A movie maker’s 5 keys to school reform

I Got Schooled offers “five keys to closing America’s education gap,” courtesy of M. Night Shyamalan, known for making The Sixth Sense, The Village and a number of flops.

After he made a fortune on his early movies, Shyamalan funded scholarships for inner-city Philadelphia children, he told the Wall Street Journal, but decided they were “socially and academically unprepared for college” because,”they’d been taught they were powerless.”

He began researching education reform to come up with his five keys:  ”Eliminate the worst teachers, pivot the principal’s job from operations to improving teaching and school culture, give teachers and principals feedback, build smaller schools, and keep children in class for more hours.” Doing just one, two or three won’t help, the filmmaker concludes. Schools need to do all five.

Reality-Based Educator on Perdido Street School says Shyamalan is a bad filmmaker with same old, same old ideas.

As Stan Freberg used to say:  “Everybody wants to be an art director.”

Turnaround dream turns to nightmare

When Jill Saia was hired to turn around a low-performing Baton Rouge elementary school, she was promised autonomy in decision-making and School Improvement Grant funding to pay for extra staff and a longer school day. Her turnaround dream became a nightmare, she writes on Teacher in a Strange Land.

Two months into the first school year, the new district administration dismantled the “dream team” that had planned the transformation of Delmont Elementary and moved two teachers and an aide to another school. Saia was cited for insubordination for insisting SIG entitled the school to extra staff.

Still, Delmont started to improve. While there was little progress on test scores in the first year, “we did change the culture and climate of the school, increase enrollment, and foster a high level of parental involvement,” Saia writes.

In the second year, she got funding for the extended day program.

We began to turn the corner – more children were reading, asking questions, and flourishing. Fewer behavior problems, more time on task. Children were communicating with each other, with teachers, with staff. They understood what the parameters were for being a student at Delmont, and they rose to our challenges. We planted our vegetable garden, had choir concerts, and participated in the Kennedy Center for the Arts program to integrate arts into the curriculum. We partnered with the local hospital’s health program to host the “Big Blue Bus” every week, which provided medical and mental health care to children and families. We were awarded a sizable grant from a local foundation to adopt a parenting program, and worked with a local university to design a new playground.

But, in November, the superintendent told her Delmont would close after two years of its three-year turnaround plan. Then the board decided to turn it into a K-2 school, then a pre-K center and finally a preK and K school. The final decision was announced in the middle of state testing week.

Students were assigned to a school three miles away, which has an F rating.

. . . because I stood up for my school and tried to keep it open, I was given another letter of insubordination. I was also rated “ineffective” at midyear because of my refusal to change my ratings of teachers to match their pre-identified quota in the value-added system. Their assumption was that if test scores were low, then the teachers must be ineffective.

. . . I was placed on an Intensive Assistance plan. Two months later, I turned in four binders full of data, observations, meeting notes, mentor reviews, etc. My mentor was a local award-winning principal who was part of the original “Dream School” team. Needless to say, she loved Delmont and what we were doing there. . . . After looking at all of my documentation, the director said that it “looked complete,” but then a week later told me that I was still ineffective and would have to wait for his final evaluation.

Saia began looking for a new job, but found “no public school district in this area would hire me because of my track record in a ‘failed’ school.”  After 29 ½ years in the state retirement system, she retired with less-than-full benefits to become dean of instruction at a public charter school about ½ mile from Delmont. Many former Delmont parents have enrolled their children.

Test scores from Delmont’s second turnaround year were “outstanding,” Saia adds. Delmont would no longer be a “failing” school — if it had remained open.

Chicago goes to longer school days

“Many children in Chicago Public Schools will go from having the shortest school days in the nation to some of the longest this fall,” reports MSNBC. Will it boost achievement?

. . .  in Chicago, public school students have the shortest school day — 5 hours and 45 minutes — among the nation’s 50 largest districts, according the National Council on Teacher Quality. The national average is 6.7 hours in school. Under Chicago Mayor Rahm Emnauel’s plan, elementary schools will move to seven hours and most city high schools will extend their day to 7½ hours, although one day during the week would be shorter by 75 minutes.

. . . “Among 10 of the largest cities in the U.S., our students have 22 percent less instructional time than their peers, and 83 percent of our third-graders are not reading at their grade level,” Marielle Sainvilus, spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools, told msnbc.com. ”We had to do something to ensure that our students had the time in class needed to succeed.”

The school board is negotiating with the teachers’ union over the longer school day, but already nearly 90 percent of teachers have authorized a strike. “Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year rescinded a four percent pay increase and pushed for a longer school day. CPS has since proposed a five-year contract which guarantees teachers a two percent raise in their first year and lengthens the school day by 20 percent.”

That’s a very chintzy offer. I don’t see a peaceful resolution.

Study: San Diego reading reforms worked

San Diego’s Blueprint for Student Success, a reading program pushed by Superintendent Alan Bersin was unpopular. So was Bersin, who was pushed out in 2005; the program was dropped. But it worked for elementary and middle school students, though not for high school students, concludes a study by the Public Policy Institute of California. From Educated Guess:

The Blueprint consisted of extra classroom time for reading development – through combinations of summer school, an extended day, and longer  English classes  — and teacher training. It was districtwide and comprehensive, with teachers in every school given professional development and peer coaches.

Co-authors Julian Betts, chair of economics at the University of California-San Diego, Andrew Zau, a senior statistician at the university, and Cory Koedell, an assistant economics professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia, found particularly big jumps in scores of struggling middle school students who were assigned double-length English classes and ninth graders behind grade level who were given triple-length English classes. They experienced “very big shifts” in scores: 12.6 percentile points higher than expected without intervention at the end of three years.

In elementary schools, an extended year for lowest achieving “focus schools” also brought up scores significantly. Less effective was  an extended day reading program, in which first through ninth grade students lagging behind their peers were assigned three 90-minute periods each week of supervised reading before or after school.

In high school, students assigned to double- and triple-length classes did worse.

The program did not lower math scores or increase absenteeism or the drop-out rate, as some had feared.

Elementary and middle schools should replicate the blueprint, the researchers advise. High school is too late.

Inside School Research has more.