Six years of high school (with job training)?

President Obama’s visit to P-Tech, a six-year high school in Brooklyn, spotlighted the idea of combining high school, community college and job training.

Linked learning — schoolwork combined with job internships — is expanding in Oakland Unified.

‘Restart’ weak charters

When a charter school isn’t performing well, closure isn’t the only option, argues a new Public Impact report. The Role of Charter Restarts in School Reform. Instead of forcing students to find new schools, “introduce new adults who have the will and skill to help struggling students achieve, and let the students stay.”

Charter school restarts offer a way to intervene when performance does not meet expectations–and not just as a last-ditch effort to avoid closure. Restarts can also be used proactively by responsible boards and authorizers when the conditions are right.

This report describes how restarts worked at five charter schools in Chicago, New Orleans, Trenton, New York and Philadelphia.

Oakland’s school board plans to close three very high-scoring charters because it believes the American Indian Model Schools board remains under the thumb of founder Ben Chavis, who resigned amid conflict of interest charges.  Students will be forced to transfer to lower-performing schools. Why not restart with a new board?

Top ‘challenge’ school faces closure

Oakland’s American Indian Public Charter High School  is the most challenging high school in the U.S., according to the Washington Post’s index, which measures the number of college-level tests taken per graduate. At AIPC, 81 percent of students come from low-income families, yet 86 percent of graduates pass at least one Advanced Placement or other college-level exam.

Yet the high school and the two high-scoring AIPC middle schools face closure in June, writes Jay Mathews. Nobody questions the schools’ academic success, but the Oakland school board thinks the AIPC board hasn’t managed public funds properly.

The Oakland district alleges that (AIPC former director Ben) Chavis, who rented property to the schools, “improperly received $3.8 million in public funding” that “violated conflict of interest laws.” The charges are worthy of adjudication, but is a shutdown the best option? . . . The schools have been at or near the top on state test results. Having one of the nation’s worst school systems kill off three of the nation’s best schools makes little sense.

Ben Chavis turned around a very low-performing charter school, creating three schools that put their students on the path to success. He’s now retired. If he’s profited illegally from his contracts with AIPC schools, prosecute him. But the county or the state board of education needs to keep the AIPC schools operating in Oakland.

Feds will monitor suspensions for racial bias

Federal officials will monitor 38 Oakland schools charged with suspending too many black male students, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Almost 20 percent of the district’s African American males were suspended at least once last year, six times the rate of white boys.

In middle school, 1 out of every 3 black boys was suspended at least once.

The board approved a five-year plan that includes mentoring, teacher training, parent education and programs to address the impact of trauma and community violence on student behavior. In addition, the plan calls for “restorative justice” as an alternative to suspension. Students, parents and school officials meet to encourage  ”the offender taking responsibility and making amends.”

The district already has an Office of African-American Male Achievement, which has created programs such as a daily after-school “manhood development” class at Edna Brewer Middle School for 24 black males.

As the boys built drums out of wood and tape, their instructor, who goes only by Jahi, described the benefit of working with the boys, giving them help with their homework and encouragement to focus on school and their futures.

“We try to create this culture of success,” he said. “We can’t change what’s happening outside in the world.”

Eighth-grader William Bolanos, 13, said he’d had some trouble in the past at school, with a few suspensions on his record.

But that won’t happen this year, with help from Jahi’s class.

“It just shows you how to be a man, a leader, a big brother to people,” he said. “I’m just going to try to get honor roll this year.”

Brewer Middle, a relatively high-scoring school, is 34 percent Asian, 31 percent black, 16 percent Latino and 13 percent white. And, no, the district doesn’t have a special office for any other racial or ethnic group.

Implementing the plan — including  ”comprehensive and frequent documentation to prove compliance with the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964″ — will cost the district “millions,” according to the Chronicle.

Oakland loses students, schools to charters

Twenty-one percent of students in Oakland, California, a mostly low-income, minority district, now attend charter schools and now two successful schools are converting to charter status, writes Lisa Snell on Reason.

Last week the Oakland Unified school district voted to close five elementary schools as part of a restructuring plan as the district grapples with a huge budget deficit caused in part by too many schools and not enough students. In the past six years student achievement in Oakland Unified has improved faster than any urban district in California. The district has operated through a charter-like school-choice process called “Options” where a student can enroll in any school in the district and the “money follows the child” to that school. 

 Despite the flexibility, teachers and principals at two elementaries, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, have voted for charter status, saying charters “have far more control over who they hire, what they teach and how, and how they spend their money,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Those interviewed from the two schools, including Mari Rose Taruc, a parent-leader from ASCEND, say families overwhelmingly support the charter proposal.

The two schools hired teachers dedicated to the mission when they opened in 2001 (ASCEND) and 2007 (Learning Without Limits). But, this March, the district issued seniority-based layoff notices to 60 percent of the older school’s teachers and nearly all of the newer school’s teachers. While most of the layoff notices were rescinded, the two schools decided that charter conversion was the best way to protect the schools’ character.

 

They did it their way

Oakland’s American Indian Public Charter High School will graduate its first class of low-income, minority students in June: All 18 are headed to college with 10 going to University of California campuses and two more to MIT and Cornell. Spitting in the eye of mainstream education has worked for the two AIPC middle schools and one high school, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: “We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multicultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply.”
. . . School administrators take pride in their record of frequently firing teachers they consider to be underperforming. Unions are embraced with the same warmth accorded “self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort,” to quote the school’s website.

Students, almost all poor, wear uniforms and are subject to disciplinary procedures redolent of military school.

On California’s Academic Performance Index, the AIPC schools — two middle schools and a high school — rank among the very best schools in the state, outperforming schools with middle-class students.

. . . American Indian attracts academically motivated students, relentlessly (and unapologetically) teaches to the test, wrings more seat time out of every school day, hires smart young teachers, demands near-perfect attendance, piles on the homework, refuses to promote struggling students to the next grade and keeps discipline so tight that there are no distractions or disruptions. Summer school is required.

The first middle school started out with the goal of teaching Indian culture.  Scores were very, very low; parents were pulling out their kids. The outrageously outspoken Ben Chavis, a Lumbee Indian, was brought in to save a school on the verge of closing.

He began by firing most of the school’s staff and shucking the Native American cultural content (“basket weaving,” he scoffed). “You think the Jews and the Chinese are dumb enough to ask the public school to teach them their culture?” he asks — a typical Chavis question, delivered with eyes wide and voice pitched high in comic outrage.

The schools now attract Asian, Hispanic, black and American Indian students. Critics say good students disportionately choose AIPC and are more likely to stick with the demanding program, which offers no electives or extra-curriculars.

Oakland charters succeed

Oakland charter schools are outperforming similar district-run schools at all grade levels, with high-poverty students and with all minority students, concludes a report by the California Charter Schools Association.  Gains are increasing over time.

Seventeen percent of Oakland students attend charter schools. Sixty-nine percent of charters outperformed the neighboring district schools with similar demographics on the 2008 Academic Performance Index (API) growth index.

. . .  charter schools significantly outperformed district public schools in middle (836 to 624) and high schools (688 to 528) and slightly outperformed district schools at the elementary school level (725 to 705). Of the top ten highest-performing public schools in Oakland, all secondary schools were charter schools.

Charters were most effective with low-income and black students.

Oakland’s charter schools serve a significantly higher percentage of Latino students, a higher percentage of high-poverty students, roughly an equal percentage of African-American students and a lower percentage of Asian-American and white students.