Inside the discipline debate

A video of a Success Academy teacher ripping a student’s math paper has raised a debate about discipline at rigorous, “no excuses” charter schools, writes Elizabeth Green on Chalkbeat.

“No excuses” refers to adults using students’ poverty to explain — and tolerate — poor academic results, Green writes. However, many reformers believed effective schools must adopted the “broken windows” theory that holds tolerating small infractions leads to serious disorder.

At struggling schools, the no-excuses educators argued, learning was regularly undermined by chaos, from physical fights to a refusal to follow even basic directions.

. . . At no-excuses schools, students often walk from one class to another in orderly and perfectly silent single-file lines. Detailed instructions dictate precisely how and when students should pay attention, from nodding to folding their hands and legs just so — poses on display in the Success Academy video. Teachers sometimes ban conversation during breakfast or lunch.

Now, there’s a move to relax rigid rules and make no-excuses schools happier places. Green thinks charter leaders have the desire and ability to improve the model.

But I think this is her most important point:

Looking at test scores, all the highest academic results ever produced for poor students and students of color have come from no-excuses schools. Period.

. . . Success Academy charter schools, which ranked in the top 1 percent of all New York schools in math and the top 3 percent in English.

. . . Other life outcomes are impressive, too. Data collected by the KIPP charter school network in 2013 showed that 44 percent of the schools’ graduates go on to earn a four-year degree, compared to just 8 percent of low-income Americans.

The urban no-excuses charters have significantly improved the reading and math skills — and the odds of high school and college graduation — for students from low-income black and Latino families. No other model has done this consistently, writes Green.

It’s a long piece, but well worth reading in full. Let me know what you think.

‘No excuses’ charters soften discipline

A fourth-grade student does test-prep in his English class at Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in Brooklyn.

Fourth-graders study at Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in Brooklyn. Photo: Stephanie Snyder

Some high-performing, “no excuses” charters in New York City are rethinking strict rules, reports Monica Disare for Chalkbeat.

A few years ago, if a student arrived at an Ascend elementary school wearing the wrong color socks, she was sent to the dean’s office to stay until a family member brought a new pair. Now, the school office is stocked with extra socks. Students without them can pick up a spare pair before heading to class.

. . . “We’ve moved sharply away from a zero tolerance discipline approach,” (Ascend CEO Steve) Wilson said. “We believe a warm and supportive environment produces the greatest long-term social effects.”

Suspension rates were nearly three times higher at city charter schools in 2011-12, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.

Charter leaders say the rules create an orderly environment where students can learn.

Critics say high-needs students are pushed out.

Achievement First used to make students who’ve misbehaved wear a white shirt signaling they were in “re-orientation.” That policy has changed, said a spokeswoman.

KIPP no longer sends students to a padded “calm-down” room.

Recently, the New York Times published a video of a Success Academy teacher harshly criticizing a student who answered a math question incorrectly.

. . . Success Academy, for its part, has not changed its discipline philosophy and does not plan to, according to a spokesman.

Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy said it should serve as a model. “The city could learn from Success’s code of conduct and provide the same safe, engaging learning environments that children need — and parents want,” she said.

A school grows in Brooklyn

Principal Melissa Jarvis-Cedeño keeps an eye on her start-up school by working in the hall rather than in her office. Photo: Julienne Schaer

In This is how you start a school, Hechinger’s Sara Neufeld talks with the founding principal, a teacher and a parent at a new charter high school in the poor Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville.

Brooklyn Ascend High offers “a liberal arts curriculum that promotes critical thinking over exam prep,” writes Neufeld.  As an alternative to suspension, teachers use “reflective circles.”

Melissa Jarvis-Cedeño grew up not far from her new school. Her mother was an alcoholic. She survived abuse by relatives. “By age 18, she was pregnant with her second baby when she arrived upstate for college,” writes Neufeld. She married, earned two degrees and worked as an English teacher and school administrator.

Her older son, a high school dropout, is in prison on gun and drug charges. Her younger son is working on a master’s degree in public health.

In third grade at a “no excuses” charter, 8-year-old Jeremy Peña still gets more homework than his older brother, Jann. Photo: Julienne Schaer

In third grade at a “no excuses” charter school, Jeremy Peña still gets more homework than his older brother, Jann. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Jovanka Anderson, a Dominican immigrant, enrolled her younger son in a “no excuses” charter. He had more homework than his older brother, who attended a middle school magnet for gifted and talented students. Jann Peña won the lottery to attend Ascend, a one in seven shot.

As a ninth grader, Jann “tested at a sixth-grade reading level on the school placement exam in August and at midway through fifth grade in math.”

Jovanka Anderson and her husband, Emilio Peña, are high school dropouts. They want their children to go to college.

Like four of five Ascend teachers, Taylor Delhagen, 31, came “from a nearby charter where they had success producing high test scores among low-income students but felt stifled in what they see as a more vital task: developing human beings,” writes Neufeld.

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.

Progressives say ‘grit’ is racist

The Knowledge is Power Program – better known as KIPP – has reason to celebrate. In 20 years KIPP has ...
At KIPP charter schools, students are encouraged to develop “grit.” 

“Grit” is racist, according to some progressive educators, reports Ed WeekEduCon 2.7, a conference for “progressive” educators interested in digital learning, included a discussion titled “Grit, Galton, Eugenics, Racism, Calvinism.”

“We keep [hearing] this narrative that the only way children in poverty are going to succeed is by working harder than their peers who are middle class,” said Pamela Moran, the superintendent of the 13,000-student Albemarle County public schools, in Virginia.

To avoid the “terribly racist” consequences of “the grit narrative,” schools and districts should create abundant supports for disadvantaged students, said Ira Socol, Moran’s assistant director for educational technology and innovation, who co-led the discussion.

For example, Albemarle County schools provide a computer for each student with apps and digital tools such as “text-to-speech and voice-dictation software to help struggling students with reading and writing assignments,” reports Ed Week.

Instead of “no excuses,” students are given “flexibility and forgiveness. . . . when it comes to things like homework and class attendance.”

“The attitude is that if a child feels [he or she] can’t be in class, it’s probably for a reason, and we can help them, rather than say, ‘The kid has to be miserable and get through it,'” Socol said. “Wealthy people take ‘mental-health days’ all the time.”

Enabling disadvantaged students to get through school without learning reading, writing or a work ethic strikes me as pretty darned racist. There’s a phrase for that: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Angela Duckworth’s research shows that certain traits — persistence in pursuit of goals, resilience in the face of obstacles — raise students’ odds of school and college success. Grit may be more important for kids who face more obstacles, but Duckworth never suggested it’s only for the poor– or that it’s the only thing they need.

The idea that “grit” is “racist” is “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” writes Harry Wong in comments. “Hard work” works, he writes. It always has.

Immigrant families who come to America, from Haiti, Bosnia, and Ethiopia . . .  come steeped in the importance of family, respect for others, and the value of hard work. Their accomplishments make our schools look good. They understand that there are no short cuts to success. They come from cultures that stretch back for centuries that value ambition, dedication, diligence, commitment, integrity, determination, fortitude, constancy, responsibility, steadfastness, drive, and perseverance.

I think he’s the Harry Wong.

How strict is too strict?

How Strict Is Too Strict? asks Sarah Carr in The Atlantic.  Many high-performing urban charter schools “share an aversion to even minor signs of disorder,” she writes. Critics say students — most are black and Latino — face harsh discipline for low-level misbehavior.

Many parents “appreciate the intense structure, but only if they also come to trust the mostly young educators who enforce it,” writes Carr.

From the moment Summer Duskin arrived at Carver Collegiate Academy in New Orleans last fall, she struggled to keep track of all the rules. . . . She had to say thank you constantly, including when she was given the “opportunity”—as the school handbook put it—to answer questions in class. And she had to communicate using “scholar talk,” which the school defined as complete, grammatical sentences with conventional vocabulary. . . .

. . . Teachers issued demerits when students leaned against a wall, or placed their heads on their desks. (The penalty for falling asleep was 10 demerits, which triggered a detention; skipping detention could warrant a suspension.) . . . The rules did not ease up between classes: students had to walk single file between the wall and a line marked with orange tape.

Students wear a school uniform. Hats, sunglasses and “bling” are banned.

Summer was 14. It felt like elementary school.

Parents are very concerned about student behavior, writes Carr. “The margin for error is much smaller in black communities, especially for black boys,” Troy Henry, a New Orleans parent, told her.

But there’s been pushback from high school students.

Summer—who had received countless demerits and three out-of-school suspensions in her first semester as a freshman—was among the roughly 60 students who walked over to a nearby park wearing orange wristbands that read LET ME EXPLAIN. In a letter of demands she helped write, the teenagers lamented, “We get disciplined for anything and everything.”

High on their list of complaints were the stiff penalties for failing to follow the taped lines in the hallways, for slouching, for not raising their hands with ramrod-straight elbows. “The teachers and administrators tell us this is because they are preparing us for college,” the students wrote. “If college is going to be like Carver, we don’t want to go to college.”

Carver has modified its rules and decided to end out-of-school suspensions. Other charters also are rethinking strict discipline policies and reducing suspensions.

The changes came too late for Summer, who transferred to a low-performing magnet school.

“Restoring order and discipline” has helped New Orleans’ schools improve dramatically, writes Greg Richmond on Education Post. “From 2007 to 2013, the share of students reading and doing math at “proficient” levels surged from 37 percent to 63 percent in New Orleans. From 2005 to 2011, the high school dropout rate declined from 11.4 percent to 4.1 percent.”

‘No excuses’ schools try to cut teacher stress

“No excuses” charter schools hire young idealists, work them very hard and expect many to burn out and leave after a few years.  That’s the old model, writes Sara Neufeld in The Atlantic. Some charters are providing more support and shorter work hours to keep young teachers on the job.

James Cavanagh is 22 years old, fresh out of the University of Delaware. With his degree in elementary education, he could have gotten a job anywhere—and he chose to teach at one of the most demanding public schools in America.

His college buddies were hired at schools with mid-afternoon dismissals and two and a half months of summer vacation. For not much more pay, Cavanagh worked nearly all of August and this fall is putting in 12-hour days, plus attending graduate school.

In exchange, he gets to be a part of one of the nation’s top charter schools, North Star Academy in Newark, where poor, minority students routinely outperform their peers in wealthier ZIP codes on standardized tests. And he’s getting extensive support designed to make him both effective and eager to stick around.

He gets to school by 6:15 am and usually goes home at 6:30 pm when the building shuts down. On Monday nights and Saturdays, he takes graduate education classes.

However, when another fifth-grade math teacher returns from maternity leave this month, Cavanagh “will go from teaching three 1.5-hour classes a day to one class and spend the other periods working with students individually and in small groups,” writes Neufeld. North Star tries to give new teachers a lighter schedule. 

YES Prep, a network of 13 high-performing charters in Houston, doesn’t have a long school year, she writes. Instead, students get a chance to attend “the types of summer camps, wilderness expeditions and international travel opportunities enjoyed by their middle class peers.”

Ascend charters in Brooklyn have cut the academic day by 45 minutes, to eight hours, while giving teachers a raise. “Middle school students stay for homework help from local college students, followed by enrichment activities such as karate, dance and African drumming that are typically led by community members and partner organizations so teachers can go home,” writes Neufeld.

Boston: No excuses, high performance

Boston has the highest-performing charter schools in the country, writes MATCH founder Michael Goldstein on Flypaper. Why? Boston has lots of elite colleges, talented people — and the highest proportion of “authentic” adherents to the “No Excuses” model.

CREDO studies have identified top charter cities, measured in “days of learning.”

Two-thirds of Boston charters are “No Excuses” schools, writes Goldstein. Sharing a common philosophy, the schools share ideas and talent.

The Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education (SGSE), embedded at Match Charter Schools, provides teachers to all the No Excuses charters in Boston. SGSE is able to train rookie teachers whose students go on to get unusually high value-added numbers. . . . The message: “Here is what will be expected of you in a No Excuses school. That job is not right for everyone, but if it’s the one you want, we’ll help you practice, practice, practice to become good in that context.”

. . . Will Austin from Uncommon teaches a rookie teacher about effective math instruction; that teacher, in turn, takes a job at KIPP; now Uncommon’s ideas have moved to KIPP; and so forth. When Kimberly Steadman of Brooke teaches literacy to a rookie teacher, even fellow instructors (from other charter schools) perk up and jot down notes.

New York City, New Orleans, D.C., and Los Angeles charter students show large gains on CREDO studies because of No Excuses charters, writes Goldstein. “Boston outperforms these cities is because it has even more.”

A ‘no excuses’ school day

A Day in the Life of a No Excuses Charter School Student is highly regimented and repressive, writes Sarah Goodis-Orenstein on the Center for Teaching Quality site. After four years teaching English at a “no excuses” charter in Brooklyn, she switched to a more progressive charter school. She blogs at Making Room for Excuses.

At 7:40, the first period teacher rolls her cart in and immediately begins to issue commands. “Aside from two pencils, and your IR book in the top left corner of your desk, your desk should be cleared. As soon as you get your classwork packet, begin on your Do Now. You have 3 minutes.” A timer is set and placed under the document camera, and any students not on-task within thirty seconds are first reminded to get started, and then issued a demerit, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly.

Class proceeds to enfold in a highly-systematic structure with a review of the warm-up, some sort of mini-lesson, some sort of guided practice, and a chunk of independent practice before the exit ticket is collected. Packets in hands high over their heads, the teacher snaps, and the last page is signaled to be torn from the staple in a crisp sound of unison tearing.

The teacher bustles out as the next teacher and her cart rolls in, ideally with less than 1 minute wasted in this transition, a transactional cost that, over the course of the year, equates to literal days of wasted learning.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks  of 10 or 15 minutes are “the only opportunities for unbridled conversation,” she writes. “Otherwise, during and between classes, students’ voices are to be ‘off’ unless specific accountable talk procedures or partner share expectations have been put into place.”

Students learn “that rigidity and compliance are predictors of success, and that imagination and interpersonal skills are of nominal use,” Goodis-Orenstein concludes. “They also likely learn that school is boring, that it has little relevance to their lives, or in the case of my last school, it is a place where white ladies try to control Black and Latino children.”

And, yet, no excuses schools narrow the achievement gap, giving students choice in life they wouldn’t have otherwise. And they tend to have long wait lists.

The softer side of KIPP

KIPP schools aren’t militaristic or joyless — much less “concentration camps — write Alexandra M. Boyd, Robert Maranto and Caleb Rose in Education Next.

We found that schools that begin by establishing a culture of strict discipline, in neighborhoods where violence and disorder are widespread, ease off once a safe, tolerant learning environment is secured.

KIPPsters live up to the “work hard, be nice” slogan, but they “also play hard when the work is done,” they write after visiting 12 schools in five states. Despite the strong academic focus, the schools “make time for band, basketball, chess, prom, and any number of clubs.”

At KIPP McDonogh 15, a combined elementary and middle-school building in New Orleans’s French Quarter, the middle-school principal played music, and students and staff danced down the hallways as they moved from one class session to another. In the elementary school a floor below, some teachers took this concept a step further, using a lively musical transition from one lesson to another.

On most Friday afternoons, the New Orleans school schedules “celebration.” Students with no behavior demerits compete in a lottery for the chance to hit any teacher or administrator with a cream pie. A few days after researchers saw a popular third-grade teacher “pied,” a professor at the American Educational Research Association’s conference — a mile away — denounced KIPP as a “concentration camp.”

KIPP Blytheville College Preparatory School (BCPS) in Arkansas celebrated Geek Week in March culminating with Pi Day, on March 14 (3.14). A 6th-grade girl won the Pi Challenge by reciting 158 digits of pi. Then three teachers and three students smashed pie plates of whipped cream into each other’s faces.

It’s a concentration camp with music, dancing, pi and pie.