National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses why his organization supports the Common Core, dispelling myths and sharing resources to help parents learn more and support successful implementation of the standards.
Last week, NPR revisited Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School. You may remember the school from the controversy that erupted last year after the district proposed to fire all its teachers, a move that both the U.S. Secretary of Education and the President appeared to support. You may also remember that many of those teachers were ultimately retained, after stakeholders agreed to a series of reforms – a “transformation” that was to include a longer school day, more after school tutoring and a tougher evaluation for teachers, among other changes.
But the school has struggled ever since. Last year, just 7 percent of Central Falls’ students tested at grade level in math, and 24 percent did so in reading. Some anticipate this year's test results will be worse.
Why have they continued to struggle, in spite of a plan that included a great many reforms that in some contexts have had success? Some ...
The headline reads: Despite successes, charter school takeovers draw protests. The first two story highlights, taken directly from CNN.com (where the story was posted):
- Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus has seen big rise in students' test scores
- Some students, parents don't want their schools taken over by charter school operators
Neither is false. But are they related? No.
Mastery’s success – which is undeniable – has no predictive value on whether other charter school operators will have similar success. In fact, as we know from the often-cited CREDO study, the vast majority of charter schools perform no better than their neighborhood schools – and 37% perform worse. Yet in this article (as in countless others), while the author may acknowledge briefly, deep in the article, that not every charter school is successful, she certainly does not draw attention to that fact – or any specifics on charter school movement as a whole.
Instead, under the aforementioned headline and after showcasing the success of Mastery, this article tells the story of Audenried High School in South Philadelphia, which has been identified to be turned into a charter operated by Universal Companies (i.e., not Mastery).
According to the article, Audenried just reopened in 2008 after closing in 2005 because of its failing status, with students taking state standardized tests for the first time since ...
Last week, the LFA held its annual Leadership Council meeting for our member organizations. The meeting featured a presentation by Mona Mourshed—a partner and researcher at McKinsey and Company—on a great resource for school improvement. Clearly many people feel they have winning formulas for school success, but this McKinsey research presents a truly compelling set of recommendations based on extensive research.
In the report, "How the world's best performing school systems come out on top,"—a follow-up to the 2007 publication by the same name—researchers examined the common attributes of school systems that exhibited continued performance. To do so, they conducted hundreds of interviews and gathered a large body of statistical data to create a comprehensive analysis of global school system reform. From this, they identified reform elements that they feel are replicable for school systems everywhere.
Diverse Case Studies ...
I was intrigued by two stories in the December 13 issue of Newsweek on the subject of public school reform in the United States: the cover story, an essay authored by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools whose picture and quote “I’m not done fighting” graced the cover (as a former English Language Arts teacher, I would have hoped for a more elegant word choice, but then I suppose space was an issue); and a second story, buried in the middle of the magazine entitled “Give Peace a Chance”, featuring a full page photograph of the president of the Hillsborough County, FL teacher’s union and chronicling the successful school improvement efforts in that school district, the result of collaboration among all the professionals in the system, including the teachers’ union. As a career educator, I think the more provocative magazine cover would have featured photographs of both women juxtaposed with the question: What will it REALLY take to improve all our schools?? ...
Last week The Denver Post ran an instructive article about the small school movement in Colorado. Downsized Schools Raise Bar, But Not All Reach It touches on some of the efforts in the state to transform struggling high schools by turning them into small schools, sometimes by dividing large comprehensive high schools into multiple academies, sometimes by starting a new small school from scratch.
The theory behind small schools is that they foster closer personal bonds between students and the school and (as one of a number of changes in a school’s climate) improve everything from attendance to graduation rates to academic achievement. And it has had success in raising attendance and graduation rates. But it has a mixed record on improving standardized test scores.
Feeling that they were not getting enough bang for their buck, the Gates Foundation (which for several years invested millions into this reform strategy) pulled its small schools money, now focusing its work on developing effective teachers. But the small school strategy does have its supporters, including some hoping to ...
Denver’s North High School looks like a persistently struggling school. Back in 2006 (and also 2007), only 7% of 9th graders and 5% of 10th graders scored proficient or advanced on state math tests. Just 22% of 9th graders and 23% of 10th graders did so on reading tests. Fast forward to 2009. Just 6% of 9th graders and 3% of 10th graders met state proficiency standards in math. 22% of 9th graders and 34% of 10th graders did so in reading. It was the district’s lowest performing high school and in the bottom 5% of schools in the state as indicated by assessment scores. The district was recently awarded over a million dollars in grants to improve it.
Knowing this, you might not guess that North has “turned around.” But it has, if you use the definition of the term currently in vogue.
In 2007, the school’s entire faculty was dismissed (though they could reapply for their jobs). The next year, about 75% of the faculty was new. There were other changes, too. The school was selected to participate in a program that focuses on teacher training and development to change expectations and drive student performance, includes a math and English curriculum and provides access to study skills programs, among other things. The school would also ...
Dubious school turnaround outfits are rushing in where some more experienced groups fear to tread, The New York Times reports. Of course, we can expect this sort of thing to happen whenever speculators and pitchmen smell billions of federal dollars. But the hype that attends much of the talk about school reform can make matters worse.
The uncomfortable truth is that no single turnaround strategy is a sure bet. A recent review (PDF) of major turnaround models found that none rested on strong evidence. The research base remains thin.
That has not stopped quite a few people from insisting that, to save a struggling school, you have to start from scratch. You have to give the staff its walking papers if you want to see big changes, the theory goes. Powerful people often invoke the Harvard School of Excellence in Chicago as proof of this strategy. After the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) cleaned house at this elementary school, test scores soared.
Few have paid much attention to the Chicago public schools whose gains have equaled or surpassed Harvard's. Cardenas and Cather elementary schools were among the most improved schools in the city, and neither school fired staff to jump start its reform efforts.
Cardenas and Cather are among eight schools working with a Chicago non-profit called Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI). Those schools have made big strides since 2007 without replacing staff. And their turnaround efforts have cost a fraction of what the restart model costs. None of the SLI schools has enjoyed the kind of praise heaped on Harvard. (For more information on SLI's work, see our interview with SLI president John Simmons).
Harvard has earned the praise, but the uneven media coverage of school reform efforts offers a very skewed vision of our turnaround options. Indeed, the New York Times piece on turnarounds implicitly endorses the restart model. It quotes someone from AUSL who calls ...
Earlier this week the California Department of Education awarded (though only temporarily) $315 million in School Improvement Grants to over 100 schools in 31 districts. These grants are designed to reform persistently low-achieving schools, so this is great news, right? Over 100 low-performing schools have a better chance to improve.
The problem is that California identified 188 persistently low-achieving schools back in March, which means that not all the schools that need this money got it.
Now, this was a competitive grant program. Districts containing schools identified as persistently low-achieving applied for the funds to reform them, knowing that the state would decide whom to fund. So we knew going in there would be winners and losers.
The kicker is how they chose the winners:
[S]tate officials gave priority to those [districts] that requested grants to help turn around all campuses on the list. Districts that didn’t request money for each of their lowest-achieving schools were placed behind others for funding, even if the other districts didn’t score as highly ...
Reform costs money. That's an inconvenient truth as school districts face their bleakest budget forecasts in decades.
Long before the first stimulus dollar made its way to a central office, some pundits felt that lean budgets would be a good thing, an antidote to the bloat and bureaucracy that, they said, were a deadweight on school performance. Now, as districts prepare to spend what may be their last stimulus dollar, the story of Locke High School should give the pundits pause.
The New York Times reports that the effort to turn around this LA high school has cost some 15 million dollars a year. But this isn't the story of bureaucratic bloat. Locke has all the features that should endear it to the reformiest of reformers. It's run by a charter management group. That group, Green Dot Schools, enjoys support from funders who have made big gambles on school reform: Gates, Broad, Walton and the New Schools Venture Fund, among others. Green Dot replaced most of the old teachers. And Arne Duncan has praised Locke as a successful turnaround.
But Locke hasn't hit on any secret for nickling and diming its way to success. And "success" is a relative term here. Locke made big improvements to the ...
One step forward and two steps back. If you're a school leader who has made real progress against tough odds in the past few years, then brace yourself for those two steps back. Budget cuts and layoffs may threaten much of what you've done. And to add insult to injury, some people will read you sermons on efficiency as you dismantle much of what you and your staff have worked for.
A piece in today's San Francisco Chronicle tells the heart-breaking story of a Blue Ribbon school that has to undo many of its reforms as it cuts staff. "Stability drove the success of Dold's school," authors W. Norton Grubb and Lynda Tredway write:
"I have an incredible staff," Dold says. "My teachers don't leave, unless they retire or move." On her watch, E.R. Taylor Elementary became a National Blue Ribbon School, one of just 25 in California, and one of 300 in the United States. How? Dold led her entire faculty to collaborate to catch struggling readers early. Three reading-recovery specialists ran 120 intense, daily half-hour lessons for every struggling first-grade reader.
"Six years ago," Dold recalls, "just 17 percent of our Latino students were proficient readers. Now 50 percent are."
Their reward for such inspiring results? The last bilingual paraprofessional? Gone. After-school staff? Cut. A popular upper-grade teacher with a pink slip says, "I can't wait any longer. I need to pay my mortgage." This year's cuts could top the past nine.
Some commentators have portrayed budget cuts as a threat to the status quo rather than a threat to reform. But that sort of thinking betrays a narrow conception of reform. If reform is purely structural--pay teachers differently, hire and fire ...
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