midway through fifth grade in math.”

Jovanka Anderson and her husband, Emilio Peña, are high school dropouts. They want their children to go to college.

Like four of five Ascend teachers, Taylor Delhagen, 31, came “from a nearby charter where they had success producing high test scores among low-income students but felt stifled in what they see as a more vital task: developing human beings,” writes Neufeld.

ESSA passes: Will states step up?

No Child Left Behind is no more. The Every Student Succeeds Act has passed the Senate and House by wide margins. President Obama signed the new education bill today.

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

ESSA guts the “strong accountability provisions that helped spur reforms that have helped more children attain high-quality education than at any other time in the history of American public education,” writes Sandy Kress, who helped write NCLB, on Dropout Nation.

Under ESSA, “schools that fail to lift student achievement or close achievement gaps” will face no federal consequences, he writes. States and districts will hold themselves accountable for serving all students. Or not.

As seen in TexasCalifornia, and even in strong reform-oriented states such as Indiana and New York, traditionalists have been successful in weakening standards for high school graduation, getting rid of accountability measures, and ditching tests that are key in observing how well schools are serving our children. Opponents of reform have been successful in getting more money for doing less for our students . . .

ESSA stands for Excusing States for Student Abandonment, writes Alan Singer on the Huffington Post.

The bill is “political posturing,” writes Conor Williams. “It combines a thin veneer of civil rights equity with excruciating complexity and uncertain accountability.”

Conservatives should oppose the bill’s “bizarre, unclear federal accountability mandates,” he argues. Progressives should not trust states to hold schools accountable for serving underprivileged and underserved kids.

Charters work best for neediest kids

Urban charter schools improve the achievement of their low-income, black and Latino students, writes Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan professor, in the New York Times. In predominantly white, middle-class suburbs, “charters do no better and sometimes do worse” than neighborhood schools.

MATCH's disadvantaged students are some of the highest scoring students in Boston.

MATCH students are some of the highest scoring students in Boston. Credit: Kayana Szymczak/New York Times

Lottery studies in Massachusetts and a national study of charter schools funded by the Education Department confirm the pattern, she writes.

A Stanford study of student performance in 41 cities “also concluded that their charters outperformed their traditional public schools.”

Charter schools in Boston, which predominantly educate low-income black students, produce “huge gains in test scores,” her research shows. Charter-school “score gains are large enough to reduce the black-white score gap in Boston’s middle schools by two-thirds.”

Boston’s charters also do a better job at preparing students for college. Charter students are twice as likely to take an Advanced Placement exam as similar students in Boston’s other public schools. Ten percent of charter students pass an A.P. calculus test, compared with just 1 percent of similar students in other public schools. This stronger preparation means that these charter students are far more likely than similar students in traditional public schools to attend a four-year college.

Urban charters have one big advantage: It’s not hard to do better than the district alternative.

The bar is higher in the suburbs. Suburban charters must be drawing parents who value a small school, more flexibility, a non-standard curriculum or . . . They’re choosing something.

Looking at eighth-grade math scores on NAEP, Hispanic charter students in Florida and Arizona “scored about a grade level ahead” of Hispanic students in district schools, writes Matthew Ladner. In Florida, Hispanic charter students outperform the state average for all students in half the states.

Hillary: Charters don’t serve ‘hardest-to-teach’ kids

“Most charter schools . . . don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them,” charged Hillary Clinton in a town hall hosted by the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton responds to a question from Roland Martin, host of TV One's News One Now, during a town hall meeting at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., Credit: Richard Burkhart, AP

TV One host Roland Martin talks to Hillary Clinton at a town hall at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. Credit: Richard Burkhart, AP

Moderator Roland Martin had asked if she supported expanding charters and vouchers. In a TV One poll, “74 percent of black parents said they were interested in enrolling their kids in charter schools, 78 percent favored school vouchers,” he said.

Clinton said she backs “the idea of charter schools” as a “supplement for the public schools.” But . . .

In addition to implying that charters aren’t public schools, Clinton ignored the reality that, except for students with disabilities, charters serve a higher percentage of children from “hard-to-teach” group, writes Charles Barone. He cites Stanford’s CREDO:

“Charter schools in the United States educate a higher percentage of students in poverty. [A] much larger proportion of charter students are black than in all public schools. The proportion of Hispanic students is slightly larger in charter schools than all public schools as well. [Charter schools] have a higher proportion of students who are English language learners and a lower proportion of special education students than are in all US public schools.”

Nationwide, “charter schools served a higher-percentage of low-income students (57%) – than district-run schools (52%) – and have better outcomes,” responded Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

In New York City, charter public schools do a better job of retaining students with disabilities than their non-charter public school counterparts, she added.

In 14 cities, more than 30 percent of public students are enrolled in charter schools, according to a NAPCS report. Charter school enrollment has tripled since 2006.

Disorder hurts low-income strivers

Pushed by the U.S. Education Department, many cities have vowed to reduce school suspensions in the name of equity, writes Mike Petrilli on Bloomberg View.

But letting a few students disrupt class isn’t fair to the kids who want to learn, he writes. “Low-income strivers” deserve safe, orderly, academically challenging schools.

When district-run schools don’t prioritize the needs of strivers, urban parents can turn to charter schools, Petrilli writes. But high-performing charter schools in New York CityChicago and Washington, D.C. have come under attack for high suspension and expulsion rates. Disruptions aren’t tolerated.

The casual observer might wonder: What’s wrong with that approach? Why not ensure that schools are safe places to be? If the Success Academies and schools like it didn’t exist, many of those hard-working, high-achieving students would be in chaotic, low-performing public schools. Why don’t their needs count?

Specialized alternative schools may be the best way to help disruptive students, who often come from very troubled families, Petrilli writes. However, “poor children who are ready to learn, follow the rules, and work hard deserve resources and opportunities to flourish.”

Petrilli supports “universal screening” tests to identify gifted students in the early grades and middle-school tracking to put low-income strivers “on a trajectory for success in Advanced Placement classes in high school and at more selective colleges.”

Texas, Florida do well with disadvantaged kids

Texas and Florida “turn out to be educational powerhouses once you adjust for student demographics,” according to Breaking the Curve, a new Urban Institute report.
How-to-Become-a-Teacher-in-Florida

Matt Chingos compared states’ NAEP scores based on students’ race, ethnicity, poverty levels and the percentage of English Learners.

Adjusted for students’ disadvantages, Massachusetts remains the highest-achieving state, followed by New Jersey. Texas and Florida leap up to the number three and four spots.

“Utah, which is about average based on test scores alone, slides nearly to the bottom when adjusted for demographics,” writes Vox’s Libby Nelson. Other low-scoring states on Chingos’ index are California, which is just above Utah, Hawaii, Alabama and West Virginia.

Helping the hidden achievers

U.S. schools are Failing Our Brightest Kids, write Checker Finn and Brandon Wright in a new book. “This failure of will, policy, and program is particularly devastating to high-ability youngsters from disadvantaged circumstances,” writes Finn.

51uqaeUJllL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The book looks at how other countries support high achievers. In Asia, “plenty of poor parents — who may not be well educated themselves — strongly push their daughters and sons to succeed in school, get into selective high schools, and proceed to top universities and good jobs,” writes Finn.

Screening all children for ability — used in Western Australia and Singapore — is “far more effective at moving minority students into ‘gifted and talented’ programs than waiting for pushy parents,” writes Finn.

Gifted programs work especially well for low-income and minority students, research shows, but “are scarce in American education, especially in schools full of poor kids,” writes Finn. This is “devastating for able kids from disadvantaged circumstances and disorganized families.”

Educated, motivated parents can supplement their children’s learning, provide challenges and find the best the public system has to offer. It’s much harder for uneducated parents to help their kids go beyond what’s offered in school.

A+ Asians: Are they diverse?


Students on the Berkeley campus. Photo: Eric Risberg, AP.

University of California schools rank high for educating diverse, first-generation students, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. Banned from considering race or ethnicity, UC has kept tuition low, enrolled community college transfers and targeted recruitment at lower-income and first-generation students, she writes. “Latinos are now the fastest growing and second-largest ethnic group admitted to the UC system, making up close to three in 10 of last year’s freshmen class.”

But focusing on economic diversity lets UC win points while admitting many Asian-Americans, complains Wong.

The highly selective UC campuses are known, sometimes bitterly, to serve especially disproportionate numbers of Asian students; Asians famously make up half of the undergraduates at UC Irvine, for example . . .

California has taken in many Vietnamese refugees and low-income Chinese immigrants. They speak English as a second language, go to public schools in their working-class neighborhoods — and often qualify for state universities.

Other high scorers are the children of Indian and Chinese engineers, who aced tests in their home countries. (Check out the winners in Google’s Science Fair. Six of eight have Indian names.)

Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai invented a way to use corn cobs to filter water.

Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai, 13, invented a way to use corn cobs to clean pollutants from waste water.

Not all Asian-Americans — or those grouped with them in diversity data — excel in school, reports the Campaign for College Opportunity in a new report on the “model minority stereotype.”

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have much lower success rates than students of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese ancestry. Southeast Asians from Laotian, Hmong and Cambodian families also tend to struggle in school.

There’s lots of individual variation in any group. Look at Cuban-Americans vs. Puerto Ricans or black immigrants from the West Indies vs. American-born blacks. We could be more precise about divvying people into racial/ethnic/cultural groups. I think it makes more sense to focus on socioeconomic disadvantage.

My niece is an 11th grader starting to look at colleges. Should she declare her 1/4 Mexican heritage on applications? It has no bearing on who she is as a student or as a person. If asked, my advice would be: Don’t.

Princeton’s discrimination against Asian-American applicants is OK with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, writes John Rosenberg on Minding the Campus. He analyzes a 20-page September 9 letter to Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber.

Do poor kids need less learning, more play?

Direct instruction denies low-income children a carefree childhood and harms their emotional development, argues Steve Nelson, headmaster of an elite private school in Manhattan, in the Huffington Post.

Low-income children in “direct instruction” pre-schools do less well in life than those in traditional nursery schools, according to The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40, he writes. (The study followed 68 children, only one third of whom were in a direct-instruction preschool.)

Early childhood education must be “play-based and focused on social development,” writes Calhoun. “Children should explore at their own pace, negotiate relationships with other children and with adults, daydream, be silly, try things out, and try things on.”

Education reformers have created no-excuses schools that turn children into little adults forced to meet ever-higher expectations, Calhoun writes.

Are there “no-excuses” preschools, joyless academic factories that parents nonetheless choose for their children?

Nelson, the half-million-dollar mouthpiece of a $45,000-per-year private school, has descended “from Olympus to admonish teachers of impoverished students against actually trying to teach them anything,” writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio.

“Play-based,” content-free learning might be fine for the children of hedge fund managers, who will have lots of opportunities to screw up before easing into careers as progressive school principals. But it’s not cutting it for kids from low-income families, who often arrive at school with huge skills deficits and consequently have to, you know, learn something.

Calhoun should “stick to finger painting in the Imagination Station, and quit lecturing those who are actually trying to help the poor,” concludes Pondiscio.

A few months ago, I visited pre-k and elementary classes at a local public school that’s focused on helping children from immigrant families catch up academically by third grade. Classes were loaded with academic content. Teachers mixed directed instruction, discussion, writing, singing, dance, exploration, etc.

I was amazed at how much science these kids were learning as they developed English proficiency. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. And they were learning the normal set of social skills.