St. Benedict’s empowers and educates

Practically homeless, Andrew Brice slipped into a sports practice at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark. The coach told him to show up for school on Monday. Two years later, he’s studying at the Catholic prep school and living in the adjacent monastery grounds.

St. Benedict’s is featured on tonight’s 60 Minutes.

“Benedictine Monk Edwin Leahy has been associated with the school for most of six decades as student, teacher and now the headmaster of St. Benedict’s,” reports Scott Pelley. Leahy believes in empowering students to make decisions on activities and rules. If they make bad decisions, “that’s a better learning experience for them,” says Leahy.

A documentary called The Rule also tells how St. Benedict’s builds men.

Beyond the hero teacher

Inspired by “movies like Dangerous Minds and Stand and Deliver, in which heroic teachers reach into the lives of at-risk adolescents and make a difference,” Ed Boland left a well-paid job to teach disadvantaged students at a New York City school. He lasted a year. The hero teacher is a myth concludes the New York Times review of Boland’s book, The Battle for Room 314.

Math teacher Jaime Escalante

Math teacher Jaime Escalante

The Times is right about the folly of expecting a single teacher to defeat poverty, writes Stephen Chiger, director of literacy for Uncommon Schools,  on The 74 Million. But it’s wrong to give up on educating poor kids, he writes.

Educators are working together to build effective schools for children in poverty, he writes. It takes “better training and support for teachers” and “a character-building discipline system” and “a curriculum that challenges students to think at the highest levels” and “regular follow-up with students even when they are in college” and more.

School improvement doesn’t need to wait for the country to heal poverty, writes Chiger.

Take the most recent PARCC exams in New Jersey. About 41% of the state’s 11th graders met or exceeded expectations on the test.

In Essex County, high-income Millburn High School (2.2% economically disadvantaged) saw 57% of students scoring proficient or advanced on the assessment. The juniors at Livingston High School (1.5 % economically disadvantaged) earned 56.5%.

A few miles away, the juniors at Newark-based North Star Academy (83.7% economically disadvantaged) earned an 80.6% pass rate.

How do they do it? “Uncommon Schools, which manages North Star, publishes books — and books and books – to share its practices and opens its doors to hundreds of visitors,” writes Chiger.

Even Jaime Escalante, the hero of Stand and Deliver, wasn’t a lone wolf. Escalante credits his principal with supporting his plan to improve math instruction — it took years — so that students could tackle AP Calculus.

Did reform fail in Newark?

School reform failed in Newark, according to most reviewers of Dale Russakoff’s The Prize, writes David Steiner in Education Next. However, the “stubborn facts” in this “compellingly readable book . . . complicate this conclusion out of all recognition.”


“The combination of an extraordinary (and perhaps extraordinarily naive) 2010 donation of $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, the high-octane political antics of Mayor Cory Booker, and the very dedicated but consultant-reliant and at times tone-deaf district leadership of Cami Anderson converge to create an education drama of the first order,” writes Steiner, who is a John Hopkins education professor.

Five years later, Newark’s district-run schools had improved on some measures, but achievement scores were flat.

However, the city’s expanding charter schools proved to be a “success story,” Steiner writes. “Charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math” per year of schooling compared to similar students in district schools, concluded a 2012 CREDO report. Expanding the city’s charter sector helped many students.

Russakoff praises “public school teachers who kept their heads down and did wonderful work in their classroom,” writes Steiner.

(These teachers) took it upon themselves to glean many lessons from the city’s best charter schools, and found charter school leaders eager to help. They organized themselves as a nonprofit agency through which they raised private money to purchase the rigorous, early literacy program, developed at the University of Chicago for kindergarten through third grade, that was used in the two leading charter networks—the TEAM schools of the national KIPP organization and North Star Academy, a subsidiary of Uncommon Schools.

Ras Baraka, now mayor of Newark, opposed the reforms. But, as principal of a low-performing high school, he “mounted an aggressive turnaround strategy, using some of the instructional techniques pioneered by the reform movement.”

Newark schools have improved, writes Chris Cerf, who was state commissioner of education and is now superintendent of Newark Public Schools. Graduation rates are way up, he writes. “More students attend beating-the-odds schools.”

The Zuckerberg money made a huge difference in Newark, and continues to do so today. Yet The Prize has caused some philanthropists to question additional investments in public education, reading the book as a call to double down on charters since “districts are not fixable.”

School choice is the most powerful tool for change in Newark, writes Rashon Hasan, a school board member, in Education Post.

Zuck’s bucks: Are Newark kids learning more?

In 2010, Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to turn Newark’s schools into a “symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” Mayor Cory Booker raised another $100 million. 

In The Prize, Washington Post reporter Dale Russakoff describes what happened. “It feels like a wash,” she tells the Newark Star-Ledger‘s Tom Moran. “Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not.”

Reforms didn’t tackle poverty and family dysfunction, she says. District schools don’t provide “extra teachers, tutors, social workers, counselors, and a dean of students whose job it is to be sure there’s an adult in every child’s life.” The best charters do provide extra support, because they get much more money to the classroom.

Only about half the money that goes into the district actually reaches the classroom. . . . The rest is spent inside the bureaucracy. There is supposed to be an economy of scale in a big system, yet the charters, which get less money per kid, get more money in the classroom.

. . . the district spends $1.200 per child on custodians. KIPP charter schools spend $400.

Newark spends $22,300 per student in district schools, writes Moran. Russakoff would like to see “a forensic audit to find out why this money doesn’t reach the classroom.”

Newark students are better off, even though “reformers blew the politics” and triggered a huge backlash, argues Moran.

Nearly a third of the city’s students now are in charters, and Newark has some of the best urban charters in the country, according to a study by Stanford’s CREDO.

For example, TEAM Academy students — 92 percent are black and 88 percent eligible for a subsidized lunch — beat the state average on reading and math tests. Ninety-five percent of TEAM high school graduates enroll in college.

District-run K-8 schools are doing no worse, Moran writes, and reading proficiency and graduation rates have improved in the high schools.

In  Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera mourns the children “left behind” in district-run schools. But he also wonders where the money is going.

The KIPP charter network, which runs Spark, gets $16,400 per Spark pupil, of which $12,664 is devoted to the school. The district schools get $19,650 per pupil, but only $9,604 trickles down to the schools. Money that the charter school is spending on extra support is being soaked up by the bloated bureaucracy in the public school system.

Zuckerberg has pledged to donate $120 million to start new district and charter schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and improve existing schools. It will include “listening to the needs of local educators and community leaders.”

Saving ‘Dre

As part of Hechinger’s excellent Promise to Renew series on a Newark turnaround school, Sara Neufeld looks at a 12-year-old boy who’s doing well in school. D’Andre has lived with his paternal grandmother and her husband since the age of three.Grandma Jean is very involved with his school, Quitman Street Renew School. Will it be enough?

Click to read the entire seriesDre’s mother — who was 19 when she had her second child — gave up custody because of her depression and drug addiction. The boy’s half-sister, who lives with the maternal grandmother, is doing poorly in school.

“From the nights Grandma Jean dried his tears as a little boy missing his mom to her constant presence at school events, D’Andre has seen the extent of her devotion time and again, and he couldn’t bear to let her down,” writes Neufeld. “At the same time, he has never stopped longing for his mother, and he’s held out hope that if he is successful enough, she will want a bigger role in his life.”

Dre works hard in schools, reads goes to the library and created his own home science projects over the summer.

As Quitman strives to reverse years of low academic performance and produce more students like D’Andre, he is a testament to the power of a highly involved caregiver, even with minimal financial resources. Jean, 68, is more protective of her grandson than she was raising her own three boys: No violent games on his Xbox, no Facebook whatsoever, and when he plays outside, she’s there watching from the living room window, with lace curtains inside and protective bars outside. . . . D’Andre stays indoors, watching “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel or building an elaborate dragon or tank out of Legos.

Dre’s mother is thinking of taking her son and daughter to Texas, where her boyfriend has moved. His father may take the boy to Pennsylvania to live near his girlfriend’s family.

Meanwhile, Grandma Jean has persuaded Dre to apply for a foundation-funded program that prepares top students to apply to elite boarding schools throughout the Northeast. If selected in the spring, the seventh grader “would spend a year attending local classes to build his academic, social and emotional capacity and then receive ongoing support once away.”

Are Newark schools improving?

Two years after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a $100 million gift to the Newark Public Schools, are Newark schools improving?

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, a former principal, wants local control — that is, mayoral control. The state of New Jersey took over the low-performing district nearly 20 years ago making Newark “a laboratory for experiments in top-down reforms,” he writes in the New York Times.

You might think that Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation in 2010 to kick-start a foundation for Newark schools would have been a game changer. But little funding went directly to Newark’s schools. Instead, the first $1.3 million was wasted on a poorly conducted community outreach campaign. Then another $100 million, including funds from Zuckerberg, went to a program for teacher merit pay.

Principals were given the power to re-interview teachers for their jobs and in some cases hire new teachers. But the rejected teachers joined a pool of floating staff members in the “rubber room” downtown, until reassigned to other schools or bought out. So even as Newark teachers worked without a contract, the state went on a hiring and cash-incentive spree.

Superintendent Cami Anderson’s have “plunged the system into more chaos,” writes Baraka.

Charters are #1 choice in Newark

Now that Newark parents fill out a single application to district and charter schools, a majority of K-8 students ranked charters as their first choice, reports the Wall Street Journal. Eight of the 10 most-requested schools are charters. Only 45 percent of students got their first-choice school.

In the fall, district schools expect to enroll 34,800 students while charters will take 12,200. District officials predict that 40 percent of public students will attend charters by 2016.

In addition to Newark, Denver, New Orleans and Washington D.C. are experimenting with universal enrollment. Parents fill out one form, ranking their preferences.

In Newark, children with special needs and free-lunch status are are more likely to get their first choice “if such high-needs students were underrepresented in a school’s applicant pool.”


Zuckerberg gives another $120 million

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan will give $120 million to Bay Area schools in “underserved communities,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will donate $120 million to public schools in the Bay Area.

Helping improve the quality of public education in this country is something we both really care about,” write Zuckerberg and Chan in an op-ed essay. Chan was a teacher and is now a pediatrician.

They live in Palo Alto, which has excellent public schools, within easy walking distance of East Palo Alto, a perennially low-performing district.

Zuckerberg gave $100 million gift to Newark public schools and was criticized for spending too much on consultants and failing to raise test scores. But there are signs of progress, the op-ed argues.

Newark now has the leading teacher contract in the country that was developed with teachers to reward good performance. New district and charter schools run by organizations with a track record of success have started, as well as 50 new principals. Across the district, the graduation rate has grown by 10%. It’s still too early to see the full results in Newark, but we’re making progress and have learned a lot about what makes a successful effort.

In the Bay Area, the first $5 million will go to high-poverty school districts in East Palo Alto and Redwood City and to “high-need” San Francisco schools, reports the Mercury News. (East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood district has received millions of dollars from high-tech donors over the years with few results.)

They’ll work with partners “to start new district and charter schools that give people more high-quality choices for their education,” Zuckerberg and Chan write. They also pledge to listen to “local educators and community leaders so that we understand the needs of students.” Priorities are providing computers and connectivity, teacher and principal training and parent outreach.

Newark backlash: ‘Raheem still can’t read’

Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg Had a Plan to Reform Newark’s Schools, writes Dale Russakoff in the New Yorker. They Got an Education.

Zuckerberg put $100 million into transforming Newark’s failing public schools.

Almost four years later, Newark has new principals, new schools and a new teachers’ contract that ties pay to performance, writes Russakoff. It doesn’t have higher test scores.

And people are angry about plans to move students to new schools and lay off teachers and support staff.

Newark’s public schools have been “a source of patronage jobs and sweetheart deals for the connected and the lucky,” writes Russakoff.

As Ross Danis, of the nonprofit Newark Trust for Education, put it, in 2010, “The Newark schools are like a candy store that’s a front for a gambling operation. When a threat materializes, everyone takes his position and sells candy. When it recedes, they go back to gambling.”

The ratio of administrators to students—one to six—was almost twice the state average. Clerks made up thirty per cent of the central bureaucracy—about four times the ratio in comparable cities. Even some clerks had clerks, yet payroll checks and student data were habitually late and inaccurate.

Elected mayor in 2006, Booker raised money from philanthropists to open charter schools, which drew students “in wards with the highest concentrations of low-income and black residents.”

“Charter schools received less public money per pupil, but, with leaner bureaucracies, more dollars reached the classroom,” writes Russakoff. Achievement rose significantly.

Zuckerberg’s $100 million — matched by another $100 million in donations — was supposed to help the district-run schools. In two years more than $20 million was spent on consultants.

Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

Superintendent Cami Anderson “gave principals more flexibility and introduced new curricula aligned to the Common Core standards.” She closed low-performing schools and created “renew schools.” She let principals hire and fire teachers, added math and literacy coaches, bought smart boards and paid “renew” teachers to work a longer day and two extra weeks in the summer.

However, her plans created a massive backlash in Newark.

Booker thinks Newark could be a national model of urban education in two or three years, but he isn’t there to fight for the reforms. He was elected to the U.S. Senate.

The city is voting today on a new mayor. The mayor’s race pits radical Councilman Ras Baraka, who was principal of low-performing Central High, against Shavar Jeffries, a former assistant state attorney general who helped start a successful charter school.

The Newark backlash could have been avoided, says Jeffries. Too often, he said, “education reform . . . comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in coöperation with people.” Reformers “have to build coalitions and educate and advocate,” says Jeffries. “You have to persuade people.”

Baraka won the election.

Newark principals sue over suspensions

Five Newark school principals suspended for speaking out against the superintendent’s school reorganization plan have filed a free-speech lawsuit reports the Newark Star-Ledger.

New Jersey took over the troubled district. Superintendent Cami Anderson’s turnaround plan is very controversial.

Four principals — H. Grady James of Hawthorne Avenue School, Tony Motley of Bragaw Avenue School, Dorothy Handfield of Belmont Runyan School and Deneen Washington of Maple Avenue School — were suspended with pay Jan. 17, two days after they spoke at a community meeting at a Newark church intended to oppose Anderson’s One Newark plan.

The principals work at schools affected by the plan. Hawthorne and Bragaw are targeted for use by charter schools and Maple is set to become an early childhood learning center. Belmont Runyon has been designated a “renew” school, which means new leadership will be installed and teachers will be asked to reapply for their positions. Brown’s school, Ivy Hill, is designated for “redesign.”

The fifth principal, Lisa Brown of Ivy Hill Elementary, was suspended for not heeding the district’s ban on Daryn Martin, the head of Ivy Hill’s parent-teacher organization who was escorted from the school Jan. 15 after he protested the removal of fliers he posted that were critical of the reorganization plan.

Motley, James and Handfield are now back to work at their schools. Brown and Washington will be reassigned.

“The school district has violated their rights and we’d like a judge to say that,” attorney Robert Pickett said. “Public employees have a right to talk about issues of public concern.”

Do principals have a right to oppose district policy and keep their jobs?