Is AP for average kids? More schools say ‘yes’

Charter and magnet schools dominate the list of most challenging high schools, according to Jay Mathews’ 2016 index.

BASIS Oro Valley, an Arizona charter school, ranks first on the Challenge Index with the highest percentage of students taking the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests. Other BASIS schools rank second and fourth.

BASIS also has three schools in the top 10 of the U.S. News list of best high schools, which is based on test scores and graduation rates.

Ninth-graders can take AP Chemistry at BASIS Oro Valley in Arizona.

Ninth-graders can take AP Chemistry at BASIS Oro Valley in Arizona.

Mathews designed the Challenge Index to identify “schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests.” That’s why he doesn’t look at passing rates, which reward schools that restrict AP/IB/Cambridge to top students. He created a separate “public elites” index for schools that enroll “a high concentration of top students.”

Charters, which are 7 percent of high schools nationwide, make up one third of the top 100 schools on the list.

Skilled teachers can show show even “habitual slackers” that “struggling with a challenging course is less boring than sitting through a painfully slow remedial course,” Mathews believes.

At IDEA charter schools in Texas, where most students come from low-income Mexican-American families. 99 percent of graduates go on to college.

At IDEA charter schools in Texas, where most students come from low-income Mexican-American families. 99 percent of graduates go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that all or most students belong in what are supposed to be college-level courses, especially if the “average kid” is now a remedial “slacker?” But some schools are getting students to take and pass high-level courses.

“In some of the poorest parts of Texas,” six schools in the IDEA Public Schools charter network made the top 50 on the Challenge Index, he writes. At 11th-ranked IDEA College Mission, for example, 91 percent of students qualify for a free or subsidized lunch.

Last year they had AP test participation rates twice as high as those of affluent public schools such as McLean and Whitman high schools, or private schools such as National Cathedral and Holton-Arms.

. . . Low-income students who take AP courses “are significantly more likely to graduate from college than students who never take an AP course,” said Michael Franco, the network’s vice president for secondary school programs.

The network has increased pass rates while expanding access, Franco told Mathews. “Last year, 81 percent of our seniors graduated with AP credit.”

$7 billion didn’t help worst schools

Pouring $7 billion into America’s worst schools has produced few “turnarounds,” reports Caitlin Emma in Politico.  Nationwide, “about two thirds of (School Improvement Grant) SIG schools nationwide made modest or no gains — not much different from similarly bad schools that got no money at all,” she writes. “About a third of the schools actually got worse.”

In Miami, a high school in Little Haiti has moved from an “F” rating to a “B,” with help from SIG money. Achievement remains low, but not as low as it used to be.

Security is a concern at Christian Fenger High School in Chicago. Credit: Peter Hoffman, Education Week

Security is a concern at Christian Fenger High School in Chicago. Credit: Peter Hoffman, Education Week

At a low-performing school in Chicago, nothing changed. Fewer than 10 percent of juniors are proficient in reading, math and science, the same level as before.

Miami Superintendent Alberto Carvalho lined up “the support of teachers, unions and parents,” before SIG money arrived, writes Emma. With union buy-in, he was able to move strong teachers to low-performing schools, transferring weaker teachers to other placements.

“In Chicago, where teachers fought the program and officials changed almost yearly, schools churned through millions of dollars but didn’t budge the needle, reports Emma.

In 1989, 16 high-poverty, low- scoring elementary schools in Austin, Texas, were awarded $300,000 a year for five years, above normal school spending, to settle a desegregation suit. After five years, little had changed at 14 of the 16 schools, I wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle column. Two schools improved dramatically in achievement and attendance.

Only two of the 16 schools had plans for raising achievement before they got the money, researchers Richard J. Murnane and Frank Levy wrote in an analysis of the “natural experiment.”

In the 14 schools that didn’t improve, the money was used to lower class sizes, but teaching and curriculum stayed the same — and so did results. In the two schools that improved, principals lowered class size, but that was just the start of many changes.

Here’s the Education Department’s new SIG report.

Small high schools help in NYC

New York City’s small high schools, once derided as a Gates-funded flop, increase students’ odds of graduating and going to college and cost less per graduate, concludes a new MRDC study that compared small school students with applicants who applied but lost a lottery.

Some 200 small schools were created between 2002 and 2008, usually serving disadvantaged students in buildings that had housed large, low-performing high schools.

Black males showed the strongest gains, writes Patricia Willens on NPR.

Because more students earned a diploma in four years, rather than five, costs were 14 to 16 percent lower per graduate, MDRC estimated.

While critics have labeled the Gates effort a failure, other researchers have been monitoring small schools for decades and have found generally positive impacts.

review of studies published between 1990 and 2009 found “the weight of evidence … clearly favors smaller schools.” An MIT study of New York City public small high schools also found positive effects: higher graduation rates, better test scores and an increase in college enrollment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been critical of closing large high schools to create smaller specialized schools, notes the New York Times editorial board.  He pledges to help improve schools before closing them. “Given the clear benefits that have accrued to the city’s most vulnerable students, Mr. de Blasio should not shy away from the option of shutting down big schools and remaking them from scratch, particularly in cases where the school has been failing for a long time and its culture is beyond repair.”

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.

Indiana rethinks A-F school grades

Indiana lawmakers want education officials to rewrite the A-F grading system for schools to reflect both students’ passing rate and progress — without comparing students to each other, reports StateImpact Indiana.

Critics say the system is too complex. (Indiana’s system is the most rudimentary scoring system I’ve seen yet, writes Matthew DiCarlo on Shanker Blog.) Others say Indiana needs to use value-added data — which is quite complex — to factor out poverty effects.

Eight AP Statistics students at an Indianapolis high school came up with their own A-F rewrite for the high school model, which they presented to three state lawmakers, a representative of the state superintendent and school officials.

Currently, 60 percent of a high school grade comes the percentage of 10th graders who’ve passed end-of -course exams in Algebra I and English 10, with another 30 percent derived from the four-year graduation rate. That leaves 10 percent for a “College and Career Readiness” measure: 25 percent or more of students must earn passing scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests, earn three or more college credits or earn a career certification.

The Ben Davis High School students suggested decreasing the importance of the end-of-course exam pass rate, which correlate strongly with graduation rates. They’d make the readiness metric 30 percent of the school’s grade and include a measure of students’ improvement in high school. They also want to adjust the grades for students’ poverty — somehow.

House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, suggested looking at the percentage of graduates who need remedial courses in college.

Better high schools for low achievers

“New York City’s lowest-achieving students are, on average, attending higher quality high schools than in years past, and graduating in higher numbers, concludes  High School Choice in New York City, a new report by the Research Alliance for NYC Schools. But it’s not clear whether the city’s policy of universal high school choice is responsible.

U.S. News ranks best high schools

U.S. News has come out with its 2013 Best High Schools Rankings. Nearly all the top-ranked schools are specialty schools, magnets or charter schools. Arizona’s BASIS, an ultra-rigorous charter network, has two schools in the top five. Twenty-eight of the top-ranked 100 high schools are charter schools.

The survey looks at the performance of students overall and disadvantaged students compared to similar students in the state; if schools post above-average results, the survey analyzes Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test results.

Obama: Educate for high-tech economy

High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.

Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. (The sinister Gates Foundation has been a major funder of dual enrollment.) Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.

“A Race to the Top-style grant program for high school curriculum” may raise hackles, notes Ed Week. Conservatives — and some liberals — are unhappy with the administration’s use of funding power to push states to adopt Common Core standards, which was supposed to be a state initiative.   Now Obama’s admitting that’s what Race to the Top did and asking for more money and power over curriculum.

Should high schools pay for college remediation

High schools should pay if graduates need remedial classes in college, says Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

Developmental education isn’t a cash cow — or a money pit — for community colleges, writes a dean.

‘Dual’ students flood Florida colleges

Dual enrollment  — taking college classes in high school –is so popular in Florida that it’s breaking community college budgets.