Intensive math in a barn

Ben Chavis turned the failing American Indian Charter School in Oakland into three very high-scoring schools — and was forced to step down after charges of financial mismanagement and overly strict discipline.

A Lumbee Indian, Chavis grew up very poor in Robeson County, North Carolina. Now, he owns a farm there. He converted the barn into five air-conditioned classrooms for a very strict, very intensive, three-week summer program, Math Camp in a Barn, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in the Wall Street Journal.

Most of the 50 or so children in grades 5 through 9 are Lumbees, though a few are black or Hispanic. The county is North Carolina’s poorest. School achievement is low.

From 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday the children learn math, interspersed with some reading, physical education and lunch. Each gets 120 hours of instruction during the three weeks, equivalent to what they would get in a year at a typical public school.

. . . On Mr. Chavis’s farm . . . teachers drill math concepts over and over. They use flashcards, ask children to do problems on the dry-erase boards and to compete with one another to get answers right.

The closest thing these classrooms have to technology is an electric pencil sharpener. Students are given about two hours of homework each night. Detention (which can involve anything from washing windows and emptying the garbage to shoveling manure) is given for infractions such as tardiness, talking back to teachers or failing to turn in homework.

Some of the teachers are graduates of Chavis’ charter schools.

Meanwhile, the American Indian Model (AIM) Schools lost their charter last year, but remain open while fighting the decision.

Time to end summer vacation?

Summer vacation is bad for kids — especially low-income kids, writesMatthew Yglesias on Slate.  Middle-class kids may go to camp, play sports or travel, while poor kids sit at home with the TV. That creates “massive avoidable inequities,” he argues.

A 2011 RAND literature review concluded that the average student “loses” about one month’s worth of schooling during a typical summer vacation, with the impact disproportionately concentrated among low-income students

“While all students lose some ground in mathematics over the summer,” RAND concluded, “low-income students lose more ground in reading while their higher-income peers may even gain.” . . . Poor kids tend to start school behind their middle-class peers, and then they fall further behind each and every summer . . .

A majority of the achievement gap between high- and low-socioeconomic-status students in Baltimore can be attributed to differences in summer learning loss, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

“School is important,” concludes Yglesias.   “It should happen all year ’round.”

Some urban districts are “blending academics with recreational activities” to prevent summer learning loss, reports EdSource. Most enrichment programs are run by nonprofits and supported by federal or state funds and foundation grants, not by district funds.

Traditional remedial summer classes can be “pretty grim,” said Katie Brackenridge, senior director for expanded learning initiatives with the Partnership for Children and Youth, whose “Summer Matters” campaign pushes for expanded summer programs. “Part of it is that kids already walk in the door probably not liking learning so much, and that’s how they got stuck in remediation in the first place. We’re looking at how do you make those learning opportunities engaging.”

Seventh graders at Oakland Unified’s Coliseum College Prep Academy visited San Francisco’s Exploratorium, then used baking soda and calcium chloride  to explain chemical reactions to the eighth graders.

Santa Ana-based THINK Together offers summer enrichment programs to nearly 13,000 students in 10 school districts throughout the state.

Enrichment programs typically run about six weeks and are offered for as long as six hours a day. Mornings are traditionally spent on academics, while the afternoons are dedicated to hands-on STEM studies – science, technology, education and mathematics programs – arts and crafts, lab work or sports.

According to a Summer Matters study, How Summer Learning Strengthens Student Success, students raised their vocabulary skills as much as one-third of an instructional grade in six weeks and improved their attitudes about school and reading.

Funding summer enrichment programs for disadvantaged and struggling students is a lot cheaper than extending the school year by one or two months.

Summer classes are back in California

Summer is study time once again at California community colleges. Thanks to new funding, two-thirds of colleges have added classes to avoid bottlenecks and reduce wait lists.

Retention — and remediation — can help students

Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating? asks a Brookings policy brief by Harvard Professor Martin West. Probably not.

Two years after retention at the end of third grade, Florida students who just missed being promoted do better academically than slightly higher-performing classmates who went on to the next grade.

The positive impact of retention on reading achievement is as large as 0.4 standard deviations, an amount which exceeds a typical year’s worth of achievement growth for elementary school students. The impact of retention on math achievement is roughly half as big, perhaps because the remedial services provided to students before and during the retention year focus primarily on reading.

While the benefits fade out by seventh grade, “the retained students continue to perform markedly better than their promoted peers when tested at the same grade level,” West writes. “Although it is too soon to analyze the policy’s effects on students’ ultimate educational attainment and labor-market success,” he thinks “retention and remediation of struggling readers can be a useful complement to broader efforts to reduce the number of students reading below grade level.”

In an earlier post on Florida’s retention policy, I wrote that I wanted to know more about what schools do for students repeating a grade. As it turns out, Florida requires schools to do quite a bit.

First, retained students must be given the opportunity to participate in their district’s summer reading program. Schools must also develop an academic improvement plan for each retained student and assign them to a “high-performing teacher” in the retention year. Finally, retained students must receive intensive reading interventions, including ninety uninterrupted minutes daily of research-based reading instruction (a requirement that has since been extended to all students in grades K-5).

Retention doesn’t seem to help in middle school. In a Chicago study, retention helped third graders, had no effect on sixth graders and increased the likelihood that eighth graders would drop out, adds West.

Chocolate science is a motivator

Colorado students are studying the chemistry and biology of chocolate — including determining the DNA fingerprints of different cacao beans — at a summer camp hosted by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Most are entering eighth or ninth grade.

Chocolate was the key ingredient in labs and work sessions that covered forensics, thin-film chromatography, spectroscopy, DNA fingerprinting, robotics and cyber sleuthing.

. . . Students used tools such as microscopes and liquid chromatography equipment in situations that many college students don’t handle until a few years into their coursework.

“The Case of the Recipe Rip-off” focused on solving the fictional disappearance of a prized chocolate recipe. The story including feuding companies, counterfeit candy and even a murder.

Students enjoyed field trips to Patsy’s Candies and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. When I was in school, our only science field trip was to Volo Bog. No wonder I ended up as an English major.

The Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education designed the program with the chemistry and biology departments, and the UCCS Center for Homeland Security, reports The Gazette. Homeland Security? Are the terrorists trying to contaminate our chocolate?

NYC retains 8% of eighth graders

New York City schools are holding back many more third through eighth graders this year, reports the New York Times. Eight percent of eighth graders failed to move on to high school.

Last year, less than 1 percent of the city’s third to eighth graders were held back.  That increased nearly fivefold this year because the state raised the bar on its exams and the city toughened its promotion policy.

Because of budget cuts, no additional money will be devoted to the 11,321 students who failed this year, the city said. Instead, the city will let teachers devote about 37 minutes each week that was intended for tutoring struggling students to developing team-based strategies for how to address the failures. One intervention specialist for every 60 schools, on average, will work with principals to develop these plans.

Student who received a 1, the lowest score, on the state math or English test must be retained, unless the student passes a similar test after summer school. After six weeks of a half-day summer school, only 50 percent of students passed the test, compared with 82 percent last year.

Summer school attendance averaged less than 75 percent for third through eighth graders and 55 percent for high school students, who face a different retention policy.

Holding student back doesn’t help much. Neither does passing them on.

Summer time and the credits are cheaper

On Community College Spotlight: For an increasing number of university students, summer is the time to earn low-cost community college credits, reports the Washington Post. Sean Daly, 20, earned nearly a semester’s worth of credit at Montgomery Community College this summer for $1,600.  That means he can spend one less semester at Loyola Marymount, saving more than $26, 000.

Also, Miami Dade Community College students in a special program graduate with a degree, a hard hat and a job at a nuclear power plant.

In search of summer classes

On Community College Spotlight: As school districts cut summer school classes, students try community colleges — which may have no room — and online courses.

Left behind

Mr. Kim, a Teach for America novice in Washington, D.C.,  tried to explain to JR that he needs to do much better to pass summer school and move on to 10th grade. Asked if he’d review for the final, he said “probably.” After all, he said, did George Bush pass a law about not leaving anyone behind?

We explained that NCLB was about schools and not individual students.

. . . JR didn’t buy it. He expressed his confusion: “Well then why do they still call it ‘No Student Left Behind’?”

We told him we didn’t know.

Mr. Kim also is trying to help LA, who never learned to sound out words phonetically.

He told me after our session that when he “reads” he looks at new words and compares them to the limited set of words he already knows and sees how they are similar.  Based on this familiarity analysis, he literally “guesses” what a word might mean.  He told me he never actually sounds out new words because he doesn’t know how to.  So, when he sees “America” he often says “Americans” since he is more familiar with the latter word and doesn’t actually “read out” the former.

These students were left behind years ago.

Teach for America teachers are finishing their summer training — four hours of sleep a night seems to be the standard — and heading to their teaching assignments. Here’s a link to their blogs.