Archive for the ‘successful schools’ Category

Middle and High School Student Success

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

For sure, middle and high schools in low-income communities need help. Look over the current school problems: crumbling infrastructure; poor scores on any standardized test used; high dropout and tardiness levels; weak graduation rates; extremely low entrance numbers into higher education institutions.

Studies and resources galore confirm these problems. Johns Hopkins University’s well-known School of Education supports Diplomas Now, a model that has shown success for middle and high school students. The model is school-wide and suited for the toughest neighborhoods, failing and just-below-proficiency schools alike. Teachers and administrators have approved in all media that’s covered this phenomenal model.

Any program goal should be to turn around the rate for one-half of the current 500,000 students that drop out. Instead, as any good model maintains: prepare students, motivate them to graduate ready for college or post-high school technical training.

Diplomas Now and the resources gathered to assure the integrated success of the model, Talent Development Secondary, Communities in Schools, the United States Department of Education, and 200 local affiliates is not a program proposed to charter schools, but offered to the 2000 public middle and high schools that produce one-half of yearly dropouts.

Too many of those schools have selected from narrowly organized interventions to change tardiness, behavior, curriculum organization, or another aspect, hoping to change the entire atmosphere of the school. Instead the Diplomas Now complete school-wide model focuses on eliminating poor attendance, poor school behavior, and course failure in English/Language Arts or Math.

Similar to the elementary public school-wide model Success For All, established out of Johns Hopkins University, Diplomas Now accesses education research and school data to target the needs of students. The program insists on professional development and agreement by all school staff to use every aspect of the model. The program expects funds to be provided for extra adult support, technology, and tools to overcome the hurdles at the school.

Funds come from corporations such as Pepsico which understands the need for workers who have successfully graduated. In addition, grants from the U.S. Department of Education have benefited schools countrywide. A California example is Los Angeles Unified School District that has five inner-city middle and high schools receiving a large grant from the Department of Education to foster Diplomas Now.

To see a current video of one New Orleans, Louisiana middle school that uses Diplomas Now strategies, see a PBS Newshour program from Thursday, December 6, 2012.

Like any number of successful models to turn around very low-performing schools and graduating students ready for college or the workforce, relentless focus must be assured to realize student achievement success

The lack of funding resources for every state must be overcome and legislators must realize that high dropout rates will cost plenty in the future when those young adults can’t find work.

When budgets are resolved, what do schools take up next?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Suppose the California legislature agrees to resolve the most current budget deficit of $25.4 billion as of January 11, 2011. California’s Governor Jerry Brown presented his administration’s budget this week. It includes big budget cuts (but not to K-12 budgets), as well as temporary tax extensions to be voted on in the Spring.

Suppose the California legislature agrees to revise the state and local tax system which had become so unfair that Proposition 13 passed easily in 1978. The fiscal trouble that existed then has increased many times over as the state and local governments vie for revenues.

Suppose  California citizens agree that all services cannot be paid for individually or by initiative.  Some, like fire protection, police protection, infrastructure, parks, recreation programs, and schools are better provided by communal funds.

If all that were agreed, some schools are still found in very poor areas-both urban and rural. Those schools need to be turned around. It’s not easy.

Mass Insight Education and Research Institute has laid out the steps to take. See

Matteson School District (SD 162) in Illinois under Superintendent Dr. Blondean Y. Davis has given an overview of steps taken to improve student success. See

Success For All is used often, especially in eastern urban areas, as a specific reform for reading/language arts.  SFA lays out school-wide steps to make sure students learn to read and understand the meaning of text.  See

Edsource’s February 2010 report “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better” explains steps that help adolescent students succeed.  See

Suppose schools began to turn around. What’s the next step?

Testing and the tests schools use is a huge complaint, whether the scores are used to assess student success or to evaluate teachers or to determine school quality.

The first problem is the kind of test: standardized, criterion referenced, short formative tests several times a year, one summative test a year; tests provided with software.  Who decides which kind of test to use: the state, the local school board, the federal Department of Education, the publishing companies of the United States?

Here’s another list of questions to resolve: which standards are tested; what do tests measure; how do results affect promotion, teacher evaluation, and accreditation for higher education?  See the Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline program for an in-depth analysis of testing issues.

In education, the biggest concern is the quality of each school.  Does a single test determine all of the school qualities that establish success?

One statement can be made: once the budget crisis is resolved, state departments of education must analyze the tests they use. Successful schools depend on the steps taken.

Who’s going to take the tiger by the tail, the bull by the horns, or shoulder Sisyphus’ burden?

How They Do It

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Argument after argument is tossed back and forth at conferences, in the newspapers and magazines about low-income, high ethnic population public schools that aren’t making it.

Then, lo and behold, three more great public schools and school districts pop up in the news.  In April 2010 at the National Association of School Boards convention in Chicago, Illinois, a presentation was made by Matteson School District (SD 162) near Chicago with 7 Pre-K to 8 schools. Three-fourths or more African-American students, second language, reduced price or free lunch, are all part of the list that indicates poor performance.

But, no, the district has won awards for meeting and exceeding proficiency on the state exams that are the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) benchmarks of success.

Not only Matteson public school district, but Marshall Elementary in budget deficit San Francisco, California, and Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, have overcome the odds.  Comparable schools-low-income neighborhoods, high number of minority students, second language issues.  How does it happen?

When reading the articles, it makes sense.  The factors that education studies have said make good schools were gripped by each school and the school district.  And it was done before the state superintendent or government came down with hands on hips, insisting on change.

Although specific programs may differ, four main traits identify the success of these schools.

* The school board, district superintendent, and principal have high expectations to do all possible to help students learn.  They have developed a long-range plan and stuck to it.  The faculty and staff are informed collaborators in the decisions to reach the achievement goals for the district and school.  The school community celebrates success.

* All members of the school community focus on providing the strategies to improve student achievement.  Teachers employ continuous assessment using multiple data sources which are analyzed and evaluated to improve instruction.  Teachers are given time outside of teaching for analysis and talk about how to improve instruction.  In addition, even with tight, tight budgets, resources are found to include speech therapists, nurses, tutors, social workers, and most important aggressive staff development.

*Parents are included in the school community.  For instance, at Marshall Elementary, the principal has hired a parent liaison who works on attendance, nutrition, transience-whatever impedes student success.  At PS 172 money was found for a dental hygienist who has dealt with the poor health issues that impede speech and energy to learn. At all schools, Matteson School district has trained parents to use the website in order to be knowledgeable about the programs going on at the schools.  Parent-school participation is encouraged at all schools.

* These good public schools report that art and music instruction has not been abandoned in order to improve test scores. Instead, the day is structured to use support staff during class time to reach the students with special needs. More than one teacher may be working with a group in the classroom. You can imagine that students are intent on learning, not “zoning out.” Money for after-school and Saturday instruction has been authorized.

Here’s the follow-up question. How was money found for the extra resources? So far we know only that principals scrounged for the funds and didn’t give up.

To ask about the report on Matteson School District (SD 162) in Illinois contact Dr. Blondean Y. Davis, Superintendent.  The article on PS 172 (aka Beacon School of Excellence) is found in The New York Times, April 26, 2010, “Poor Families, Rich Test Scores: A School Defies Odds” by Sharon Otterman.  Marshal  Elementary School’s story is found in the San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 2010, “U.S. tapping school’s recipe for success” by Jill Tucker.

Toil and Trouble

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

March 19, 2010, a California education conference in Santa Clara with 400 attendees highlighted the financial troubles bubbling in California, but also described good news for troubled middle schools, a large number of which were nominated by the California State Department of Education for turn-around.  A surprise for anxious participants!

The huge school budget trouble was first on the agenda at the conference organized by Edsource, a foundation situated in the Bay Area that focuses on where the dollars are not and where they should be.

So, the big picture from the state administration’s plan to stabilize the budget is to cut K-12 funding by $1.9 million, child care and development by $300 million, but increase community college dollars (decimated in previous budgets) by a paltry, but still welcome, $200 million.  UC and CSU systems whose students were the most vocal in recent demonstrations get a combined $800 million.

The presenter, Mac Taylor, legislative analyst for the state, offered different options for the legislature to consider as it writes bills for its education budget.  As this blog has outlined before, legislators should be accounting for different populations, needs in different geographic areas, program quality, and public benefits to regions that need the most help.

The reader can see details of both the K-12 and Higher Education recommendations in reports from the legislative analyst’s office.  One can guess, double trouble is exacerbated by unintended consequences of California’s Proposition 13 and Proposition 98.

Community colleges are the higher education group most diminished in the past few years, but now during the recession community colleges are most desired by the young and the older student returning to upgrade their knowledge.  Philosophical Jack Scott, chancellor of the state community colleges, asked how do we define quality in higher education?  Is it by the quantity and quality of people excluded from that distinction or by the quantity and quality that the system produces?  In the global economy of the 21st century the answer is obvious.  What’s left is the toil necessary to provide opportunities.

Which led to the talk by Hal Plotkin, former community college board member and currently at the U. S. Department of Education.  He advocated for the student direct loan legislation attached to the reconciliation measure which passed in the House of Representatives Sunday, March 21, and is waiting for Senate approval.  It will allow students to complete their course work and raise the number who graduate, an education goal of the current administration.

Not all trouble is doubling.  Edsource has completed a study about middle schools, the well of adolescent angst, and found that many children in some schools are high achievers.  And it doesn’t depend on the school grade configuration (K-8, 6-8 and so on) or on instruction and teaching organization (eg. by subject or interdisciplinary).

To the writer of this post, of the many recommendations, 3 stood out.  Superintendents and school boards should give priority to academic improvement in the middle grades.

When principals and teachers are hired, those with interests, skills, and competencies outlined in the findings for high-performing schools should be the main considerations.

Make sure the curriculum is aligned with California academic standards and teachers, principals, superintendents are in part evaluated by how well students grow from assessment to assessment.

Last, the study did not find that salary adjustments, better known as merit pay, helped achieve higher student outcomes.  Another welcome result.

More Pay for More Performance?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

School districts are looking for new ways to compensate teachers.  The most common system of steps and levels rewards teachers for longevity and additional education.  This method does not distinguish excellence or discourage mediocrity, which troubles some educators and many taxpayers.

I see two challenges in changing the system:  inertia and educators uneasy with compensation based on student learning, annual goals, and management observation.

Traditional teacher compensation systems

Most school districts have compensation contracts with teacher’s unions based on time on the job and amount of education credits.  This method is straightforward and objective.  It does not rely on observation of teaching skill or on results of student learning.  Management doesn’t have to haggle over whether a teacher is effective – if the teacher has ten years and a master’s degree, it’s easy to check on a grid to see how much the teacher will be paid.

New assessment tools available

This 90 year old system has simplicity and universal coverage in its favor, which was a plus before we had testing tools to measure student learning and annual growth.  Colorado now administers the CSAP, a statewide, annual student learning assessment.  The state test measures student proficiency in reading, writing, math, and science, and can compare students of “like” learning levels from one year to the next to determine “annual growth.”  This tool enables schools to identify which students have grown more or less than their peers in learning.  Schools with high growth are seen as “good schools”; schools with low growth are supposed to improve.

Some caveats

These tools make objective assessment of teacher effectiveness possible.  But where’s the money to use this assessment as a compensation mechanism?  And what about those teachers whose children are not given a statewide test – music, art, physical education, vocational teachers?

How would districts support additional teacher education?

If “levels” or additional education is taken out of the compensation formula, then there’s room for shifting pay toward effectiveness.  But then there’s no money to reward for additional education.  Would teachers pursue more graduate level training if the reward is not inevitable?  Will districts agree to tuition assistance plans to pay up front for additional education to replace levels?  Will a district that removes levels be able to compete for staff with districts that keep levels?

If school districts replace “levels” with effectiveness measures, will those measures only include student learning progress and growth?  Should other elements, such as teacher leadership, special projects, coaching and mentoring, parent relations, etc. also play a part?

How will teachers be evaluated?

A merit pay or pay for performance or pay for effectiveness system requires teacher performance evaluation.  My experience is that principals are concerned about doing annual appraisals, surely a must for merit pay.  Annual appraisal requires principals to be in classrooms observing teachers and children many times during the year.  Do principals have time for that level of oversight?  An alternative method involves “peer” evaluation, in which teachers evaluate teachers.  Will the public see that as an accurate assessment or as a means for teachers to take care of each other’s compensation?

Who will set evaluating metrics?

In the business community, companies set up performance evaluation criteria and metrics which managers use to assess their employees. Typically this system also involves setting goals each year that will merit additional compensation.  When companies have enough money for bonuses, this method enables extra pay.

Will principals sit down with each teacher at the beginning of each year to establish goals?  Will principals work with teacher teams to establish goals?  Will principals and staff establish school goals?  Will districts work with principals to evaluate the merit of school goals?  If teachers do not meet goals, will their compensation be confined to “steps,” or time on the job, and cost of living increases?

Pay for performance is not easy

A merit pay or pay for performance system is possible, but it will be more complicated.  The biggest question is whether it will produce better results for kids.  If it creates more “effectiveness” conversations between principals and teachers, if goals focus on genuine needs, and teachers work better up and down the grade level structure, then a merit system may do its job.  And it may give taxpayers more confidence when compensating teachers.  But it won’t be easy.