Dreaming

Signe Wilkinson

– Signe Wilkinson

The lessons of 2012 for ed reformers

Education reformers learned some painful lessons in 2012, writes Mike Petrilli. Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, the “darling of the national education reform movement,” lost his job to a union-backed opponent. In Idaho, voters repealed three laws pushed by Superintendent Tom Luna.

To build a winning political coalition, reformers need to “stop angering suburban parents and teachers by subjecting their schools to changes they don’t want or need,” Petrilli writes.

It’s not that suburban schools are perfect — their performance lags behind that of our international competitors, too. But the policies required for these schools to go from good to great are different from those needed to get urban schools from dismal to decent. In nations with the best schools, local leaders have the power to make day-to-day decisions and aren’t micromanaged from on high.

Second, reformers must “show respect for teachers,” Petrilli writes.

 We need to stress that bad teachers are rare but devastating and that efforts to weed them out will lift the entire profession. Any rhetoric that implies that most or even many teachers are incompetent or uncommitted to children needs to be scrapped.

Finally, reformers need to match “an army of determined educators … with a larger army of equally determined parents.”

Don’t let the suburbs slide, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

. . . reformers can’t afford to ignore or placate suburbia. This is because suburban districts face many of the same challenges that bedevil big-city counterparts — and have been less-willing to embrace systemic change.

Suburban districts are increasingly more diverse, thanks to poor and first-generation middle class black, Latino, and Asian families who are seeking better educational opportunities for their kids (and often mistakenly think that suburban schools can provide them).

The Obama administration is handing out No Child Left Behind waivers that will ease the pressure on suburban districts.

 

Urban middle class tries public schools

In some cities, white middle-class parents are integrating public schools instead of moving to the suburbs, reports USA Today. They’re pushing for programs that serve their children’s needs, such as a ballet class at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School.

“Many of them express a deep attachment to the city,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau. “They see the suburbs as sterile, as boring. They also see the suburbs as not a realistic preparation for their children for life.”

Public schools integrated by race, income and class are popping up in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco, according to USA Today.

“True educational equity can only occur in socioeconomically diverse classrooms,” said Josh Densen, a former KIPP teacher in Harlem who’s now working to open an integrated charter school in post-Katrina New Orleans.  The city has several KIPP schools, but a model designed for disadvantaged students who lack basic skills isn’t a good fit for his daughter, Densen believes.

Brooklyn Prospect started four years ago with a sixth grade class and is adding a grade each year to become a middle-high school. It now occupies a former Catholic school building — with a convent on the fourth floor for eight nuns. The rigorous International Baccalaureate program attracts educationally ambitious parents. Students are admitted by lottery — with a preference for low-income students to keep the school diverse. Forty percent of students qualify for a free lunch, according to USA Today. Nearly half the students are white and Asian; the rest are Hispanic and black.

According to Inside Schools:

Advanced students may do “seeker” projects, taking on more in-depth assignments. Students who need extra help go to small group tutorials to “reinforce skills and close the skills gap,”  while others are in study hall . . . Teachers stay after school or come in early for study sessions or test review.

Ninth graders are separated into two English classes: literature (for stronger students) and composition (for struggling readers and writers).

Diversity won’t work without challenging work for high achievers and extra help for stragglers.

To take the-glass-is-nearly-empty view, suburban schools are resegregating, write Erica Frankenberg, a Penn State education professor, and Gary Orfield, co-director of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

Study: Urban charters raise achievement

Urban charter schools significantly boost reading and math achievement for middle and high school students, concludes a Massachusetts study. But students showed no gains — and some lost ground — in suburban and rural charters.

The “no excuses” model used by most urban charters produced significant gains, concluded researchers for National Bureau of Economic Research led by Joshua Angrist, an MIT economics professor.

Researchers compared scores on the state exam for nearly 10,000 secondary school students who participated in lotteries at 24 charters from 2001-02 to 2009-10: All the non-charter students had applied to a charter school but lost the admissions lottery.

Urban charter schools enrolled low-income, low-scoring, minority students, while non-urban students were less likely to be poor or non-white and scored above average, reports Education Week.

Urban charters improved their students’ math and language arts scores from the bottom quarter of the class to the mean for all urban public school students. Black, poor, and very low-performing students showed the greatest improvement.

By contrast, while students attending nonurban charter schools started out with test scores slightly above the average of their peers attending regular public schools, their performance in high school was flat, and in middle school actually regressed to the average.

Urban charter students end up close to the average for suburban students, Agrist said.  “That achievement is remarkable.”

Charter schools in higher-performing suburban districts often focus on a theme, such as performing arts or language immersion, said Jed F. Lippard, president of the Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association.  Intensive academic preparation is not the goal.

No non-urban charter school called itself a “no excuses” school, while more than 70 percent of urban charter leaders identified with the model, which “focuses on intense math and reading instruction, extended learning time, discipline, and parent involvement.”

• On average, urban charter school years lasted five days longer and their school days were 42 minutes longer than those at nonurban charters, with 35 more minutes a day spent on math and 40 minutes more on reading.

• More than 80 percent of urban charters required parents to sign a contract pledging their involvement with the school, compared with 46 percent of nonurban charters.

• Sixty-five percent of urban charters used a formal discipline and reward system, compared with 18 percent of their nonurban peers.

In addition, urban charters were more likely to provide tutors and Saturday classes.