Atlanta merges best, worst high schools

Atlanta has merged its highest-performing high school with one of its lowest-performing schools, reports Molly Bloom for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Dr. Thomas Gosha teaches his world geometry class at Early College High School At Carver on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Atlanta school superintendent Meria Carstarphen has combined one of the worst high schools in the city with the very best one. If Carver School of Technology doesn’t improve this year, it could be eligible for state takeover under Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District plan, if voters authorize it in November. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Dr. Thomas Gosha teaches world geography at Early College High School. Photo: Hyosub Shin, AJC.com

In 2005, Carver High was split into an Early College school for motivated achievers and several open-enrollment schools, including Carver School of Technology, an F school at risk of takeover by the state.

“They’ve gotten rid of their top performing school by combining it with the lowest performing school,” says Sandra Bethea, who chose Early College High for her daughter two years ago. “They’ve set the school up for failure.”

There are more fights, she said. Her daughter’s teachers spend more time disciplining students and less time teaching. School staff have less time for extra help. And her daughter spent the first semester her English class reviewing last year’s material, so School of Technology students could catch up.

Suspension rates are down and attendance rates are up for School of Technology students this fall, writes Bloom. “Significantly fewer fights were reported.” But suspensions are up for Early College students and “three fights were reported, compared to none reported last fall.”

Early College students meet most high school requirements in their first two years, then take college classes at Georgia State University or Atlanta Metropolitan State College as juniors and seniors.

Winning school


Shawn Young, founder of Classcraft, uses the game in his physics class. 

Competition shouldn’t just be for athletes — or brainiacs — writes Greg Toppo in Game Plan for Learning in Education Next.  Academic competition can engage and motivate students, writes Toppo, author of The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter.

Schools “use sports, games, social clubs, and band competitions to get students excited about coming to school,” he writes, but rarely “use academic competition to improve instruction for more than just a few top students.”

That’s starting to change.

Shawn Young, a 32-year-old Canadian physics teacher, has created a peer-driven classroom learning and management system, dubbed Classcraft, that resembles a low-tech, sword-and-sorcery video game. In it, students work in teams to meet the basic demands of school — showing up on time, working diligently, completing homework, behaving well in class, and encouraging each other to do the same — to earn “experience” and “health” points.

Arete (originally named Interstellar) lets students compete to solve math problems with rivals anywhere in the world. Tim Kelley was inspired by watching the school rowing team compete to improve their personal bests in endurance.

Kelley began to wonder how one might replicate that fighting spirit in the classroom. He soon imagined a computer application that would use students’ day-to-day results to match them up with comparably skilled contestants in head-to-head academic competition — in everything from classroom pickup games to bleacher-filling, live-broadcast amphitheater tournaments.

Yes, Kelley hopes to make math a spectator sport.

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Math teachers group-think about what’s best

Traditional teaching is “outmoded and ineffective,” according to the new guard’s group-thinking, writes math teacher Barry Garelick after a day at “education camp.” Teachers no  longer debate “best practices,” he writes as the only traditionalist.

Scaffolding — starting with what students know and teaching more in small steps — is out, he learned at ed camp. Instead, teachers are supposed to provide “feedback and guidance” that helps students solve completely new problems, a moderator said.

“Think-Pair-Share” — students discuss a problem or question with a partner, then share their ideas with the class — is obsolete, Garelick learned.

. . . students didn’t know what to say to each other about whatever it was they were to discuss. And that was likely because they had little or no knowledge of the subject that they were supposed to talk about, and which was supposed to give them the insights and knowledge that they previously lacked.

However, student-centered and inquiry-based approaches are still alive and well,” he writes. Feedback and guidance are the new think, pair, share of math teaching.

Effort isn’t enough: Kids have to learn

Psychologist Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” theory — students work harder and learn more if they believe they can “grow their brains” — is red-hot in the education world.

Everyone says they believe in the growth mindset, even when they don’t really, Dweck writes in Education Week. A “growth mindset isn’t just about effort.” It’s about learning and improving.

The student who didn’t learn anything is told, “Great effort! You tried your best!”

Instead, a teacher might say, “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.”

Dweck has a fear that keeps her up at night, she writes.

. . . that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!”

She calls for “telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.”

Study: KIPP boosts achievement

KIPP charter students make significantly larger gains in reading and math than similar students at traditional public schools, concludes a new Mathematica study. Most KIPP students come from low-income black and Hispanic families.

In Vanessa Chang's Kinder classroom, Jafet Arce pretends to be a health care worker taking blood during a guess the profession game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, in Houston.  Photo: Steven Gonzalez, Houston Chronicle

At Houston’s KIPP Connect, Vanessa Chang’s kindergarteners played a “guess the profession” game. Photo: Steven Gonzalez, Houston Chronicle

However, KIPP schools didn’t affect motivation, engagement or aspirations, despite the network’s stress on developing “grit,” notes Education Week.

2013 Mathematica study showed KIPP middle school students gained more learning in math, reading, science, and social studies than students in non-KIPP schools.

“Looking at the middle school results based on when the schools opened shows that the impact on students dipped between 2006 and 2010, and then rebounded,” reports Ed Week.

The dip coincided with the network’s rapid expansion. It now includes elementary and high schools, in addition to middle schools.

KIPP students may not seem more motivated, engaged or ambitious because they’re comparing themselves to other KIPP students, said Philip Gleason, a principal investigator.

KIPP students weren’t more likely to have high aspirations for college attendance and completion than their peers. But they were more likely to participate in college-preparation activities, such as having discussions about college, getting assistance in planning college, and applying to at least one school.

Students at no-excuses charters such as KIPP “improve significantly more in math and reading than similar students at traditional public schools, concludes a new meta-analysis. The model was especially effective in middle and high school.

Charters following other models showed smaller gains.

Low-income kids want college, but few are prepared

Ninety-six percent of low-income ACT takers plan to enroll in college, yet only 11 percent are prepared to pass college classes, concludes an ACT analysis.

Half the students in the lowest income quartile failed to meet any of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science.

Forty-five percent of low-income students met the English benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students and 26 were ready for college reading, versus 44 percent of all student. Only 23 percent tested as proficient in math and 18 percent in science, roughly half the numbers for all students.

Not surprisingly, low-income students who take a “core or more” curriculum (four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies) do better than peers take a lighter load. While only 25 percent of “core-or-more” students from lower-income families met the benchmark, that compares to 4 percent of less-than-core students.

However, African-American students who complete the recommended college-prep curriculum are much less likely to be prepared for college than other core-or-more students, reports ACT and the United Negro College Fund.

These students may be taking classes with a “college prep” label but watered-down content, lower expectations or less-qualified teachers, said Steve Kappler, a vice president at ACT.

Core-or-more blacks met the ACT college readiness benchmark at a rate of 36 percent in English, 19 percent in reading, 15 percent in math and 11 percent in science.

Nationally, 67 percent of students who took the core or more met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English, 47 met it in reading, 46 in math and 41 in science—essentially anywhere from double to triple the rate of African-American students who took the core or more.

“A vast majority of African-American students desire a postsecondary education, but they’re clearly not prepared for it,” said Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF. “We must work together to bridge that gap from aspiration to reality by providing quality education and policies focused on college readiness.”

Career prep starts in middle school


High school student Andrew Castillo, left, and architect Marco Marraccini, met when Andrew was a seventh-grade intern. Photo: Emile Wamsteker, Education Week

Career prep programs are starting in middle school, reports Education Week.

“Although young people physically drop out in high school, they mentally disengage in middle school. That’s where we lose them,” said Ayeloa Fortune, who directs United Way’s Middle Grade Success Challenge in Alexandria, Virginia.

In Pittsburgh, United Way funded a program that connects sixth graders with adults who introduce them to career options.

Middle schools are increasingly looking for ways to expose students to careers so they understand the relevance of what they are learning and stay on track. The hope is that with a goal in mind, they will be inspired to take rigorous classes, be engaged in learning, and increase the likelihood that they will be prepared for college.

In seventh grade, a nonprofit called Spark paired Andrew X. Castillo with an architect at a Los Angeles firm. A rising senior, the 16-year-old is applying to selective colleges to study architecture. He hopes to be the first in his family to complete college.

“[My mentor] helped me focus more on the future and what my next step should be,” says Castillo.

Career-focused charter schools could “alternative pathways for getting most kids not only through high school, but also through to some form of postsecondary credential with value in the labor market,” writes Robert Schwartz, a Harvard professor emeritus. He calls for designing schools that combine the strengths of career academies and early college high schools.

Two-thirds of young people will not earn a bachelor’s degree, writes Schwartz. The college graduation rate is much lower for students from low-income families.

Can’t learn or don’t care?

David Rose founded CAST (Center for Applied Technology) to help learning disabled students understand their lessons. The most pervasive learning disability is emotional, the neuropsychologist tells Hechinger’s Chris Berdik. “We’ve seen that technology can do a lot of stuff to support students, but the real driver is do they actually want to learn something,” says Rose.

CAST has developed Udio, an online reading curriculum aimed at middle-school students who read poorly — and hate doing it.

Rather than the usual “See Spot run” fare of remedial reading, Udio starts by finding kids something they really want to read. Students choose from tons of online articles donated by Sports Illustrated for Kids, NASA, and Yahoo News, among many others, organized by topic. Some articles simply inform, such as a story on bat research or a profile of an extreme athlete, while others cover controversial issues, such as genetically modified food or doctor-assisted suicide. Every article is presented with supports that students can use if they need them, including text-to-speech that will read the article out loud (the kids wear headphones) while highlighting each word, and audible, one-click word translations for English-language learners.

. . . The program prompts students to display what they felt about each article by clicking words like annoying, calming, sad or curious, and then it shows them what their classmates thought about the same articles. Students also make Web-based presentations about the topics that most interest them, using a mix of writing, recorded speech, images and design elements to summarize, draw inferences and make arguments supported by evidence from the reading. They can visit each other’s projects to comment and debate, which they eagerly do.

The goal is to persuade students that reading is something they might want to do, something that is meaningful to them.

In pilots, remedial readers panicked at multiple-choice quizzes to test comprehension.  “These kids have had trouble with tests all through school,” Rose says. “It made the reading feel more like, ‘Oh, this is something I have to do. The teacher gave me this test that, once again, will show that I couldn’t learn anything.’ ”

So Udio tests comprehension by asking readers to solve a puzzle. “Passages from the text appear with blanks and a choice of key words students can choose to make the passage whole again.”

Public school teacher, private school parent

A veteran public school teacher, Michael Godsey explains why his daughter will attend private school. He wants her to go to school with classmates who think learning is cool.

History Day at San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

History Day at San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

San Luis Obispo Classical Academy (SLOCA) is a small private school in California that promotes “personal character” and “love of learning,” he writes in The Atlantic.

In 90 minutes of observing a class at SLOCA, he saw “zero interruptions, zero yawns, and zero cell phones.” All 15 students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, were ready, willing and able to learn.

That the teacher was fluent in that day’s topic, the Holy Roman Empire, was clear in at least two ways: One, she answered every question thoroughly, without hesitation; two, I could actually hear every word she said, in the tone and volume she intended. She didn’t have to yell to be heard, and she didn’t speak quickly in fear of interruption. She could subtly emphasize certain words, and her jokes landed.

He also observed a class at the public high school where he teaches English.

The educator’s passion is evident, and his typed lesson plans are immaculate and thoughtful. It’s not completely clear how fluent he is in the subject matter, however, because he has been interrupted or distracted by 20 things in 20 minutes: a pencil being sharpened, a paper bag being crumpled and tossed, a few irrelevant jokes that ignite several side conversations, a tardy student sauntering in with a smirk, a student feeding yogurt to a friend, a random class clown outside the window, and the subsequent need to lower the blinds, to name a few. The teacher is probably distracted by a disconcerting suspicion that he’s talking primarily to himself.

In public school, where “everything is both free and compulsory,” there is a “culture of coolness, the norm of disengagement,” writes Godsey. He’s willing to pay for his child to be immersed in a community that supports enthusiastic learners.

A principal who matters

Vidal Chastenet

Vidal Chastanet on Humans of New York

Asked about the most influential person in his life by the Humans of New York photo blog, eighth-grader Vidal Chastanet named Nadia Lopez, his middle-school principal. “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us,” he said. “She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” The post went viral.

Lopez, who’d founded Mott Hall Bridges Academy in 2010, had been thinking about quitting, reports The Atlantic in Why Principals Matter. She worried her work wasn’t making a difference. Then came the wave of publicity, $1.2 million in donations and a visit with President Obama for the principal and her student.

Lopez told The Atlantic how she’s made Mott Hall a safe haven in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the city’s poorest neighborhood. “In this building, my kids are going to feel like they’re successful,” she said.