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.

More time for ‘purposeful play’ in kindergarten


Therese Iwancio playing a game with her kindergarten class at Cecil Elementary school in Baltimore. Photo: Gabriella Demczuk, New York Times

Kindergarten teachers are asking students to learn reading, writing and math skills once taught in first or second grade, reports Motoko Rich in the New York Times. In some districts and states, teachers are being trained to use “purposeful play to “guide children to learning goals through games, art and general fun.”

A study comparing federal government surveys of kindergarten teachers in 1998 and 2010 by researchers at the University of Virginia found that the proportion of teachers who said their students had daily art and music dropped drastically. Those who reported teaching spelling, the writing of complete sentences and basic math equations every day jumped.

Schools with more low-income and minority students were more likely to cut back on art and music while increasing the use of textbooks, reports Rich.

Educators in low-income districts believe their students need explicit instruction in academics. “Middle-class parents are doing this anyway, so if we don’t do it for kids who are not getting it at home, then they are going to start at an even greater disadvantage,” said Deborah Stipek, the dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford.

I wonder how often “purposeful” play is effective at achieving its purpose. All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy.

 

Why charters are working in New Orleans

New Orleans is one of the fastest-improving districts in the nation since the move to charter schools, writes David Osborne of the Progressive Policy Institute  in Washington Monthly. Some 92.5 percent of students now attend charters.

Furthermore, the students are just as likely to come from low-income families as they were before Hurricane Katrina.

Figure 1. Percent of Students at Basic (Grade Level) or Above on Standardized Tests, 2007-2014* The 2014 exams were more difficult because they were more closely aligned with the Common Core standards, which explains why progress leveled off in the RSD and the state and OPSB scores fell. The 2013 and 2014 data excludes end-of-course high school tests, which replaced the old Graduate Exit Exams. But on the “end-of-course” tests that replaced it, the percentage of RSD high school students in New Orleans who scored “excellent” or “good” rose from thirty-one in 2011-12 to forty-seven in 2013-14—more than twice as fast as the state average.

Figure 1. Percent of Students at Basic (Grade Level) or Above on Standardized Tests, 2007-2014* The 2014 exams were more difficult because they were more closely aligned with the Common Core standards, which explains why progress leveled off in the RSD and the state and OPSB scores fell.

In 2005, before Katrina, 62 percent of students attended “failing” schools. That’s down to 7 percent, even though the standard for failure has been raised.

The percentage of students scoring at grade level or above has risen from 35 percent to 62 percent.

Almost half of New Orleans students dropped out, and less than one in five went on to college before Katrina, Osborne writes. “Last year, 73 percent graduated from high school in four years, two points below the state average, and 59 percent of graduates entered college, equaling the state average.”

From 2006 to 2012, New Orleans’s charter students gained nearly half a year of additional learning in math and a third of a year in reading, every year, compared to similar students in the city’s non-chartered public schools, according to a new CREDO survey.

Eighty-four percent of public school students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, compared to 77 percent before Katrina, writes Osborne. There are slightly more whites (up from 3 to 7 percent) and fewer blacks (down from 93 to 85 percent). However, black students have made the greatest gains: They used to score 8 percentage points below the state average, but now exceed the state average by five points.

Most key decisions are made at the school level.

“If something does not work for my children here at Behrman, be it a teacher, be it a textbook, I can get rid of it,” says Rene Lewis-Carter, principal of Martin Behrman Charter School, where more than 80 percent of the largely African American students pass their standardized tests. “I got to handpick teachers—I’d never been able to do that before.”

. . . Sabrina Pence, who ran the charter that pioneered the use of educational software in New Orleans, says that would have been impossible in a traditional district. “I was a principal in a district school, and I only controlled a small amount of my budget. I got $14,000, for paper and supplies. If there is one reason I love being in a charter school, that’s it—prioritizing your resources around your strategy.”

New Orleans offers a variety of choices from Montessori schools to “no excuses” college-prep schools, he writes. “There are schools that offer the demanding International Baccalaureate program, a military and maritime high school, and three alternative high schools for students who are overage, far behind, or have been expelled.”

Parents have grown used to choosing their children’s schools: 86 percent of students attend a school other than the one closest to their home.

When college is a foreign land

Ten years ago, students at a wealthy New York City private school, Fieldston, exchanged visits with students at a high-poverty Bronx public school three miles away.

Johnny Rivera, a University Heights senior, met Fieldston junior Adam Ettelbrick. Photo: Ryan Pfluger, New York Times Magazine

Johnny Rivera, a University Heights student, with Fieldston’s Adam Ettelbrick. Photo: Ryan Pfluger, New York Times

This American Life, which covered the program, talked to University Heights students 10 years later. Two-thirds went on to college, but few earned a degree, reports Chana Joffe-Walt. Like the elite private school, college was “a foreign land.”

A top student at University Heights, Melanie was nominated for a Posse scholarship, but lost out in the final round. She gave up on college.

Tracked down a decade later at the grocery store where she is now employed, Melanie acknowledged that she does the work she’d always hoped to escape: “wearing the uniform, servicing these people.” She meant the ones who’d gone to Fieldston.

But she knew that she was the one to blame: “I just grew angry at myself for making that choice of saying, ‘Well, I’m going to accept this,’ instead of fighting against it.”

Teachers at both high schools offered to help, but Melanie did not accept.

Her classmate, Raquel Hardy, remembers the Fieldston library, where students could leave their book bags unattended with laptops inside. University Heights didn’t have a library. “It motivated me,” she told Joffe-Walt.

Also rejected for a Posse scholarship, Hardy won a scholarship to Bard. “My first year, I got C-pluses and B-minuses,” she said. “It was devastating to me because I was an A-plus student in high school.”

But she persisted and earned a degree. She doesn’t know anyone else in her class who graduated. She’s now a teacher.

Her high school boyfriend, Jonathan Gonzalez, went to Wheaton on a Posse scholarship. He couldn’t afford textbooks, so he stopped doing the work or going to class. He ignored offers of help and flunked out. At 25, he works at a gym and lives with his mother.

Via Education Gadfly.

CREDO: Urban charter students learn more


All students receive two hours of tutoring a day at Boston’s high-performing MATCH school.

In 41 cities, charter students learn significantly more than similar students in traditional public schools, according to a new report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO. The average gain was the equivalent of 40 more days of learning in math, and 28 more in reading.

Disadvantaged students — blacks, Latinos, English Learners, low-income and special-education students — gained the most. Whites did worse in urban charters than in traditional schools.

Performance varied, notes Sara Mead in U.S. News. Charter schools in Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, the District of Columbia, Detroit and Newark produced very strong results for students. “Charter students in Boston ended up with over 200 days more learning” in math compared to similar students at district schools.

In 26 of the cities, charter students learned more than their traditional school peers in math, and in 23 they learned more than their peers in reading. But in 11 of the urban areas, charter school students learned less than their peers in math while in 10 of them charter school students learned less in reading.

Urban charters appear to be improving over time, researchers concluded.

Students do much better in their second year at a charter, and even better in the third and fourth year, CREDO found.

“In several cities where traditional districts perform below state averages – Boston, Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis and Nashville – charters appear to be producing strong enough learning growth to close the gap for children who remain in them for several years,” writes Mead.

About that ‘miracle’ school

When Chris Stewart tweeted about George Hall Elementary — “99% black. 98% student poverty. All proficient.” — skeptics wondered if the “miracle” was real.

The turnaround school in Mobile was one of the highest-performing schools in Alabama in 2013, according to Education Trust, I noted.

A George Hall student

A George Hall student

Ed Trust’s Karin Chenoweth explains how George Hall went from one of the worst-performing schools in the state in 2004 to one of the best. No miracles were involved, she writes.

A new principal followed “what research indicates is important” and aligned “curricula, lessons, professional development, schedules, budgets, discipline — everything — . . . to support high-quality instruction.”

“Our children can’t help what they come from,” Terri Tomlinson told me when she was the principal. “It’s our job to teach them. And I think we do a pretty good job of it.”

At George Hall I have read student essays, heard students read, and talked with them about what they’re learning and what they hope to be when they grow up. The children at George Hall are not “miracle” children but children who have ambitions and — like all humans — are hardwired to learn.

I believe the faculty and staff would find deeply offensive the idea that the only way that their students can achieve at high levels is through divine intervention.

Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2011) by Chenoweth and Christina Theokas profiles Tomlinson and other leaders of  24 high-performing, rapidly improving schools that serve disadvantaged students.

Hall students strive to improve in behavior and academics. Photo: Dan Carsen

Hall students strive to improve in behavior and academics. Photo: Dan Carsen

WBHM profiled George Hall in 2012 as part of a series on turnaround schools.

In 2004, the district transferred most of the teachers, hired Tomlinson and let her recruit a new set of teachers with “a strong work ethic and a belief that all kids can learn at a high level,” reports Dan Carsen. Teachers were offered $4,000 signing bonuses plus performance bonuses.

The community was angry about the changes, says Tomlinson. “We were a predominantly white staff and a white principal who came into a black school with a predominantly black staff and a black principal, and it was … it was hard for it not to be racial. And there were threats.”

Now, people lie about where their kids live so they can enroll them at George Hall, writes Carsen.

The principal and teachers “leave nothing about teaching and learning to chance. They’re very strategic,” says Alabama Superintendent Tommy Bice. “They know where every child is. They have a plan ensure that they move from point A to point B. If they’re not moving along that trajectory, they have a plan to intervene.”

Teachers assess students very frequently, and principal Tomlinson analyzes the data every day. Faculty planning time is protected, and instructional time is guarded like treasure. Tomlinson says you practically need a letter from the Pope to get on the intercom, and teachers recently voted to lengthen the school day by 50 minutes.

Teachers use common lesson plans, and group planning sessions often span grade levels. Collaboration is key.

There are a few white students now, writes Carsen. They are the children of teachers.