Posts Tagged ‘achievement gap’

The Latest Charter Schools

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Tired of listening to myriad solutions for ensuring the success of all 6 million students in this country? By now you know there’s no quick fix. It takes m-o-n-e-y and unyielding determination.

Here’s one possibility seen on News Hour at the end of 2012 in the middle of the struggle about the nation’s fiscal burdens. A video segment treats the latest in charter schools, institutions loved by some education experts and loathed by others.

Depicted are school classrooms that illustrate the values noted on the Rocketship Education website. Look it over, one of few that offer details for the daily schedule and, moreover, encourages visitation to its various schools.

The Rocketship scheme was founded by Preston Smith and Joel Danner, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who you can hear on the News Hour segment talking about the values, similar to KIPP charter schools, encouraged by the model: respect, responsibility, persistence, and empathy. To overcome the criticism against many charter schools in California, each K-5 school deliberately includes students who receive free and reduced price lunch (indicating low-income families) and embraces a majority of English Learners. All teachers have a degree in Humanities or Math/Science. The school day is 8-4 pm and comprises enrichment programs of art, music, Physical Education, and a cultural diversity curriculum. A big enticement is the one hour daily Learning Lab. Rocketship Education charter schools hope to expand by 2020 to 50 U.S. cities, educating 1 million students.

Impressive ambition! So why are the Rocketship schools, so far, just one of many new options offered to school districts? Its website spouts the current education lingo-from “parent empowerment” to “higher-order critical thinking” to “prepare for the college curriculum”-but the model is seen as the latest, not the definite, plan to close the achievement gap.

First, teacher’s degrees in many charter schools are impressive, but they have been recruited from Teach for America which places university graduates in elementary schools with minimal pre-service preparation. On the one hand, these new teachers are provided daily training from experienced teaching personnel and paid well. However, the teachers are only required to teach for two years. Any long time teacher will remind you that, not only successful professional development, but minimal faculty turnover allows a reliable program to continue. Necessary changes can be made more efficiently when personnel are familiar with the glitches that have occurred.

The curriculum outlined on the website suggests use of well-established programs, such as Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) to support second language learners in the classroom. This particular program requires a lot of professional development and supervision. Teachers need at least two years to use the model well as this retired teacher knows.

The Rocketship Education website endorses a wide diversity of curriculum in addition to reading and math. However, the segment on the News Hour noted that no art and music was available yet.

The Learning Lab model is also a well-established tool used for many years as an hourly after school supplement for students with reading/math scores below proficiency. To be effective a detailed analysis of improvement for students using the software must be available to teachers. Not available at Rocketship schools yet.

Right now, the Rocketship Education model shows good reading/math proficiency. Due to California’s open enrollment law, enough high-performing students have already enrolled under the blanket of a county Board of Education quest to close the achievement gap and avoid union requirements, i.e., long-term dependable teachers and a supportive public school administration.

Let’s hope the model survives and replication occurs in regular public schools or it may end up as one of the many models that have been started and discarded when change doesn’t magically occur.

Charter Schools-the Latest

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

David Sirota, liberal but not an expert on education details, wrote a piece for the New York Times, Friday, March 23, headlined “Charter schools aren’t solving education ills.”

a beach town elementary in California

a beach town elementary in California

No kidding! But dutiful as this blog is, earlier charter school posts, dated 9-9-2009, 12-9-2009, 1-27-2010, and 6-23-2010, were reviewed to see if some other answer could be found. Nope.

The topic is brought up every few months. According to Sirota “inevitably the conversation turns to charter schools-those publicly funded, privately administered institutions.” As of 2012 the statistics claim 2 million American students at charter schools all over the United States. Compare that number to 6 million students in traditional public schools in California alone.

In 2012, looking at current deficits, states can’t bear to rewrite state tests, put new evaluation procedures in place, provide adequate funds to train teachers at colleges, much less support school districts to turn around failing schools, the main reason education “experts” always claim charter schools are the “silver bullet.” Even so all those revisions must occur to close the achievement gap-the main goal for which charter schools have been contemplated.

The National Education Association (NEA) “believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children. Whether charter schools will fulfill this potential depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including the oversight and assistance provided by charter authorizers.”

And there’s the problem as we’ve read in report after report, some mentioned in Sirota’s column. The main criticism is that the charter school close to your home may not improve the child’s academic success (as shown by test scores). Why? For all the same reasons that your traditional neighborhood pubic school may not be up-to-par.

Then, what’s to talk about for your next conversation? Here’s the list. Charter and traditional public schools can insist on a test that follows the Common Core Standards that all but a few states have agreed to. Doesn’t have to be the same test-who wants to be accused of manipulating the free market for developing tests. The question once the tests are developed probably should be can the tests be compared to find out if the achievement gap among students is closing.

Next, young children who enter Kindergarten before 5 years of age might be allowed more than one year to prepare themselves for the rigors of first grade reading and mathematics in a 21st century education. Is your child young and does the local school (charter or traditional) provide this transitional opportunity if he/she is not ready? It’s been put off in California.

Finally,many education go-getters advocate for “choice” by parents. Home-schooling is the choice of one GOP candidate. To top it off, a fee voucher is put forward by so-called authorities to choose a parochial, private, or charter school. Charters are authorized with the promise to improve student achievement as a condition of relief from some of the¬†rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools. However, since the public school district already pays for a chartered school, why would a voucher help?

For writers of this blog, as the NEA suggests, employees of such schools should be subject to the same public sector labor relations statutes as traditional public schools. In addition, charter school employees should have the same collective bargaining rights as their counterparts in traditional public schools.

There we are-stuck with a conflict that cannot and will not be compromised. No new state tests, no new evaluation procedures in place, no adequate funds to train teachers at colleges, much less support school districts to turn around failing schools.

Distinguished Schools

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

California, like many states, has an award program started in 1985, funded by prominent corporations and state education organizations. No taxpayers involved directly.

The program’s purpose is to honor schools in the state-reaching about 5% each year of the more than 900 public schools in this large state of fifty-two counties. The program recognizes exemplary schools and identifies excellent interventions used in these schools that show improvement in closing the achievement gap. In other words, the school doesn’t already have to have an Academic Performance Index (API) over 900 (out of 1000) to qualify for the award. In reality, what school has time to do all the preliminary work if the school doesn’t already have the numbers?

Look it up. The eligibility criteria for elementary schools in 2012 are consequential. If the school is lucky, the necessary scores, tables, and charts have been generated electronically. In the Bay Area, this is probable, but in some small rural district? Maybe, maybe not. Wait for the state? The county?

In this day and age, does the state think that most schools have teacher time to put all that material together and still teach the standards? Many teachers are put on the spot in March, worrying about layoff notices, upcoming tests, and improving school targets.

As much as it is necessary, closing the achievement gap does not only depend on picking the correct program. It depends on budget funding. Teachers keep teaching. They benefit and students benefit from professional development that distinguished schools can share, but money is the key.

Politicians can say all they want, but the schools that need help need infrastructure, teachers, tutors, and administrators that can oversee a new program and make sure it is implemented well over time. They don’t need less money like many call for.

If the school is honored with the California Distinguished School award that lasts four years, does that mean more money to show off its excellent programs? This blog doesn’t think so. It means only that the school can put in more time and effort for the National Blue Ribbon award.

ESEA Revision! Teacher Evaluation?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Good news! The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has finally released its draft of a bill filled with revisions to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2002. The House Education Committee version, as stated in a previous post, is being negotiated piecemeal in hopes there will be no revision until after 2012.

The Senate legislation may pass, not only because Congress has been chastised for taking 4-5 years to make revisions. The bill takes into account the propositions made by the Obama Administration in 2009, the NCLB waivers by “executive authority” authorized by the U.S. Department of Education in September 2011, and it closely aligns with GOP proposals. Bipartisan legislation!

The main aspects to look over closely are standards, school improvement, and accountability.

preparing students to be college or career ready

preparing students to be college or career ready

We’ve heard for a long time that standards for student achievement must assure college or career readiness. But each state’s standards do not have to be aligned with the Common Core Standards, although all but six states have agreed to those standards. Also, English language Learners must have a set of standards which assure readiness to graduate.

As for accountability, the major change is that there are no longer hard and fast targets for achievement in reading and math. The states are accountable for “continuous growth.” Who keeps tabs on the growth for each state?

With growth in mind, school improvement for schools in each state must include intensive intervention for the 5% lowest-performing schools. Schools with the largest achievement gap between aggregates of the student population must implement practices to reduce the gap. Again, what entity will oversee these changes?

Critics point out that in the revisions the state determines the method for measuring the impact of programs. In the old NCLB that was the problem! The language was too vague to assure high standards for the measures used to assess student achievement. Without clear achievement targets, poor and minority students will be ignored.

The Senate draft and the House attempt does address the teacher accountability controversy, but leaves much up to the state. Each state must have four ratings for teachers and student achievement must be a factor. But, for example, how is student achievement and teacher evaluation to be made for subjects and grades not tested?

It appears that states and school districts are left to design and implement a plan. New reports to share best practices for teacher evaluation appear monthly. One of the latest is a report Peer Review: Getting Serious About Teacher Support and Evaluation by Julia E. Koppich and Daniel Humphrey. The report describes two exemplary Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs in California:  Poway School District near San Diego and San Juan School District near Sacramento.

Briefly, the program is geared to new teachers and experienced teachers who need to improve their instruction and classroom management. Consulting teachers take a year away from the classroom and provide well-designed accountability plans and intensive support to improve teaching. A governance board made up of administration and the teacher’s union has proven to work well to support the program, in spite of tough decisions about employment. It was apparent to the report writers that increased pressure to do better with less money was the critical factor, given that trained consulting teachers provide the most important role in the success of the program.

Back again to the same concern repeated many times. Where’s the money? This school year 37 states have cut funding for education. The American Jobs Act did not pass in the Senate as this post is being written. Since the Senate Education Committee seems to be doing some bipartisan work, maybe they will be the instigators of some spending on teachers. And police and the men and women who put out fires– before Congress lets the schools burn.

What’s the harm!?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Incredible! Members of Congress can’t be persuaded of the harm caused by shortchanging school age children and young adults? Who wants children to live hardscrabble days in the richest country on Earth?

high school outside of Death Valley, CA

high school outside of Death Valley, CA

Even middle-class and upper middle-class kids in suburban public or private schools are affected by the despair in the education world. But the harm is most worrisome for the 13% of the impoverished American families (according to 2010 Census Bureau figures) made up of parents under 30 with children.

Why have some members of Congress continually voted to let high rollers add to their billions while students go to schools with missing ceiling tiles and antique air venting systems? Saying the federal government should not be the funding source for state and local needs is simply not looking at reality. The states must cut their spending to maintain balanced budgets in spite of the evidence that shows revenue will only rise when jobs are available. If not the federal government, where is money to repair schools (and provide jobs) going to be found?

Why must parents count pennies to purchase food at home at the same time funds are being subtracted from school district food programs? It was a joke when that smiling, but hard-hearted president wanted to count ketchup as a vegetable, but not any longer when the only decent breakfast and lunch are provided at schools. The story about a school district food manager finding sources for low-fat, interesting meals for kids is worth following, but one success must be replicated country-wide to provide healthy change.

In a rich nation, healthcare for families should not be only affordable for the well-to-do who have jobs. Right now there are 46.2 million poor Americans: children, teen agers, working age adults, veterans, and the elderly. In Texas alone it has been advertised in the news that 14 million don’t have health benefits. But that isn’t the only state with the problem. At the same time, the cost of health care keeps rising. Fighting about the individual right to choose to pay for health benefits is not the priority. Generating jobs and setting up insurance exchanges is the need.

Pretending that the main problem for the U. S. is the debt and that austerity measures like spending cuts are the way to buy the country out of recession is fuzzy math. The resources needed to close the achievement gap for low-performing students mean revenues must be generated. The news this weekend about the billions that can be produced by revising tax rates on the extraordinarily wealthy is staggering. Fiscal priorities aimed at students who don’t drop out, and who graduate from high school and college on time, are far more likely to promote and create new jobs.

Children do well in school when they’re healthy, vaccinated, and fed. They do better when the school buildings are safe. They do better when enough teachers and staff are on the payroll. Students achieve when their parents have good jobs and time to pay attention to their children.