KIPP boosts academics, but not character

KIPP schools do a great job of teaching academics, but the stress on character education isn’t producing students with more “grit,” persistence, self-control or other character strengths,  writes Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor.

KIPP charters — primarily middle schools — recruit low-income, minority students. In addition to “factors proven to bolster academic success (high expectations, parental involvement, time spent on instruction),” KIPP schools try to develop “seven character strengths — zest, grit, self-control, optimism, curiosity, gratitude, and social intelligence,” writes Steinberg.

Mathematica study compared students whose families had applied to a KIPP middle school but lost out in the lottery to students who’d won the KIPP lottery. If KIPP kids have more motivated parents, so do the children in the control group.

 . . . KIPP students outperformed the comparison children on numerous measures of achievement, across a range of subject areas. KIPP students also spent more time on homework. . . .

However . . . the KIPP children showed no advantage on any of the measures of character strengths. They weren’t more effortful or persistent. They didn’t have more favorable academic self-conceptions or stronger school engagement. They didn’t score higher than the comparison group in self-control. In fact, they were more likely to engage in “undesirable behavior,” including losing their temper, lying to and arguing with their parents, and giving teachers a hard time. They were more likely to get into trouble at school. Despite the program’s emphasis on character development, the KIPP students were no less likely to smoke, drink, get high, or break the law. Nor were their hopes for their educational futures any higher or their plans any more ambitious.

While nearly 90 percent of former KIPP students enroll in college, only a third earn a degree. That’s triple the graduation rate of students from comparable disadvantaged backgrounds, but far below KIPP’s expectations.

Ryane Burke, assistant principal at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, leads sessions in mindful movement to help students stay focused and energized.  - See more at: http://www.kipp.org/careers/kipp-team-and-family#sthash.rDwbdhNJ.dpuf

Ryane Burke, assistant principal at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, leads sessions in mindful movement to help students stay focused and energized.

Steinberg believes character education is not the best way to develop students’ self-regulation. Other approaches include: meditation, yoga, aerobic exercise and “cognitive behavioral programs, such as those used to help children learn impulse control.”

Some KIPP schools do use these techniques.

Boys to brothers to men

The Rule shows how Benedictine monks in Newark are preparing black and Latino boys to succeed in college and life.

The documentary opens in (selected) theaters today.

St. Benedict Prep creates a stable, supportive community for boys from chaotic neighborhoods, writes City Journal‘s Steven Malanga, who went to the school when it was “white working man’s prep.”

Some come to the school angry at the world, haunted by memories of living in motels or moving from relative to relative, lacking fathers, and surrounded by violence. Sometimes they don’t know what’s expected of them because no one has ever told them.

. . . Students refer to one another as brothers and chant, as they make their way through the halls, “What hurts my brother hurts me.” They spend 11 months a year in school and hike the Appalachian Trail together. Freshmen complete a five-day orientation, in which they bunk in sleeping bags on the gym floor.

“The monks are serious about building men,” writes Malanga. Though all graduates get into college and 85 percent earn a degree, that’s not how a counselor defines success.  “You’re able to graduate St. Benedict’s, have a mortgage, deal with your marriage, deal with your family, stick it out. How do I measure success? I got a father working with his son, in his son’s life.”

America’s top high schools

The Preuss School, a charter affiliated with University of California at San Diego, topped the list of change-maker high schools.

The Preuss School, a charter affiliated with University of California at San Diego, topped the changemaker schools list.

The Daily Beast has ranked America’s top public high schools by rigor, graduation rates, college-going, etc.

Charter schools do very well, followed by high schools with selective admissions.

The most interesting ranking is 25 High Schools Doing the Most with the Least. Charter schools also dominate the “changemaker” list along with magnet and selective schools.

From a U to a J

California charters are more likely to be outperforming traditional public schools, concludes a report on the last five years by the California Charter Schools Association.

Two years ago, the graph of charter school scores was U-shaped: 21 percent of California charters ranked in the top 10 percent in the state and 21 percent ranked in the lowest 10 percent.

It’s now more of a J with more high-performing charters on the right and fewer low performers on the left, writes Jed Wallace, president of the CCSA.

Students at charter schools serving low-income populations are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in a school that is among the top five or ten percent of all public schools statewide.

More than half of the students (52 percent) attending charters serving a majority high poverty population attend charter schools that are in the top quartile of all public schools statewide, compared to only 26 percent of similar students attending traditional public schools.

The only charters that underperform are those that serve predominantly advantaged students. That matches national trends. Perhaps it’s because urban charters are more likely to follow the “no excuses” model, while suburban charters are more likely to provide a progressive alternative.

Poor kids’ teachers score low, but why?

New teacher evaluation systems tend to give lower ratings to teachers with disadvantaged students. Teacher Beat’s Stephen Sawchuk asks the critical question: Are the ratings biased? Or do high-need kids get fewer high-quality teachers?

Value-added measures (VAM) are supposed to judge teachers by whether they’ve done better than previous teachers at improving their students’ progress. But many question whether VAM is a reliable measure of teachers’ effectiveness.

Evaluation systems also include classroom observations. And those have problems too, writes Sawchuk. “Observations by principals can reflect bias, rather than actual teaching performance,” writes Sawchuk.

Yet we also know that disadvantaged students are less likely to have teachers capable of boosting their test scores and that black students are about four times more likely than white students to be located in schools with many uncertified teachers.

Teachers in low-poverty Washington, D.C. schools were far more likely to ace the teacher-evaluation system, IMPACT, observes Matthew Di Carlo, at the Shanker blog.

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The Pittsburgh teacher-evaluation program shows similar results, according to a federal analysis, writes Sawchuk. “Teachers of low-income and minority students tended to receive lower scores from principals conducting observations, and from surveys administered to students. Those teaching gifted students tended to get higher ratings.”

It’s hard to know whether all methods of evaluation are inaccurate or whether a “maldistribution of talent” explains the low scores for teachers of disadvantaged students, concludes Sawchuk.

It will be hard to persuade teachers to work in high-poverty, high-minority schools if they know they’ll risk being rated ineffective.

Nothing succeeds like Success


Success Academy charter students at a pep rally.  Credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Eva Moskowitz just ruined her chances of getting 14 more Success Academy charters approved in New York City, writes Richard Whitmire in the Daily News. Her students aced the state’s math and English exams.

Whereas only 35% of New York City students scored proficient in math, 94% of her students rated as proficient. Whereas only 29% of city students met English standards, 64% of her students met the standards.

At her Bed-Stuy-1 school, where 95% of the students are African American or Latino, 98% passed the math test, with 8 in 10 scoring at the advanced level.

“Nobody likes competition,” writes Whitmire.

Statewide, 7 of the 15 top-scoring schools for math proficiency are Success charters.

What’s the secret of Success Academy’s success? asks Robert Pondiscio, also in the Daily News.

. . . 680 fourth graders sat for the state test at seven of Moskowitz’s schools. Care to guess how many earned a “4,” the highest level?

Nearly five freakin’ hundred of them!

This is Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths. It’s Michael Jordan dropping 63 points on the Celtics in the playoffs. It’s Tiger Woods demolishing the field and winning the Masters by 18 strokes.

It’s harder to raise reading scores, Pondiscio writes. It’s “all but impossible to test prep your way to a high score on a third to eighth grade reading test, especially the more challenging Common Core tests.”

Yet two out of three Success Academy scholars were proficient in reading.

Expect to hear that Moskowitz has solved the achievement gap and that the humiliation of Mayor de Blasio, who targeted Moskowitz during his campaign and tried unsuccessfully to squeeze three of her schools out of Education Department space, is now complete.

From the other side of the room, we will hear charges that Success creams top students, gets rid of low-achievers through attrition and test preps kids within an inch of their lives, or even cheats.

We need “serious, unbiased experts and observers” to figure out “how these extraordinary results are being achieved,” Pondiscio writes. If they’re for real, we need to figure out how to replicate them.

More school, less summer?

Top-performing South Korea requires 220 days of school, “22 percent more than our measly minimum of 180 days,” writes the New York Post. Are the lazy days of summer too lazy in the U.S.?

“More advantaged families . . . travel to Civil War battlefields, visit foreign cities and their art museums, and learn about the geography of the Grand Canyon,” says Jay Greene, a University of Arkansas education professor. “I’m convinced that my own kids and those of many other upper-middle-class families learn far more from those summer experiences than they do during the rest of the school year.”

But low-income kids lose a lot of learning over the summer, says Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

That’s why high-performing charter schools like KIPP, Democracy Prep and Success Academy have significantly longer school days and longer school years.

“When it comes to learning math and science,” Pondiscio says, “more is more.”

If school isn’t working well, more may mean more boredom. I’d prefer to see fun, educational summer programs for kids who aren’t going to be visiting the Grand Canyon.

Creating a school community

To write Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice, Sam Chaltain spent a year following two Washington D.C. schools, Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School and Bancroft Elementary School.

In both the charter and the district school, “he found caring teachers and administrators in vibrant schools who struggle to meet new standards with little guidance and at times little support,” reports the Washington Post.

Not everything can be measured, writes Chaltain. However, it’s “just as it is true that there are ways to measure aspects of teaching and learning that go a lot deeper than basic-skills test scores.”

My book about Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter high school, also is titled Our School. Last week, I went to DCP’s 10th commencement ceremony, which honored both the class of 2014 and the pioneer class of 2004.

DCP, which has added two middle schools and a second high school campus, now has an alumni association and an alumni seat on the board. Graduates are raising scholarship money. When students visit California universities, they can talk to DCP graduates who are students there. Some DCP graduates have returned as teachers.

In low-income, Latino immigrant communities, DCP has made college-going the “new normal,” said Jennifer Andaluz, DCP’s co-founder and executive director.

Test-free accountability?

“Concerns” about Common Core standards primarily are about “the consequences of high-stakes tests attached to the standards,” write Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. They call for a “new accountability.”

Their model is California. Their bad example is New York.

They call for a “support-and-improve model” instead of a “test-and-punish approach.”

The “new accountability” appears to mean no accountability, respond Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and her former colleague, Russlyn Ali.

The Weingarten/Darling-Hammond piece is rife with omissions and unsupported innuendo. Our particular favorite from among their many claims is the assertion that California’s record graduation rates and recent gains on national eighth-grade math and reading exams are the result of new funding formulas and testing policies that weren’t even put into place until after these gains.

Teachers’ unions are trying to get rid of John King, New York’s commissioner of education, write Haycock and Ali. He’s “in a hurry” to improve education, while California’s system suffers from the pobrecito phenomenon. Expectations are low for poor immigrant students and “hugging kids is too often considered an acceptable substitute for teaching them.”

There are “huge real-life consequences” for students who don’t meet educational standards, even if their states link no official “stakes” to exams, Haycock and Ali write. “Those who exit high school with the skills to succeed in college have a real future in our knowledge-based economy; those who do not have strong skills are essentially toast.”

Who completes college

Graduation rates vary by type of college, because different colleges recruit different types of students. Pew Research looks at how students are doing six years after enrolling in college.

The for-profit colleges enroll older, less-capable students who are much less likely to complete an academic degree, but much more likely to complete a two-year-or-less vocational credential. Community colleges, which also enroll many high-risk students, offer low-success academic programs and higher-success job training.
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