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.

‘Better job’ is #1 for college students


Source: The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A., 2014 Freshman Survey. Responses refer to incoming college freshmen.

Why do Americans go to college? asks a UCLA survey of first-year students. First and foremost, they want better jobs, observes Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post.

The survey has been given every year since 1971. Students today are more likely to rate every objective as “very important,” Rampell writes. “Entitled millennials just expect colleges to do everything for them!”

But the biggest jumps, in percentage-point terms, were for the share saying they went to college to “make more money” (44.5 percent in 1971, versus 72.8 percent in 2014; an increase of 28.3 percentage points that was mostly gained in the earlier years of the survey) . . .

Women are more likely than men to cite intellectual curiosity, notes Rampell.

Free high schoolers to choose their education

By high school, attendance in class should be optional, argues Blake Boles, author of The Art of Self-Directed Learning. High school students should have the freedom — and responsibility — of college students, he writes.

Don’t want to show up to class? Think you can learn it on your own? Fine. Problem sets are due each Friday, the midterm is in six weeks, the final exam is in 12 weeks, and here’s a list of what each exam will test. Good luck.

Sitting in class but not participating? Fiddling around on your computer? Not taking notes? . . . Your loss.

Bored? Getting nothing out of this class? Then why are you here? Drop it and find something you love.

What would happen if students could vote with their feet and learn by consent? Boles asks.

Attendance would drop in the worst classes, he predicts. Demand would rise for electives. “Learning and engagement would “skyrocket.”

The school would adapt to offer extensive new training and support in the realm of meta-learning (i.e., learning how to learn): independent study skills, work habits, personal organization, research, and self-reflection on which courses to choose.

What if students only wanted to take “fun” classes, and not the “hard” or “important” ones? We’d have to create more engaging classes and scale down our vision of a required curriculum.

To engage the students who don’t want to study anything, schools would have to “develop new courses and programs that engage young people of vastly differing learning styles, backgrounds, and inclinations.”

Learners have rights too

Charter schools with strict discipline policies provide learning opportunities for motivated students, wrote Mike Petrilli in a New York Times debate on school discipline. That’s why parents are choosing charters, he argued.

Accused of abandoning troubled students — and worse — he concedes that “pushing kids out of school and giving up on them too soon” is a problem.

There are too many schools with weak cultures, weaker leaders, ineffective discipline policies, and poorly trained staff that resort to punitive actions when other approaches would work better. And this has serious consequences for the kids who are suspended or expelled. Helping schools learn how to create positive school climates and develop alternative approaches is definitely worth doing.

But — you knew there’d be a but — eliminating suspensions and expulsions is “the educational equivalent of . . .  letting windows stay broken,”  argues Petrilli. “It elevates the rights of the disruptive students” above the needs of their classmates.

In high-poverty urban schools, the serious learners are low-income black or brown kids. Their parents can’t afford to move to the suburbs or pay private-school tuition.

Strong public schools have long had tools to deal with these moral dilemmas, including detentions, suspension, expulsion, and “alternative schools” for the most troubled students. Yet some on the left, including in Arne Duncan’s Office of Civil Rights, have been fighting to take these tools away.

“If you want traditional public schools to thrive, allow them to employ reasonable discipline policies that will create environments conducive to learning—including the responsible use of suspension, expulsion, and alternative schools,” writes Petrilli. Otherwise, competent parents will choose charter schools that are safe and orderly.

Critics say there are better ways to create safe, orderly schools, such as “restorative justice” approaches that try to mediate conflicts.

Here’s a video on a conflict-resolution program at an Oakland (California) middle school.

A new research paper from the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative calls for educators to analyze discipline rates by race and ethnicity and look for alternatives to suspension. These include improving the “cultural responsiveness of instruction,” better classroom management, programs to build supportive relationships between teachers and students and high-quality instruction. “Efforts to increase academic rigor and to increase safe, predictable environments for young people” reduce conflict, the paper concludes.

That last bit seems chicken-and-eggish to me. If you create a safe, predictable environment, you’ll have a safer environment.

How to get students to work harder

High standards mean nothing — except another chance to fail — unless students believe they can learn, write Thomas Toch and Susan Headden, both of the Carnegie Foundation, in The Atlantic.

“Students who doubt their academic abilities, or question whether students with their particular backgrounds belong at their schools, frequently fall behind or fail at school — regardless of their innate intelligence or the quality of the teaching they receive,” they write.

However, it’s possible to raise students’ confidence — and their effort.

In a recent study, 7th-graders at a middle-class, racially diverse New England public middle school were told to write an essay on a personal hero.

The teachers graded the essays the way they typically would, adding routine critical comments like “unclear,” “give examples,” and “wrong word.”

Then the researchers randomly attached one of two sticky notes to each essay. . . Half of them received a bland message saying, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The other half received a note saying, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them”—a comment intended to signal teachers’ investment in their students’ success.

. . . Among white students, 87 percent of those who received the encouraging teacher message turned in new essays, compared to 62 percent of those who got the bland note. Among African American students, the effect was even greater, with 72 percent in the encouraged group doing the revision, compared to only 17 percent of those randomly chosen to get the bland message. And the revised essays received higher scores from both the students’ teachers and outside graders hired for the study.

The encouraging note had the largest effect on black students who’d previously trusted teachers the least, concluded researchers. They believed the critical feedback was a sign the teacher cared.

Praising students regardless of their performance is counter-productive, says psychologist Carol Dweck. It suggests effort doesn’t matter.  Students who develop a “growth mindset,” the belief that hard work leads to improvement, are more likely to succeed, she argues.

Latino, African American, and first-generation students often fear they “don’t belong” in college. At the University of Texas in Austin and an elite private university, these students earned more credits and earned higher grades if they received messages encouraging a growth mindset and a sense of belonging.