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The Public School Insights Blog

Today, the Learning First Alliance, which sponsors Public School Insights, released a statement of support for the CCSSO/NGA Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Here's our press release: ...

When Daniel P. King came to the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district in 2007, the district’s dropout rate was double the Texas state average. Now, it is half the state average.

How did the district do it? Dr. King and his colleagues created a College, Career and Technology Academy to steer dropouts--some as old as 25--back onto a path towards graduation. Not only do those students gain the skills and course credits they need to graduate, they also gain college credit along the way. (See a story about the Academy in our success stories section).

King recently spoke with us about the district’s remarkable success.

Public School Insights: What prompted you to create the College, Career & Technology Academy in the first place?

King: I was entering new into the district. I was moving from a small district to a large district, and I was overwhelmed when I saw that the district had a dropout rate that was twice the state average. The prior year had seen approximately 500 dropouts.

When I asked for an analysis of the 500 dropouts from the previous year I found that not only was there the typical freshman bubble (where students don't make it past the ninth grade, get stuck there and ultimately drop out), but there was [also] a relatively new phenomenon that I call the “twelfth grade bubble, ” [caused by] exit testing and rising standards.

In a small district I had dealt with [the dropout problem] very successfully, simply through ...

A recent piece in The Economist reminds us, yet again, that lay journalists are not necessarily contributing to the national discussion of school reform.

The piece describes “a movement that is improving education across America: the rise of ‘charter’ schools”:

These are paid for by state governments and free for the students, open to anyone and, crucially, independent of often badly-run school boards. [Principals] have wide discretion in the hiring and firing of teachers and are free to pay by results as they think fit. Charter schools are a mixed bag, but the best of them are achieving results most board-run schools can only dream of and are heavily oversubscribed.

Ok, several problems here. First, it’s not clear that the charter movement is “improving education across America”—at least not yet. The recent Stanford review of charter school performance nation-wide certainly disappointed charter supporters. The Economist faintly acknowledges this point by calling charters a “mixed bag” but neglects to note that there are still more bad charters than ...


Things are happening in Mobile.

The Alabama district mounted an innovative public engagement campaign early this decade, and student performance has been rising ever since.


Though the district has a larger share of low-income students than does Alabama as a whole, it boasts higher scores on state assessments. We recently profiled two very successful Mobile County public elementary schools—George Hall and Mary B. Austin—on our Success Stories Page.

Last week, we caught up with Mary B. Austin principal Jacquelyn Zeigler, who has worked with dedicated staff and parents to narrow achievement gaps dramatically. She described the ingredients of her success:

Public School Insights: We've heard a lot about Mary B. Austin School, but I thought I'd give you an opportunity to say in your own words what kind of a school it is. Describe the sort of students you serve.

Jacquelyn Zeigler: There are no -- or very few -- new families coming in. So to keep my doors open, 80 percent of the children are on transfer. We get them from all over Mobile County. And because of that, we are right at 50/50 boy/girl, 50/50 black/white, and about 34 percent free and reduced [lunch program]. We have a wonderful cross-section of society.

Right across the street is Springfield College, and then just down the street is the University of South Alabama, so I'm very fortunate because I am able to get their student teachers and their interns; a lot of the volunteers to come and work with my ...

Linda Darling-Hammond turns in a thoughtful review of mayoral control at the National Journal's new blog. (The Journal recently invited their expert bloggers to comment on mayoral takeovers.) Her major point seems to be that the proof isn't in the pudding: Outcomes evidence from major urban districts suggests that mayoral control is not necessarily any more effective than other governance structures.

Oddly enough, some of the staunchest mayoral control advocates contributing to the Journal's blog focus more on inputs than outcomes. This is a remarkable reversal, given the reformers' longstanding grievance that traditional educators are outcomes-averse. Perhaps inputs are making a comeback.

Darling Hammond is characteristically balanced in her assessment of mayoral ...

At the H1N1 Influenza (formerly known as "Swine Flu") Summit today, just about every speaker stressed the importance of linking schools with public health systems and community services. Without such connections, they argued, we stand a slim chance of containing another flu outbreak.

Are they proposing a Broader, Bolder Approach to children's health and safety? It turns out that strong, sustained partnerships between schools and government/community resources promote national security as well as student achievement.

Click here for our list of H1N1 resources 


vonzastrowc's picture


Writing commentaries on the best use of stimulus funds has become a thriving cottage industry. Don’t fund the status quo! the general argument runs. Fund innovation instead!

I’m beginning to wonder if we should start using the word “improvement” instead of innovation. This strategy might help us counter the tendency of some innovation zealots to value novelty over quality.

Former IBM CEO Louis Gerstner offered an egregious example of that tendency late last year, when he advocated the abolition of all but the largest school districts. To him, innovation seems to mean doing something drastic and doing it now. ...

The National School Board Association's Center for Public Education is sporting a sophisticated new look, an engaging new blog, and a new report on the twenty-first century skills debate. What has not changed is the Center's mission to provide "accurate, timely, and credible information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation."

I haven't yet had time to read the twenty-first century skills report, but it's very high on my list of things to do this week. ...

A new and important study of the link between middle school success and high school graduation rates offers a useful caution to anyone looking for education miracle cures. After examining early warning signs that students might drop out, study author Bob Balfanz writes:

These findings...demonstrate why reform is difficult, as no single reform stands out as the major action required. Essentially, we found that everything one might think matters, does so, but modestly at best. This included parental involvement, academic press, teacher support, and the perceived relevance of what was being taught and its intrinsic interest to students. Some of these factors influenced attendance, others influenced behavior or effort, and they either indirectly or directly impacted course performance, achievement gains, and graduation outcomes. It was only when all the elements were combined in a well-functioning system that major gains were observed.

So don't put all your reform eggs in one basket--a useful admonition for education policy's chattering classes. The flip side of that admonition, of course, is that we shouldn't ignore critical improvement strategies either. Parent involvement, academic expectations, teacher support, relevance and other factors are all important to school success. As the nation considers school turnaround strategies, ...

"Hunger can be a positive motivator."

-- Missouri State Representative Cynthia Smith, who opposes free school lunches for children during summer months. ...

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