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.”

Videotaping helps teachers improve

At a low-performing Indianapolis high school, instructional coaches use classroom videotapes to help teachers improve their lessons and learn from colleagues, reports Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star. The Star is following the turnaround (it’s hoped) of Arlington High, which was taken over by the state after six years of very low test scores. EdPower, which took over the school a year ago, installed a camera in every classroom.

As a video played showing first-year high school English teacher Katie Bonfiglio at work, Spanish teacher Patrice Patton watched in awe.

“Wow, I’ve never seen those kids behave like that in my class,” Patton gushed, as she watched a room of typically restless ninth-grade boys fully engaged in a discussion of literature.

That’s just the reaction Paul Chin, Arlington High School’sassistant principal, was hoping for when he asked Bonfiglio if he could show her recorded lesson to about 15 of her colleagues.

.  . . (Bonfiglio) found the discussion with her peers so eye-opening she made changes to some of her other teaching routines.

As a teacher at a high-performing, high-poverty charter school in Newark run by Uncommon Schools, Chin recorded himself teaching so he could analyze his lessons and discuss the video with the principal. He shows Arlington teachers videos of teachers at his old school teaching effectively and helps them analyze their own lessons.

Video recording of teachers also can be used to evaluate teacher performance, which means it’s controversial. Indiana is requiring public schools to create teacher evaluation and rating systems.

Harvard researcher Thomas Kane analyzed 7,500 lessons taught by 1,300 teachers in six school districts for the  Methods of Effective Teaching Study, which was funded by the Gates Foundation.

“Digital video may be more valuable than an observer’s notes for allowing a teacher to “see,” literally, the strengths and weaknesses in their practice,” Kane said. “Someone cannot remember what they did not notice in the first place.”

Kane believes all teachers should record themselves teaching and submit “lessons they are proud of” for their performance reviews. “We would then train principals on how to use the video for evaluating and providing productive feedback to teachers.”

Lemov: Train teachers to perform, not just reflect

“Teaching is a lot like acting, but teachers aren’t trained to be performers, writes Katrina Schwartz on KQED’s Mind/Shift.

Actors, musicians or acrobats spend hours perfecting their craft because that’s how they improve. Teachers on the other hand, are often asked to identify teaching tools and tactics they’d like to try and to reflect on how those new elements could be integrated into the classroom.

“Knowing what you want to do is a long way from being able to do it,” says Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools and author of Teach Like a Champion. New teachers need more than lessons on “best practices,” Lemov believes. They need a chance to practice the practices.

. . .  in one of his first groups, teachers pretended to be unruly students in a class taught by another teacher present. The teacher tried to give her lesson as her “students” misbehaved. She was unable to do so; they were throwing too many challenges at her at once. “What just happened there is she practiced failure,” Lemov said. “She just got better at losing control of the classroom.”

. . .  he realized that, like learning a new piece of music or the lines to a play, the challenges of the classroom had to be broken down into component parts. In order for the teacher to practice succeeding, to feel the satisfaction of a well-given lesson to a controlled classroom, she needed to first practice controlling simple behaviors. Then gradually, the pretend students added in new types of challenging behaviors, adding layers of complexity so she could improve at a manageable pace.

Teachers and students need to “embrace the normalcy of falling down and picking yourself back up,” says Lemov. “But it needs to happen in a manageable way.”

Lemov’s latest book is Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.

Uncommon Schools wins Broad Prize

Uncommon Schools has won the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. A 32-school charter network in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, Uncommon Schools educates primarily low-income black students. The schools have narrowed achievement gaps, the review board found.

All Uncommon seniors took the SAT in 2012. They averaged a score of 1570, higher than College Board’s readiness mark and higher than the average for white students nationwide.

CREDO: Charter networks maintain quality

Good charter schools start strong, concludes a new CREDO study which found no “new school” wobbles that correct over time. Schools that rank in the lowest 20 percent tend to stay bad. In the middle, there’s some progress, especially for elementary schools.

Charter networks show better performance for low-income and minority students compared to nearby district-run schools, but, overall, do about the same.

Of four “super-networks,” KIPP and Uncommon Schools had a large positive effect on students’ academic growth in reading and math, the study concludes. Students did worse in reading at Responsive Education Solutions, which specializes in dropouts from traditional schools. White Hat, which manages online schools and alternative education centers, “had a small but significant positive impact on reading progress, but a significant negative effect in math.”

“No excuses’ students struggle in college

“No excuses” charter schools send most or all of their low-income, minority students to college. But do “no excuses” students graduate from college? In Education Next, Robert Pondiscio looks at what charter schools are doing to improve their graduates’ college graduation rates.

KIPP is the largest and best known of a class of charter-management organizations (CMOs) that includes Achievement First, YES Prep, Uncommon Schools, Mastery, Aspire, and others. This group shares a set of familiar characteristics: more and longer school days, with a college preparatory curriculum for all students; strict behavioral and disciplinary codes; and a strong focus on building a common, high-intensity school culture. Classrooms and halls are awash in motivational quotations and college banners, typically from the alma maters of the inevitably young, hard-charging teachers who staff the schools. The signature feature is high behavioral and academic expectations for all students, the vast majority of whom are low-income, urban black and Hispanic kids.

Both KIPP and YES Prep track their graduates and report on how well they’re doing. One third of former KIPP middle schoolers have graduated college within six years — four times the average for disadvantaged students, but way below KIPP’s goals.

Black graduates of YES Prep average 1556 in reading, writing and math on the SAT, “far above the national average of 1273 for African Americans, and significantly higher than the 1500 national average for all students.” All graduates have passed at least one AP class. Less than 5 percent of YES Prep grads require remediation in college. Yet the six-year graduation rate is only 41 percent .

 “It wasn’t the academic piece that was holding our kids back,” notes senior director of college initiatives at YES Prep Donald Kamentz. “What we found hands down was it was the noncognitive piece—that tenacity, that grit—that allowed kids to harness those skills and persist when they faced difficulty.”

“What we’ve found with the ‘whatever it takes’ or ‘no excuses’ mentality is that it was very teacher-driven and less student-driven,” says Kametz, acknowledging this is a controversial line of thought in his own halls. A typical No Excuses approach might involve giving demerits or detention for missed assignments or turning in work that’s not “neat and complete.” Kamentz questions whether this tough-love approach helps create the self-advocacy in students they will need to be successful in college. “It’s the largest gaping hole with our kids in college,” he says. “They will constantly say, ‘You structured my life so much that I had to do very little thinking and structuring myself.’”

The no-excuses charters are trying to develop ways to strengthen students’ perseverance, “growth mindset” and grit. Some send  “posses” of students to “right-match” colleges that provide mentoring to first-generation-to-college students. (I love Pondiscio’s phrase: “in helicopter parentis.”)

KIPP, which started with middle schools, is adding elementary and high schools to strengthen academic preparation. The network also is following its alumni through college to help them cope with academic and social challenges. Now there are 1,000 KIPP graduates in college. In a few years, there will be 10,000. KIPP hopes to raise the college graduation rate to 75 percent, as high as students from upper-income families. The short-term goal is a 50 percent graduation rate.