Study: LA’s new schools help younger students

Los Angeles Unified built 131 new schools in the last decade to end overcrowding. Elementary students who moved into new schools made strong achievement gains equal to another 35 days of schooling, according to a Berkeley study. But high school students improved only a bit in English Language Arts and not at all in math when they moved from a crowded building to a new facility.

“How new elementary schools are lifting achievement remains somewhat of a mystery,” said William Welsh, the UC Berkeley Ph.D. student who carried out the statistical analysis. “New schools in LA Unified are much smaller than older schools, perhaps offering warmer, personal settings that are more conducive to kids’ learning.”

. . . Achievement gains were even stronger for elementary students escaping the most severely overcrowded schools and landing at a new campus – gains equivalent to lengthening the school year by up to 65 days, said the report.

LA Unified spent just under $15,000 per pupil, on average, for the new schools. “We found no evidence suggesting that more expensive school facilities yield stronger achievement,” Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller said.


$124 million for a model high school

Zack Munson’s dark, dingy, crumbling alma mater, Woodrow Wilson High in Washington, D.C.,  has been rebuilt at a cost of $124 million, he writes in High School Monumental. The new Wilson, envisioned as a model urban high school, is airy, pleasant and loaded with technology. But is that enough?

The energetic new principal let Munson tour the rebuilt Wilson High.

The classrooms have teleported from the 20th century to the 21st and beyond. Gone are the projectors and VCRs and LaserDisc players (yes, that cutting-edge technology that reigned supreme for a good year or two). The whole building has Wi-Fi. There is a cyber café and a media center, the latter a white, glowing sea of brand new Macs. There’s even a TV production studio! The whole place is really, really nice. Not just nicer than it used to be; nicer than the college I went to. . . . There is a robotics lab, and a robotics team that competes nationally . . .

Each class has a flat-screen TV, an LCD projector or a Promethean Board (interactive, touch-screen projection device). The bathroom stalls have doors.

Even better, there’s no trash or graffiti. The halls are quiet and empty during classes. Suspensions are down and attendance is up slightly.

Yet, Munson has doubts.

If the last 40 years have demonstrated anything, it’s that dumping money and technology onto faltering public institutions often does little but waste the money and create massive warehouses of rapidly obsolescing technology.

Shortly after he toured the school, a group of students set some of the bathrooms on fire, causing $150,000 in damage.

College loan default rate rises

Two years after leaving college, 8.8 percent of borrowers have defaulted on their student loans, up from 7 percent. That includes 15 percent of for-profit college students.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  President Obama wants to spend $5 billion to upgrade and repair buildings at community and tribal colleges. But college leaders aren’t holding their breath.

Shovel-ready school repairs and EduJobs

As part of his jobs bill, President Obama proposes to spend $25 billion to modernize 35,000 schools and $30 billion to hire teachers. All children will attend “great schools,” the president promised in his speech to Congress.

Children learn more in up-to-date schools, argues Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss.

All other things being equal, it’s good to have science labs, air conditioning and a roof that doesn’t leak. But there are plenty of shiny, new, wired-up-the-wazoo schools where kids don’t learn, because facilities are way less important than a strong principal who maintains order, a team of competent, collaborating teachers, a coherent curriculum and committed parents.

Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey thinks school districts could hire construction workers immediately to fix up old schools.

Using existing school aid formulas, Congress could allocate money to the 100 biggest school districts and the state education agencies to put people to work within a matter of weeks. Before winter hits, old, thermally inefficient windows could be replaced, insulation could be added to roofs, old boilers could be swapped out, and tens of thousands of construction workers could be back on the job. By next summer, hundreds of thousands of workers could be employed making improvements to facilities in every school district.

We know that “shovel-ready” projects weren’t ready to hire. Schools may have deferred maintenance wish lists, but it takes time for districts to apply for funding, for the feds to decide who gets funding and then for schools to prioritize projects, seek bids from contractors (who will have to pay workers the inflated Davis-Bacon rate), decide on the winning bids and get the work done.

It’s no comfort that Obama’s model is Georgia Work$, which subsidizes temporary jobs for the long-term unemployed. Georgia Work$ doesn’t work, Eisenbrey writes. Only 12 people signed up for the faltering program in August, adds Reuters.

The plan to rehire or hire teachers is a golden oldie.

Another dose of federal funding will let districts put off dealing with the overspending of the bubble years, writes Rick Hess.

I could repeat what I wrote last year about “Edujobs,” explaining how it undercuts supes, school boards, and unions leaders who are trying to rationalize outlays and benefits. I could repeat some of the concerns I raised when ARRA was being debated in spring 2009. I could explain how this is merely another push to kick the can down the road on hard but important choices, meaning schools and districts will just delay the day of reckoning, while locking in another year of problematic benefit obligations. I could point out that it means treating schools as a jobs bank rather than organizations that stand to benefit from streamlining (hard for me to think of anything less likely to breed professional respect for teachers than treating schools as a make-work jobs program).

In Stimulus I, districts used EduJobs money to protect fringe benefits and administrative staff while laying off teachers in the arts and other non-core subjects, writes Chris Tessone on Flypaper, citing a Center on Education Policy survey. “Funds for school modernization are nice,” he adds, but not likely to have much impact.

Collaborate with charters

Columbus City Schools (Ohio) is renting an empty school site, but charter schools need not apply, writes Stephanie Groce, vice president of the school board.  “The administration explained to me that they do not want to lease that building to any school that might compete for students with Columbus schools.” Learn to collaborate, Groce writes in the Columbus Dispatch.

Tucked away in a church in the Weinland Park neighborhood, just a few blocks from the vacant building, is Columbus Collegiate Academy, a public charter school that outperforms every middle school in Columbus City Schools. On its most recent report card, 100 percent of seventh-grade students scored proficient or better in math, a feat that none of our middle schools can claim. The students served by the academy are 94 percent economically disadvantaged and 81 percent African-American.

Columbus Collegiate needs room to expand. No dice.  The district rejected proposals from Columbus Collegiate and two other high-performing charters.  A music-education business will rent the building.

District leaders keep the city’s charters at arms’ length, she writes.

When I visited Columbus Collegiate Academy last winter to learn about its program, I asked the executive director: How many principals and administrators from Columbus City Schools have come to visit you? The answer: none. I guess there’s nothing we can learn from a school that outperforms all of our middle schools.

The district and its charter should “share best practices and resources willingly, including facilities,” Groce writes.

Fordham Institute authorizes Columbus Collegiate, notes Education Gadfly.

Trailer teach

On Gotham Schools, teacher Arthur Goldstein explains How to Fix a Trailer in 17 Easy Steps. 

First, try all the normal channels. Go to the custodian and explain how cold, how wet, how malodorous and revolting the trailer is. When that fails, go to administration. Fill out the forms, make the requests, and do whatever official policy dictates. Go in every now and then to remind them when nothing gets done. Demand luxury items, like soap.

Repeat every year, as necessary.

That’s just the start.