National PTA's Sherri Wilson shares resources to engage families in minimizing summer learning loss.
North Carolina’s Laurel Hill Elementary School is a model school. Its rural, diverse and high-poverty student population consistently exceeds state targets on standardized test scores, and the school has made AYP each year since 2003. It has also been recognized for its great working conditions.
But getting there wasn’t easy. In the early 2000s, one challenge stood out: The school failed to make AYP because of the performance of its students with disabilities (known in North Carolina as its “exceptional children”). Rather than throw up their hands at the daunting task of educating special education students, staff at Laurel Hill made lemonade out of lemons. They took the opportunity to study their school and its structure, revise its schedule and move to full inclusion. The result? A Blue Ribbon school that can confidently say it is meeting the needs of all its children. Principal Cindy Goodman recently told us about the school and its journey.
Public School Insights: How would you describe Laurel Hill Elementary?
Goodman: Laurel Hill is a pre-K through fifth grade community school. We have about 500 students and are located in an extremely rural community. We have a very nice facility, which is about 11 years old.
We have an outstanding staff that holds our children to very high standards for behavior, for academics…just high standards in general.
Public School Insights: What kind of population does the school serve?
Goodman: Our community, the little town of Laurel Hill, is located in Scotland County, North Carolina. The county currently has, and for a good while has had, the highest unemployment rate in the state. So it is a very poor area. Between ...
These days, you either love Teach for America and its teachers, or you hate them. The love, it seems to me, stems from an obvious source. Young, often privileged, kids are choosing the hard, hard work of teaching in some of our most struggling schools. (There are easier resume stuffers out there.)
The hatred is more complex, but I think it's instructive, even if it is unfair. The very existence of TFA shines a spotlight on some of our biggest national shortcomings, but policymakers who support TFA seem oddly oblivious to that fact. Here are a few of those shortcomings as I see them:
We Still See Teaching as Missionary Work, Not as a Profession. We cheer TFA teachers for their missionary zeal. We admire them for working 80 hours a week but understand why they often leave after a couple of years. Regular teachers who work fewer hours, we say, are just "putting in their time." Without that Ivy League degree, we assume, teaching was likely one of their only options anyway. This mindset does little to elevate teaching as a profession. (Nancy Flanagan shares similar thoughts here.)
Teachers Don't Get the Support They Need. When They Do, It Makes Headlines. TFA has learned from the struggles of its new teachers over the years. It gives its teachers intense, individual support, and it strives to strengthen its support systems all the time. You'd think all teachers could expect that kind of ...
Yesterday, we shared our interview with David Cicarella, the union president who helped broker an historic agreement between teachers and the New Haven, Connecticut school distict.
Today, we'll hear from two district officials who were instrumental in the deal. Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries and Chief Operating Officer William Clark describe the groundbreaking collaboration that made the agreement possible.
Public School Insights: There has been a lot of attention given to the new contract in New Haven—a lot of it praise. What you think are some of the most groundbreaking provisions of that agreement?
Clark: I think the first big groundbreaking piece was how we approached it. Historically, due to Connecticut’s Teacher Negotiations Act, you are really forced into a very tight timeline of negotiations that is specifically identified by statute. Certain pieces have to be done by certain dates; otherwise you hurtle towards arbitration. So with the leadership of [Superintendent] Dr. Mayo, [New Haven] Mayor DeStefano and Dave Cicarella from the [New Haven] teachers union, what we really did was try to chart a different way and a different approach.
What we set up was essentially parallel tracks. On one track you had reform discussions and on the other track you had the classic negotiations. The reform discussions were specifically separate so as to not fall prey to the trappings of negotiations. We began by sitting around the table with the best intentions in mind: What could we do—what are the possibilities that could exist—if we look at this as a collaborative approach? That really opened a lot of doors.
We started, under Garth’s leadership within that committee, by coming up with a belief statement that both parties signed on to. So then even when we had some fits and starts and ...
New Directions in New Haven: Union Leader David Cicarella on the District’s Pathbreaking New Teacher Contract
Teachers in New Haven, Connecticut recently ratified a contract that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised as an “important progressive labor agreement” for its provisions on teacher evaluation and school reform. David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, recently told us about the agreement.
(Stay tuned tomorrow for an interview with New Haven district officials Garth Harries and Will Clark.)
Public School Insights: There has been a lot of praise given to the new contract in New Haven. What do you think are the most groundbreaking provisions of this agreement?
Cicarella: There are three components that get the most attention. One, our willingness to discuss tenure. Two, our willingness to talk about including test scores as a part of teacher evaluation. And three, the contract’s provisions for the closing and chartering of schools.
Public School Insights: Let’s start with tenure. What do you think the big accomplishment has been on that part of the agreement?
Cicarella: Historically, unions have been completely unwilling to discuss tenure, because it’s the only protection that teachers have against unfair dismissal.
But we’ve got to tighten up the dismissal process. We can’t have folks—and this is a complaint that the public makes and is legitimate—going through two, three, four years of improvement plan after improvement plan, when everyone knows that ...
Long Before the Aldine Independent School District in Texas won the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education, it was a model for school district reform. We at LFA wrote about Aldine's success back in 2003.
Since that time, Aldine has kept up its steady progress. The district has not lurched from one reform strategy to another. It has not hired on a succession of superintendent saviors. It has made progress without the knock-down, drag-out fights that the media can't resist.
Instead, Aldine has stuck with strategies it formed over ten years ago and trusted its own veteran staff to lead the hard work of school improvement. Superintendent Wanda Bamberg recently told me the story of her district's success.
Listen to our conversation on the Public School Insights podcast (~17:08)
Public School Insights: Back in 2003, we discussed Aldine’s focus on curriculum, the work you were doing to make sure you use data very well and staff development. There were a lot of other pieces to the puzzle, of course, but those were three of the big ones we noted. Do you have a sense that you are still carrying on in the same tradition now, or has there been a lot of change?
Bamberg: There really hasn't been a lot of change. I think that we have been following some of the same instructional plans that we started even before 2003. We started a lot of these things in the late 1990s.
One of the things that is different is that the system we have in place for capturing the scope and sequence [of the content we teach in our classrooms], our curriculum and lesson plans, and of course our assessment data is more sophisticated now than it used to be. Our system now has all three components together so that we are able to look at the scope and sequence, put in the [accompanying] lesson plans and then come back look at the data in the same system. So the difference might be that we have tried to become even more tightly aligned and tried to refine our processes. But there has been no major change in the ...
The word “innovation” is getting stretched awfully thin these days. But I have a hard time coming up with a better word to describe what's happening at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
One of the nation’s largest producers of teachers, St. Cloud State is reinventing teacher education. The University’s “co-teaching” model of student teaching prepares new teachers for the challenges of the job while keeping master teachers in the classroom. The best part? The model also benefits children right away. Four years of research show that students in co-taught classrooms outperform students in classrooms using other models of student teaching. They even outperform students taught by a single experienced teacher.
St. Cloud State University Professor Nancy Bacharach recently told us more.
A New Direction in Student Teaching
Public School Insights: We’ve all heard about student teaching. I gather that the work that you are doing right now at St. Cloud State University in co-teaching is not your grandfather’s student teaching.
Bacharach: Exactly. As we were looking at the student teaching experience here at St. Cloud State and reading the literature that was out there, we found that very little has changed in the last 75, 80 years of student teaching. We were looking at our own experiences from a number of years ago, and ...
There is a school turnaround strategy for every taste. At least, that's the impression I get from the National Journal's most recent panel of experts. Asked to name the best strategies for turning around schools, different experts list different ideas. Pair struggling schools with the best teacher training institutions, writes Steve Peha. Create a year-round calendar, writes Phil Quon. Shutter struggling schools and start from scratch, writes Tom Vander Ark.
Each of these ideas has merit in some cases--I myself love the first idea, like the second, and am not fully sold on the third. But none is a necessary ingredient for all or even most schools.
So what do we know about turnarounds? Two big themes stand out in much of the school turnaround literature:
- There is no detailed prescription for what works in all cases.
- There is, however, abundant evidence that a school will not turn itself around unless it gives teachers the support they need to succeed.
These themes are also clear in the many turnaround stories we profile on this website. Policy makers should take note.
The Reconstitution Myth
It's high time to slay the reconstitution dragon. Despite what you may hear these days, you do not have to kill a school to save it.
Here's what Emily and Bryan Hassel write in Education Next, which is hardly a pro-union rag: “Successful turnaround leaders typically do not replace all or most of the staff at the start, but they often replace some key leaders who help ...
Frankford Elementary School in Frankford, Delaware has garnered national attention for bringing almost all of its overwhelmingly low-income student body to grade-level proficiency in reading, mathematics, science and social studies. In fact, Frankford far exceeds state averages for students reaching proficiency. (See our story about the school here).
We recently caught up with Frankford principal Duncan Smith, who described what’s been working in his remarkable school.
Public School Insights: I understand that Frankford Elementary continues to exceed state standards by a long shot, but that wasn’t really always the case and that in the mid-1990s, there was a very different picture. What happened?
Smith: The change came along with my predecessor, Sharon Brittingham. She came to Frankford and really set things in motion, bringing higher expectations for kids and higher expectations for teachers.
In the past, the school had a reputation of having a high percentage of minority students and a high percentage of low-income students. The expectation was that those kids couldn’t know things at the same levels as the students at other ...
A roundup of success stories recently published by Public School Insights is far overdue. Here's a list of eleven inspiring new stories we've posted in the past few months:
- Working together, parents and teachers help students thrive at a Delaware middle school. 8/13/2009
- An Idaho middle school gives students a second chance at success. 8/6/2009
- The relentless pursuit of excellence pays off at a Texas middle school. 7/30/3009
- A personalized approach helps turn around a Washington high school. 7/24/2009
- An Alabama middle school is beating the demographic odds. 7/16/2009
- A Texas high school turns nonreaders to readers. 7/7/2009
- Small academics help students make the grade at a New Jersey high school. 6/9/2009
- Access to college becomes a reality for every student in a Texas school district. 5/19/2009
- A commitment to character education supports school improvement in a Missouri school district. 5/7/2009
- A Washington school district brings college to the high school. 4/30/2009
- Teacher collaboration leads to student success at a Pennsylvania middle school. 4/17/2009 ...
In Defense of Field Trips: A Conversation with Educators from an Extraordinary Alabama Public School
People looking for a public school Cinderella story need look no further than George Hall Elementary in Mobile, Alabama. The once struggling school, which serves mostly low-income children, now boasts state math and reading test scores most wealthy suburban schools would be proud of. (See our story about George Hall's Success).
George Hall did not have to sacrifice all but the basics to get there. Instead, the school's staff courageously focused on what some would consider frills in an era of high-stakes accountability: innovative technologies; rich vocabulary and content knowledge; even field trips.
We recently spoke with George Hall principal Terri Tomlinson and teachers Elizabeth Reints and Melissa Mitchell.
Hear highlights from our interview (5 minutes)
A VISION FOR GREAT SCHOOLS
On this website, educators, parents and policymakers from coast to coast are sharing what's already working in public schools--and sparking a national conversation about how to make it work for children in every school. Join the conversation!