Students need skills that lead to middle-class jobs

Seventy percent of young Americans will not earn a bachelor’s degree, write Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in Bloomberg View. Most community college students drop out without earning a degree or certificate. Schools must provide “effective programs that prepare kids who are not immediately college-bound for middle-class jobs,” they write.

For many students, the college-prep track is a dead end, they argue. Students don’t master the academic skills needed to earn a two- or four-year degree or the technical skills needed to gain entry to a job with chances for advancement.

In New Orleans, education, business and civic leaders have created YouthForce NOLA to help students qualify for “jobs such as EMT, junior software developer and manufacturing process technician,” write Bloomberg and Dimon. Schools will provide career-tech classes and businesses will offer paid internships aligned with students’ coursework and goals.

JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg will invest $7.5 million in YouthForce NOLA, and plan similar investments in Denver and Detroit.

Instead of suspension, ‘positive redirection’

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Sci Academy charter, which has the highest test scores of any open-enrollment school in New Orleans, has cut suspensions.

Sci Academy, a New Orleans charter school in a poor, black neighborhood is known for high test scores and college-bound graduates, writes Beth Hawkins in U.S. News. Along with two other schools in the Collegiate Academies network, it used to be known for strict discipline and a high suspension rate. Now the school is transforming discipline — without sacrificing order.

Sci Academy teachers try to prevent confrontations before they happen, writes Hawkins. If that doesn’t work, a student who’s disrupting class or fighting with a classmate is sent to the Positive Redirection Center, which is staffed by two adults.

After students fill out a questionnaire with sections labeled, “Own it,” “Fix it” and “Learn from it,” they get help framing and rehearsing a conversation with the school community member they harmed.

When Sci Academy students stay in the center for more than a couple of hours, they continue their work on a bank of computers that classroom teachers keep current. Center staff can administer exams.

The referring teacher or staffer talks to the student within 24 hours, says  Cornelius Dukes, dean of positive redirection. The key question: “What help do you need from me to prevent this from happening again?”

The school uses data to identify “students who need behavioral or emotional support,” writes Hawkins. There are four mental health professionals on campus. Data-crunching also shows “patterns that suggest a teacher needs coaching or a part of the school day needs to be restructured.”

Detroit’s disintegrating schools

Crumbling, Destitute Schools Threaten Detroit’s Recovery, headlines the New York Times.

Two words: New Orleans.

Yes, Detroit’s district-run public schools are moldy, rat-infested — and failing academically. But they’re not the only alternative.

Teachers called a sick-out this week, shutting down most of the district’s schools.

“We have rodents out in the middle of the day,” Kathy Aaron, a teacher of 18 years, told the Times. “Like they’re coming to class.”

The gymnasium floor at Charles L. Spain school is buckled and partially ripped out. Credit: Salwan Georges, New York Times

The gymnasium floor at a Detroit school is buckled and partially ripped out. Credit: Salwan Georges, New York Times

“Many worry that the state of the schools will hamper Detroit’s recovery from bankruptcy,” according to the Times.

The city is beginning to rebuild, said Mary Sheffield, a City Council member. “We have businesses and restaurants and arenas, but our schools are falling apart and our children are uneducated. There is no Detroit without good schools.”

But what if there are good schools — outside the district’s control? Fifty-five percent of school-age children in Detroit attend charter schools and others go to district schools in nearby suburbs. Detroit Public Schools enrollment has fallen by more than two-thirds in 15 years.

New Orleans.

School choice? That’s too scary

We Don’t Want School Choice — complete with a Choice Monster — is satire from ChoiceMedia.TV.

EdNavigator, a new nonprofit with a New Orleans pilot, helps parents choose the best school for their kids and track their progress. It’s free for parents. Funding comes from employers and charities.

For example, Erica, a hotel housekeeper, had six children in five different schools. Ed Navigator helped her transfer two younger children from a “D”-rated school to their eighth grade sister’s “B”-rated school using an “obscure sibling consolidation process.”

International House Hotel, which partners with EdNavigator, gave her paid time-off to complete the registration. The school provided free uniforms.

Left-wing ‘fundies’ fight reform

Lefties have become education fundamentalists, writes Lynnell Mickelsen on Education Post.  She’s a lefty herself, but she values educating children more than protecting teachers’ unions.

Like the religious right, the teachers’ union and its allies frame issues as either-or, she writes.

Either you support every clause in the union contract or you’re trying to bust the union. Either you support teachers or you’re “bashing” them. Either you support public schools or you want their destruction because that apocalypse is always drawing nigh.

Fundamentalists demonize their opponents: “In the union narrative, ed reformers aren’t just wrong about educational policy,” they’re evil “corporatists” trying to “privatize” the schools.

Fundies reject evidence that challenges their world view, writes Mickelsen. Students in New Orleans’  post-Katrina “public charters have made remarkable gains in reading and math scores, high school graduation and college acceptance rates. Yet union leaders and their allies have gone out of their way to deny or dismiss this data.”

Just as right-wing fundamentalists “insist that Marriage Is Between a Man and A Woman . . . teachers’ unions basically insist that Public Schools Are Between A Union and Its District,” she writes.

Right now, the public schools that are getting the best results with low-income black and Latino children are mostly charters. But because charter schools are mostly non-union, the teachers’ unions are attempting to limit these schools—even though this would disenfranchise entire groups of children.

Both the teachers’ union and religious conservatives share the same message on racial disparities in achievement, Mickelsen concludes. “Our systems are fine. It’s the brown kids and their parents who are screwed up.”

It’s Time to Get Rid of Education’s Sacred Cows, writes Angela Minnici in Ed Week. These include the idea that “education is local,” that anyone who loves kids can be a good teacher and that U.S. schools traditionally have done well at educating all students.

NOLA’s new public schools lure middle class

Stephanie and Ben McLeish walk their children Micah, 5, ila, 7, and Silas, 9, right, to their local charter school, while their youngest Levi, 2, is pushed in the stroller.

The first signs of gentrification can be seen in New Orleans public schools, writes Danielle Deilinger in the Times-Picayune.

St. Rita’s Catholic School is struggling to compete for students. Photo: Cheryl Gerber, Hechinger Report

Despite a record of excellence, St. Rita’s Catholic School is struggling to compete for students. Photo: Cheryl Gerber, Hechinger Report

Before Hurricane Katrina, “few people with financial resources, regardless of race, put their kids in a New Orleans public school,” she writes.

Most public students were overwhelmingly poor and black, except for those who attended a handful of schools with entrance requirements. Private schools enrolled a quarter of school-age children.

New Orleans’ public students are as poor as ever: Three quarters qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. However, white enrollment has doubled — to 7 percent.

“Several new schools are attracting families who could afford private or parochial school, the same type of families who started leaving the school system 45 years ago,” writes Dreilinger.

. . . Morris Jeff Community School and Bricolage Academy are among the city’s new hot schools, according to enrollment numbers. So is Lycée Français, a language-immersion charter. They join pre–Hurricane Katrina favorites: Lusher Charter, Ben Franklin High, Edward Hynes Charter, Audubon Charter, the International School.

Before the storm, Morris Jeff was a low-performing school for low-income black students. Reinvented as a charter school, it’s now 40 percent white and non-poor. Eighty-four percent of fifth graders test as proficient in reading and math.

New Orleans’ Catholic schools are losing students, reports Jon Marcus. “Parents know they have a lot of choice,” said Karen Henderson, principal at St. Rita, which offers pre-kindergarten through Grade 7.

New Orleans improves — with black teachers

A new generation of black teachers are part of New Orleans’ schools revival, writes Citizen (Chris) Stewart, who grew up in the city and attended neighborhood schools.

The Orleans Parish School Board — not “white school reformers” — put the city’s teachers on unpaid “disaster leave” because the schools were closed, he writes. That enabled teachers to collect unemployment benefits.

When schools reopened, the Recovery School District required that teacher candidates pass a basic skills test. “One third of the returning teachers failed that test,” writes Stewart.

“Veteran” and “experienced” don’t necessarily mean “quality,” he argues.

(Critics say) the fired black teachers “knew the kids” and “were the backbone of the black middle class.”

. . . The children of New Orleans deserve every shot at a good life we can proivde them. We can’t get there by viewing schools as a jobs program for the black bourgeoisie.

. . . Yes, some of the previous NOLA schools had many lovely, dedicated people working hard in a deeply dysfunctional system that blocked them from doing their best work.

At the same time, many others needed to go.

Today,  54 percent of NOLA teachers and 58 percent of RSD school leaders are black, writes Stewart. Blacks make up 59 percent of the city’s population.

“Great black school leaders and educators are working hard in a new system with many hopeful new possibilities,” he concludes. This time, growth of the black middle class is linked to “academic results for poor black children.”

Education Week‘s excellent series, The Re-Education of New Orleans, includes an interview with a veteran teacher who wasn’t rehired after Katrina.

Resurgence, by Public Impact and New Schools for New Orleans, analyzes what’s changed in NOLA.

74 Million’s Matt Barnum answers critics who downplay progress in NOLA schools.

Music is vital for community and culture, reports Ed Week.

We can fix bad schools, but usually don’t

“We know what to do about the nation’s struggling urban schools. But for the most part, we’re choosing not to do it.” So argues Richard Whitmire on RealClearEducation.

Micaiah Rogers and Synique Malone compete in a sack race at a game night at Hanley Aspire for families to get to know the faculty.

Ariel Woods, Micaiah Rogers and Synique Malone compete at a game night for families at Hanley Aspire.

Tennessee created the Achievement School District to turn around its lowest-performing schools. “Some schools got fresh starts, others got absorbed by charters,” Whitmire writes.

The state’s student achievement report shows big gains. “Math and science scores for the 10,000 students in those schools rose faster than the state average, while reading matched state levels.”

Michigan has formed a special district for low-performing schools and Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arkansas “are moving that way,” he writes.

. . . The nation’s most dramatic schools turnaround example is found in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina offered educators a rare start-over opportunity. Today, nearly all New Orleans students attend charter schools, and each fresh study of the results show students moving in the right direction.

Denver, Washington, D.C. and other cities are working with “top-performing charter schools” to leverage change, writes Whitmire.

In Memphis, California-based Aspire Public Schools has taken over a failing school, Hanley Elementary, and all its students in a black neighborhood called Orange Mound.

Scores were low in the first year, but the second year saw “big increases in math proficiency and respectable increases in literacy skills,” writes Whitmire.

“In the first year, you really need to focus on changing the culture and leading indicators such as attendance, suspension and student attrition,” Aspire’s Allison Leslie said. “In the second year, there should be increases in proficiency and exceptional growth. By year three you should see great gains in proficiency and continue to see high growth scores.”

Chartering Turnaround, a new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Center on School Turnaround, looks at how three charter management organizations restarted and improved low-achieving public schools.  According to the report, “the autonomy to hire, retain and reward staff; the ability to adjust the length of school year, academic program and curriculum; and, the option to develop tailored approaches for finances and facilities” are the most critical factors.

Yes, New Orleans schools are better

New Orleans’ schools have improved significantly since Katrina devastated the city 10 years ago, writes Douglas N. Harris, a Tulane economics professors who directs the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.

Within the span of one year, all public-school employees were fired, the teacher contract expired and was not replaced, and most attendance zones were eliminated. The state took control of almost all public schools and began holding them to relatively strict standards of academic achievement. Over time, the state turned all the schools under its authority over to charter management organizations (CMOs) that, in turn, dramatically reshaped the teacher workforce.

Test scores, once very low, are now higher than in comparison Louisiana districts that were affected by the hurricane but didn’t remake their school systems. More New Orleans’ students are earning high school diplomas and going on to college.

The research looks at various confounding factors: Students who returned to New Orleans were slightly better students than those who left — the poorest neighborhoods suffered the worst flooding — accounting for a small percentage of the gains. On the flip side, most returnees were struggling with trauma and dislocation, depressing school performance. ednext_XV_4_harris_fig01-small

The gains are real and significant, Harris concludes. “The effects are also large compared with other completely different strategies for school improvement, such as class-size reduction and intensive preschool,” even factoring in higher per-student spending in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The state has the authority to close low-performing schools and to choose new school operators with a record of academic success. In a city with 90 public schools, 16 schools have been closed and 30 taken over.

School leaders can hire and fire the teachers they want. Teachers are much less experienced and less likely to have traditional certification. Turnover is high. Yet despite these metrics going in the “wrong direction,” schools have seen large improvements in student learning, writes Harris.

Two factors helped: The schools were so bad before Katrina, they had “no place to go but up.” In addition, teachers saw New Orleans as an exciting place to live and work.

Parents can choose from an array of different schools with different specialties. They can use the OneApp to apply to multiple schools (89 percent of the city’s public schools participate), ranking their preferences.

Why charters are working in New Orleans

New Orleans is one of the fastest-improving districts in the nation since the move to charter schools, writes David Osborne of the Progressive Policy Institute  in Washington Monthly. Some 92.5 percent of students now attend charters.

Furthermore, the students are just as likely to come from low-income families as they were before Hurricane Katrina.

Figure 1. Percent of Students at Basic (Grade Level) or Above on Standardized Tests, 2007-2014* The 2014 exams were more difficult because they were more closely aligned with the Common Core standards, which explains why progress leveled off in the RSD and the state and OPSB scores fell. The 2013 and 2014 data excludes end-of-course high school tests, which replaced the old Graduate Exit Exams. But on the “end-of-course” tests that replaced it, the percentage of RSD high school students in New Orleans who scored “excellent” or “good” rose from thirty-one in 2011-12 to forty-seven in 2013-14—more than twice as fast as the state average.

Figure 1. Percent of Students at Basic (Grade Level) or Above on Standardized Tests, 2007-2014* The 2014 exams were more difficult because they were more closely aligned with the Common Core standards, which explains why progress leveled off in the RSD and the state and OPSB scores fell.

In 2005, before Katrina, 62 percent of students attended “failing” schools. That’s down to 7 percent, even though the standard for failure has been raised.

The percentage of students scoring at grade level or above has risen from 35 percent to 62 percent.

Almost half of New Orleans students dropped out, and less than one in five went on to college before Katrina, Osborne writes. “Last year, 73 percent graduated from high school in four years, two points below the state average, and 59 percent of graduates entered college, equaling the state average.”

From 2006 to 2012, New Orleans’s charter students gained nearly half a year of additional learning in math and a third of a year in reading, every year, compared to similar students in the city’s non-chartered public schools, according to a new CREDO survey.

Eighty-four percent of public school students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, compared to 77 percent before Katrina, writes Osborne. There are slightly more whites (up from 3 to 7 percent) and fewer blacks (down from 93 to 85 percent). However, black students have made the greatest gains: They used to score 8 percentage points below the state average, but now exceed the state average by five points.

Most key decisions are made at the school level.

“If something does not work for my children here at Behrman, be it a teacher, be it a textbook, I can get rid of it,” says Rene Lewis-Carter, principal of Martin Behrman Charter School, where more than 80 percent of the largely African American students pass their standardized tests. “I got to handpick teachers—I’d never been able to do that before.”

. . . Sabrina Pence, who ran the charter that pioneered the use of educational software in New Orleans, says that would have been impossible in a traditional district. “I was a principal in a district school, and I only controlled a small amount of my budget. I got $14,000, for paper and supplies. If there is one reason I love being in a charter school, that’s it—prioritizing your resources around your strategy.”

New Orleans offers a variety of choices from Montessori schools to “no excuses” college-prep schools, he writes. “There are schools that offer the demanding International Baccalaureate program, a military and maritime high school, and three alternative high schools for students who are overage, far behind, or have been expelled.”

Parents have grown used to choosing their children’s schools: 86 percent of students attend a school other than the one closest to their home.