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Update: Fenger Fights Back

76390232Treat yourself to this recent Chicago Tribune story about the four years since Fenger High School student Derrion Albert was killed, which includes a massive turnaround effort (featuring counselors) and the school's biggest graduating class in recent memory.  

Obviously, there are still lots of problems -- the SIG "cliff" being an obvious example -- and Chicago isn't doing so well these days over all, but all the more reason to take a moment to enjoy some measure of success.

(Image courtesy Chicago Tribune)

Thompson: Turnaround School Ignores Misbehavior All Over Again

Media bias bias colin dunn flickrSara Neufeld's first Hechinger Report article on Newark's Quitman Street Renew School, "A Newark School Prepares - Again - to Reinvent Itself," began with Principal Erskine Glover's belief that weeding out subpar instruction is the single most important factor in school improvement.

Now, Neufeld's "Perseverance in a Newark School Despite Mid-Year Teacher Turnover," reports that half of Quitman's core middle school teachers have left -- including some of Glover's most promising, handpicked teachers.

The last straw for some teachers was the January decision to demand more work of teachers for an additional hourly wage comparable to a fast food job. But, middle school teachers had already been worn down by the continued tolerance of chronic misbehavior.

Continue reading "Thompson: Turnaround School Ignores Misbehavior All Over Again" »

Documentaries: Could Principal Minor Have Done More?

image from wamu.orgBelow are some interesting things I learned chatting Monday afternoon with Jacquie Jones, ED of the National Black Programming Consortium, about last week's "180 Days."  

NBPC is the outfit behind the documentary, which was also funded in part by the Ford Foundation, and according to Jones was conceived of as a way to deepen the school reform conversation but not necessarily as a response or rebuttal.

Jones puts the core question the film raises this way:  "How could this person [Principal Minor, pictured] who se so clearly smart in a real pratical way as well as passionate about these kids -- working at full capacity every day -- how could she be doing all this and it still sucked like this?"

I came away from the conversation much enlighted about some of the issues that had intrigued me -- especially the question of what if anything could have been done differently -- and informed about the thinking behind the scenes that were (and weren't) shown. 

Continue reading "Documentaries: Could Principal Minor Have Done More?" »

Thompson: The Tragic Endings of "180 Days" (Plus DCPS Response)

RUFUSViewers had been warned, but the tragic conclusion of PBS's 180 Days was more excruciating than anticipated.  The first two hours balanced the sorrows that students had endured with their concrete displays of grief and coping.   Delaunte was covered in tattoos in a way that could terrify outsiders. They are tributes to his deceased mother, Viola. His "FOE" tat is not a gang symbol; it means "Family over Everything." Raven shows us her private shrine for deceased loved ones, as well as symbols of triumph.

Similarly, the educators at D.C. Met alternative school prepared conscientiously for the best practices of demonstrating abstract concepts in concrete and understandable ways. Sports and the music program (which was destined to be cut) played essential roles.

Early in part two, the educators' efforts to keep Rufus in school died when his mother transferred him.  It was the only scene that I could not watch, forcing me to twice leave the room.  The goodbyes were interminable because everyone knew what the future would be for the kid with that captivating personality. Rufus was in a daze, a doomed student walking, not noticing a classmate he bumped into.  As Rufus exited his last loving sanctuary, he looked to be preparing for his cruel fate.

D.C. Met did the opposite when trying to avoid its predestined outcome.  In panic, a helter-skelter approach to test prep was thrown together.  Hands-on instruction became a parody of itself as the rush to remediate morphed into the syndrome known as "lost in activity."  Students were forced to drink from a firehose with only a desperate hope that enough disembodied facts would stick in their brains until testing concluded.

Continue reading "Thompson: The Tragic Endings of "180 Days" (Plus DCPS Response)" »

Bruno: The NPE's Positive Agenda

3454586331_2e2ef4f62bLast week I complained that the Network for Public Education seemed to be defining itself mostly in negative terms.

I'd therefore be remiss if I didn't note that the NPE has since begun articulating an affirmative agenda.

In a note in the group's most recent newsletter, leader Diane Ravitch says that while you probably already "know what we oppose", the NPE also intends to advocate for a variety of education policies.

Some of those policy positions are a bit vague, like "professionalism for teachers" and "democratic control" of schools. And others are still essentially slightly-repackaged opposition statements.

Some of that is inevitable, especially early in a group's development, and as I said before there's nothing wrong with an advocacy organization dedicating itself substantially to opposing policies it considers ill-conceived.

I also happen to like most of what I see in the NPE's "positive agenda," so I'm hoping they flesh it out and advocate for it vigorously. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Morning Video: "180 Days, Part 2"

Didn't watch Part 1? You can see it below, or skip it and go straight to the second half of the year.

Watch 180 Days : A Year Inside an American High School Episode 2 on PBS. See more from 180 Days.

I'm doing my best to goet some additional information about the outcomes and the story behind the making of the show.

Events: Next Week's Yale Summit

There's lots that's familiar about this year's Yale Education Leadership Conference, including the location (New Haven), the visit to Amistad (Thursday morning), and some of the panel topics and panelists.

image from cdn.e2ma.net
But there are also some new/newish elements -- a panel on the parent trigger, a segment on building diverse coalitions, and how other non-education sectors have changed. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras or Louisiana State Superintendent John White are doing the Friday morning keynote. See full agenda panel lineups here.    @YaleELC and use #ELC2013

Reckhow: "You Can't Bring Reform To A Community"

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 20 16.55The feature article in the newest issue of One Day (the Teach for America alumni magazine) struck a chord for me.

It tells the story of George Washington Carver High School in New Orleans--a historically black high school and anchor of the black community in NOLA's Ninth Ward. The school was reopened after Katrina, but it has been restructured and currently houses 2 charter operators.  

The article shows reformers who bear little resemblance to Michelle Rhee in their style and approach to politics, and includes voices of community members who fought the charters in Carver.

The article still advances some bold claims about academic progress in NOLA and details Teach for America's substantial presence. But once you get past those few paragraphs, it's not typical "One Day" material, and it's an interesting read.

Continue reading "Reckhow: "You Can't Bring Reform To A Community"" »

Video: A Year At "DC Met" High School

Watch Preview on PBS. See more from 180 Days.

Here's another documentary about a school, this one coming out from PBS next week: 180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School

 

Media: "This American Life" Vs. Oprah Winfrey

DonttalkSome of the people who've seen Blackboard Wars -- the Oprah Winfrey Network reality series about the effort to fix a New Orleans high school -- are objecting to the depiction of the kids, teachers, and school.

One blog post against the show calls it “Cops” meets “Dangerous Minds,” describing the show as promoting a tired trope about urban teen violence and exploiting poor kids "for ratings and national school reform cred."

To be sure, the decision to invite cameras into John Mac was a controversial one -- not only in the school community -- where 90 percent of kids but only half the teachers signed release forms -- but also within Future Is Now Schools, the nonprofit charged with making things better there. I've written extensively about FIN founder Steve Barr and am no stranger to his strengths and weaknesses as a school reform leader.

But I have to ask, how is Blackboard Wars really all that different underneath it all from This American Life's recent depiction of life at Garfield Harper High School in Chicago, which generated widespread admiration and (so far as I know) very little backlash locally or otherwise?  

Continue reading "Media: "This American Life" Vs. Oprah Winfrey" »

Morning Video: Vallas Turnaround Talk

"At the 2012 CraigMichaels K12 Summit, highly recognized school Superintendent Paul Vallas shared his insights in effectively turning around some of the most disadvantaged school districts in the US and abroad."

Afternoon Audio: What Happens When Harper's SIG Ends?

ScreenHunter_06 Feb. 24 18.22
If you haven't checked it out, you can listen to Part Two here. Or, you can read the transcript here. Or you can donate to the school here. It's not all about street gangs and violence this time -- it's also about SIG Turnaround funding, and Cheerios, and chocolate milk. 

TV: What's New, What's Familiar In "Blackboard Wars"

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 15 10.37


So I had the chance to watch the first two episodes of "Blackboard Wars," the new Oprah Winfrey Network reality series that premiers tomorrow night (a month earlier than originally scheduled), and I have to say that I liked it.  Not because it's necessarily accurate, or even particularly new or original (Locke High School, anyone?) but because it's a good reminder of the day to day struggles, the retail work, of making a broken school better.  This is messy, one-kid-at-a-time work done by teachers, counselors, and administrators, and so many of the real setbacks and successes have nothing to do with learning geometry or American history. 

Continue reading "TV: What's New, What's Familiar In "Blackboard Wars"" »

Weekend Reading: Turnarunds & Tirades

Here's a look at some of the best stuff that came through over the weekend -- or from weekly magazines and other sites I don't check during the week:

AP: School turnarounds prompt community backlash ow.ly/hnvI0 LA Superintendent Deasy calls failing schools "immoral"

Michelle Rhee Gets an Education - NYTimes.comow.ly/hmOHa

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Early Education (Audio) ow.ly/hmOQ8

Dear Bill Gates: You Are Cooler Than Steve Jobs - Esquire ow.ly/hndLv

Holding Education Hostage by Diane Ravitch | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books ow.ly/hmQm8

Do Unions Have a Shot in the 21st Century? -NYTimes.com ow.ly/hmOJt

From Jay Mathews: Why much-praised KIPP D.C. expels kids: Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, founders of the KIPP ch... bit.ly/TvHb6P

Land's End Founder's Attempt to Save a Chicago Neighborhood | Chicago Magazine via The Billfold ow.ly/hnTsu

Venture Capital's Massive, Terrible Idea [Udacity] For The Future Of College | The Awl ow.ly/hnTnB

Rocketship’s cofounder departing for online learning startup | EdSource Today ow.ly/hovUs

Violence: Killings In Chicago Undercut Reform Efforts

Now this is image from farm3.staticflickr.comis extra sad:  Fifteen year old Hadiya Pendleton went to the Inauguration in DC, came back to her South Side high school in Chicago, and was shot in the back and killed last night (Sun times, DNAI, Daily Mail).  

The murder didn't take place during school, or on school grounds.  There is little or no direct connection to education.  But this -- gun violence and street gangs -- is a big part of what's going on in some parts of Chicago -- the South and West Sides, mostly -- and it's a big part of the reason that the Board of Education's Utilization Commission recommended that no general high schools be closed in Chicago even if they were half-empty.  (Remember that the brutal videotaped death of a Fenger High School student several years ago in Chicago was caused, some say, by a school closing that required students to travel outside their home neighborhood.)

Chronic poverty, discrimination, unemployment, and inadequate housing are all important to understand and address. But violence is the out of school factor that trumps all the others. In places like New York City where it has been addressed (legally or otherwise), school reform efforts have some hope of progress.  In places like Chicago, where violence has been shoved aside and ignored (thanks, Mayor Daley and the current one), efforts to improve schools really struggle.  

Quotes: "The Objective Here Is Not To Have More Charters"

Quotes2The objective here is not to have more charters; the objective is to have great schools. -- Green Dot CEO Marco Petruzzi, appearing on a Southern California public radio show about the parent trigger.

Update: First Lady's Alma Mater On School Closing List

image from www.cps.eduThey're not closing high schools (because gangs are in charge) and even half-empty schools might be allowed to live another day in Chicago, but Michelle Obama's elementary school alma mater is on the Chicago Sun-Times' unofficial list of 193 schools that might get closed in order to help downsize Chicago's school system and help it deal with a $1 billion deficit.  According to her Wikipedia page, the First Lady went to Bryn Mawr Elementary School (later renamed Bouchet Academy.)  The school has been trying to turn around since at least 2008. Image courtesy of CPS.

Chicago: Roughly A Third Of Turnarounds Remain Low-Performing

Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 12.24.14 PMThe industrious folks at Chicago Public Radio have gathered together data on 12 years of school closings and turnarounds.

Not only that, they also mapped the changes, and determined that roughly a third of the buildings closed and/or turned around remain at the lowest level of performance (Tier 3).

It's well worth a look, whether you're a fan or critic of school turarnound efforts.

Others will disagree, but the 32 percent failure rate doesn't seem objectionable, given the enormity of the issues faced at 100 percent of the schools deemed bad enough to be closed or turned around.

 

Update: Parent Trigger May Play Differently In LAUSD

image from laschoolreport.comLast week, LA School Report broke the news that the parent trigger was coming to LAUSD, the third trigger effort in the state since 2010 and the first to involve the nation's second-largest school district.  

Today's news is that, at a fairly elaborate media event this morning, the parents of 24th Street Elementary are, along with Parent Revolution, presenting their petition and (according to Parent Revolution) more than 300 signatures to Superintendent Deasy.

It's worth noting that the response in LA may differ slightly or substantially from previous school superintendents.  A former Gates Foundation officer, Deasy is pro-choice and not particularly charter-phobic.  As this LASR post describes, LAUSD has had its own Board-approved trigger mechanism since 2009 -- and three Board members up for election in March.  And, while some Board members and teacher union leaders may object vociferously, LA's Democratic Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is a strong trigger supporter. Other labor groups like SEIU may see the trigger as a benefit for their working-class members.

Previous post:  7 States With Trigger Laws - Federal Proposal To Come.

Quotes: Board Member Decries Defense Of "Broken" School

Quotes2I want to know why anybody would want their child to go to a broken school? -- LAUSD board member Marguerite Lamotte, explaining her vote in favor of reconstituting Crenshaw High School (via KPCC)

Preview: TV Series Trailer Heats Up Charter Meeting

Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 11.19.28 AMTuesday night in New Orleans, there were at least a few people upset at the charter board meeting for John Macdonogh high school, which is going through a controversial turnaround.  The school has both a board and an advisory committee to represent community interests.  Control over the charter was given to Future Is Now Schools, Steve Barr's current charter network.  The meeting was eventually cut short.You can read all about it at The Lens.

One key aspect of the event was the first public showing of a trailer for the forthcoming OWN reality series, "Blackboard Wars."   As is fairly standard, the three-minute video (which I've seen) begins with dramatic footage (a 2003 incident in which suspects brought an AK47 into the school and began shooting), as well as scenes of fistfights and security takedowns. the implementation of school uniforms and tuck-in requirements.  There are dramatic graphics  ("One of the most dangerous schools in America... Nobody believes he can do it... An Angry Community.") There's even a Survivor-style wail in the background (all that's missing is a bone-rattling dubstep drop). Also depicted: overwhelmed teachers, a strong-willed new principal, angry community members -- and glimmers of improvement.  

Previous post: Oprah Network Features NOLA Turnaround Story

Thompson: Carmel Martin As "Candide"

MerrygoroundDuring the Fordham Institute’s recent panel discussion, Turnaround Merry-Go-Round: Is the Music Stopping?, the Department of Education’s Carmel Martin reminded me of Voltaire’s Candide.

Like Candide, Martin bravely endured a devastating critique by Fordham’s Andy Smarick of the Duncan administration’s School Improvement Grant outcomes. She countered that it is wrong to compare decades of failed turnarounds with today’s turnarounds.  Her evidence was that Secretary Duncan meets with a lot of state leaders, and those talks make him optimistic.

Martin gamely responded to critiques of NCLB-type accountability schemes, citing the political pressures that produced such flawed metrics. Finally, Martin faced the question of unintended results of data-driven accountability.  In order to boost graduation rates, systems resorted to credit recovery gimmicks and, in order to raise test scores, they adopted assessments with easier questions. So, has that not undermined the transition to more challenging instruction required by Common Core? 

Martin replied, “Again, it’s an area where I’m going to take the optimistic view instead of the pessimistic.”-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.           

TV: Oprah Network Features NOLA Turnaround Story

Coming in March, Oprah Winfrey's OWN network is going to start airing Blackboard Wars, the six-part story of the attempt to turn around NOLA's McDonogh High School. 

image from 1.bp.blogspot.comFrom the announcement:  "The Discovery Studios-produced docu-series centers on the dramatic transformation of New Orleans’ John McDonogh High School, one of the most dangerous and under-performing high schools in the country, where more than half of its students fail to graduate. The show, which will premiere in March, will go behind the scenes with education maverick Steve Barr and no-nonsense principal Dr. Marvin Thompson as they embark on an unpredictable mission to reinvent and revive the struggling school."

From another writeup:  "Blackboard Wars" examines the dramatic transformation of John McDonogh High School in New Orleans, which had a 54% dropout rate before the changes were put in place. “Education maverick” Steve Barr and “no-nonsense principal” Marvin Thompson have increased the attendance rate to around 80%, and they hope that in a few years, the graduation rate will skyrocket to 90%. The students at this school "feel disenfranchised," according to Thompson, who believes that treating each child differently creates a greater chance of success. The population also includes 19-, 20-, and 21-year-old sophomores, so the teachers have their work cut out for them." (San Jose TV

Apparently it was originally called Treme High

Thompson: A Win-Win Approach to School Turnarounds

The vast majority of school turnarounds use the drastic methods encouraged by the Duncan Administration's School Improvement Grant experiment. 

Teachplus

The Hechinger Ed's "Giving Teachers More Power Helps in Turnaround of Boston Schools" links to ASCD's evidence why those punitive methods are unlikely to work.  For instance, Massachusetts turnarounds that used more generic professional development and teacher support, and struggled to create a safe school environments, produced few gains.

But, Hechinger reports that Boston, in collaboration with Teach Plus, recruited proven teachers to lead the turnaround of six schools.  Boston model provided intensive teacher professional development over the summer, and health and wellness services for students. By the second year, these schools were producing double digit gains in math and reading.  The Boston method thus follows the original turnaround vision of "the Readiness Triangle," In contrast to more typical turnarounds, it does not skip "Readiness to Teach" and "Readiness to Learn." 

 The Boston/Teach Plus model could thus rescue SIG from its tendency to take teacher-bashing shortcuts, as it helps descalate our educational civil war.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Morning Video: Fordham Panel On Turnarounds

Carmel Ninety-minute video of Monday's panel featuring Carmel Martin, Checker Finn, Andy Smarick, Jean-Claude Brizard (here)

Thompson: A SIG Success Story is Audited

DouglassOrdinarily, Oklahoma City’s Douglass High School would be proclaimed as a School Improvement Grant (SIG) success story: 

In 2012, it posted double-digit increases in four subjects, single-digit gains in four, and declines in only three tests.  After replacing 75% of its faculty, investing heavily in after-school tutoring and intersession remediation, and implementing its SIG "academic intervention plan," the high school earned a “C” on Oklahoma’s tough new report card.  It earned “A’s” for overall student growth, its graduation rate, advanced coursework, and “overall school improvement.”  

Douglass, however, is being investigated for awarding credits to students who have not earned them.  Now, the Daily Oklahoman's Carrie Coppernoll, in Douglass Transcript Finds Spur Call for Wider Auditing, reports that less than 20% of Douglass’ seniors are on track to graduate. To ameliorate the harm to its seniors, Douglass has no short-term option but to double-down on the full array of “credit recovery” shortcuts that got the school in the mess by “passing students on.” The lastest twist, ironically, grows out the Oklahoma Gazette's Freedom of Information request.  Jerry Bohnen, in "A Tale of Email," confirms that the former principal changed grades.  The district explains that those grade-changes would not have been appropriate under its policies, but they may have been consistent with SIG standards.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.    

 

Update: Goings-On At Green Dot

ScreenHunter_07 Nov. 26 22.37So there was a handful of Green Dot-related news that came out yesterday, including (a) word from USDE that its Race to the Top application had made it to the final 61 after the initial round of reviews, (b) news from Green Dot founder Steve Barr that Green Dot NYC (or whatever it's officially called now) received a "fat" A grade from the NYC DOE (phat?), and (c) word via a Green Dot press release and LA Daily News story that Barr had resigned from the Green Dot board on which he's remained all these years since he and Green Dot split.  (LA Daily News, KPCC).

I'm not really sure of the significance, if any, to the resignation, given that Barr has moved on to a new venture, Future Is Now, which is focused on NOLA.  The Green Dot NYC school has been transferred over to FIN.  Perhaps there was some sort of flare-up, though Barr says that he just has too many other monthly board obligations. Perhaps the press release was an indication of the remaining ill will Green Dot CEO Marco Petruzzi feels towards Barr, though Petruzzi says it was just SOP.  Perhaps I'm just making a mountain out of a molehill.

Previous posts:  Green Dot & Steve Barr Finalize Their "Divorce"The Book I *Should* Have WrittenBack To Locke HighUnsolved Mysteries Of Locke High & Green Dot

Morning Video: "Frontline" Explores Child Poverty

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Last night on Frontline, PBS explored the spread of child poverty.

SIG: A Disappointing But Completely Predictable Reaction From Smarick

image from www.scribbleoneverything.comResearcher Bryan Hassel has written a bracing (for policy wonks) response to yesterday's "SIG-failed-I-told-you-so" post from former New Jersey state education official Andy Smarick (The disappointing but completely predictable results from SIG).

In his rebuttal, Hassel questions Smarick's contention that SIG has failed and shreds Smarick's notion that starting new schools is a viable way to go:  

"There’s no evidence that new school creation is demonstrably better as an overall strategy than turnarounds... To replace the 5,000 worst schools, we’d need 10,000 high-quality new schools b/c they tend to be smaller."

Read the full post below.  

Continue reading "SIG: A Disappointing But Completely Predictable Reaction From Smarick" »

Five Best Blogs: School Reform's Inner-City Problem

Images3 (1)Arthur Levine: The Suburban Education Gap - WSJ.com ow.ly/fjDfX via @Wonkbook 

Joel Klein: We Need a Bar Exam for Educators ow.ly/1Pzhur 

How online ed is going to do to the music industry what Napster did to music Clay Shirky ow.ly/fkrJh 

Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » Why Online Education Works ow.ly/fkrI3 

New twist on cyberbullying: Anonymous vigilantes defend depressed teen, expose tormentors via Jezebel ow.ly/fjBPQ @emilybazelon

Tech Groups Offer Lame-Duck Wish Lists -NJournal ow.ly/fkrFo There's an ed reform version of this out there, somewhere

Book about poverty wins National Book Award CJRow.ly/fjBra 

Bruno: Why Do African-American Voters Support Charter Schools?

3075157040_6b6ac4af3e_mThese days it's popular to attribute electoral outcomes to influential "special interests", and certainly powerful individuals and groups can affect election results. Still, "special interests" can only get you so far in explaining democratic fortunes; voters aren't just blank slates upon which the rich and powerful can project their own preferences.

So consider me skeptical that strong African American support for a pro-charter school initiative in Georgia is best explained by "out-of-state money" (Valerie Strauss) or opponents being "drowned out" by President Obama (Jim Galloway). I'm totally prepared to believe that big money and popular leaders can change the way people vote, but by all accounts the move to make charter authorization easier was favored by a large majority of African American voters. 

Had the results been closer it might make sense to attribute the results to the persuadability - or gullibility - of a few marginal voters. If accounts of 2-1 support among black voters are accurate, however, there is probably more than enough informed and "authentic" support for charter schools in African American communities to deserve to be taken seriously.

The charter school movement has definitely made for some awkward political alliances (and enemies), but that makes it all the more necessary for opponents of charter schools to engage with the very real concerns charter proponents hope to address. Yes, many black leaders are justifiably worried about school resegregation, but many black parents conspicuously are not (at least to the same degree).  

What are black parents worried about? I'm not really sure and neither, apparently, are many charter school opponents. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

Thompson: The Scandal At Douglass High School (& Beyond)

The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr famously asked how it is possible to be “a moral man in an immoral society.”  Oklahoma City is enduring a scandal that encapsulates the paradoxes of being a moral educator in our education system.  When using the word, “system,” I do not mean the OKCPS.  I mean our national system of data-driven “reform.” 

ScreenHunter_05 Nov. 04 09.01A respected principal, Dr. Brian Staples, was removed from his post at a SIG Transformation School, Douglass High School, and he was referred to the district attorney for irregularities in grade and attendance data. I have always found Staples to be an honorable man.   I also have experienced the normative, non-stop pressure to inflate accountability numbers. So, I doubt he was doing much (or anything) different than what he was previously praised for

In my experience, the individuals who pressured us to play games with statistics have always believed that they were morally correct and they have done so while implementing “research-based” best practices peddled by consultants and politicians.  And, while attendance soared to unbelievable levels under Staples, all of our district’s 90% low income, 90% minority high schools claimed identical miracles

I have remained silent on the controversy, but then I saw this video by drama teacher, Tinasha LaRaye’ Williams in support of Staples.  She and I are on opposite sides of the reform wars, but we agree that Staples was brought down while implementing the methods that he was taught at “countless” hours of professional development training and policy workshops.

Continue reading "Thompson: The Scandal At Douglass High School (& Beyond)" »

Bruno: Let's Improve the Supply of Good Schools

71575328_808dddd4e7I've already argued that our teacher quality problems are probably not caused by inadequate demand for excellent teachers, but is there inadequate demand for high quality schools?  

Bill Jackson thinks so and argues that if given better information and different incentives, parents will demand - and therefore obtain - better schools for their kids.

Maybe, maybe not.

Continue reading "Bruno: Let's Improve the Supply of Good Schools" »

Foundations: What To Think About C4TE's Collapse?

Screen shot 2012-10-22 at 12.50.26 PMReform critics reacted gleefully last week to the news that Communities for Teaching Excellence, the Gates-funded advocacy effort in support of its teacher quality initiative, was being de-funded (LAT, LA Daily News), a reaction that was  predictable but sort of sad and short-sighted.  

Why so?  First and foremost, the outcome explodes notion that reform foundations like Gates are all-powerful, which is obviously untrue but is a myth that seems convenient to repeat. Can't be all-powerful and occasionally ineffective at the same time. It's also a reflection of the reality that advocacy groups have proliferated as much as C4TE has failed.  So if reform critics want to call the creation of tons of advocacy groups a success, then fine go ahead.  

Last but not least, trashing the efforts of folks like Yolie Flores, the former LAUSD board member (pictured) who took on the task and has dedicated her career to making schools better for poor kids, seems inappropriate coming from mostly white liberals sitting in front of computers or giving speeches.  You can read more about Flores in the LA Weekly and Scholastic Administrator (who sponsors this site), and a blog post of mine about her disagreement with LAUSD and Deasy over the changes to PSC ( John Deasy's Mystifying Labor Deal).

One last thing: a couple of people have written me suggesting that the downfall of this latest effort was comparable to the failure of EDIN'08, a comparison I get but would quibble with.  Yes, advocacy is a dicey business and folks bigger and better funded than Gates have spent scads of money in other arenas and walked away without much to show for it. The highs and lows are higher in advocacy than they are in policy and program worlds.  But I don't believe that EDIN'08 was such a big failure as conventional wisdom would have it.  And, an important difference to me is that EDIN'08 was organized around a national campaign, the presidential elections, whereas the Gates teacher quality advocacy effort was focused on the individual Gates districts without any substantial national component. 

Morning Video: Tampa Student Spotlights School Violence

Eighth-grader De'Qonton Davis and his classmates set out to investigate how violence affect students' ability to learn. From the PBS NewsHour last week - to tide you over until I can get a full embed copy of the Duncan speech.

Thompson: The Story Behind Sharpstown High (& "Apollo 20")

PBS Frontline's Dropout Nation reported that Houston Superintendent Terry Grier had just been on the job for a few monthswhen he heard that four of the district's high schools were failing.  He heard about Roland Fryer’s ideas on school improvement and got in touch with him. Frontline reported that, "After a long phone conversation, Grier gathered a team and headed to Boston to hammer out a plan." It did not report on any effort by Grier to look into evidence for Fryer's hypothesis. 

FRONTLINE-DropoutNation-640

Eventually, Grier gambled $61 million on his "Apollo 20" reforms. The first year he spent $6 million replacing 310  teachers and the principals of nine schools.  The school featured by PBS, Sharpstown, was not one of the worst of the Apollo 20 high schools, but 39 of the school's 78 teachers were replaced.  Based on Frontline and other coverage, however, it appears that the school benefitted from some of the best of the administrative hires. None of my complaints with Grier's quick-triggered judgment should be taken as a criticism of Sharpstowns' dedicated educators.

Grier still maintains his facile claim about the toughest schools - that we "know what to do with them."  But, his administrators at Sharpstown openly acknowledged their inability to overcome the worst legacies of trauma and generational poverty.  While Grier's spin was consistent with the cherry-picking of Roland Fryer in featuring the experiment's successes, the school administrators' candor was consistent with the data buried in the tables of Fryer's evaluation of Apollo 20. And, as PBS reported, the second year academic results were even more modest.

Continue reading "Thompson: The Story Behind Sharpstown High (& "Apollo 20")" »

Thompson: The Promise of "Clustering" in Scaling Up Reform

MassinsightMass Insight's In The Zone offered a thoughtful response to “Common and Uncommon Ground,” a guest post at Rick Hess Straight Up by Neerav Kingsland and me. It also previewed its new report on the potential of “clustering” in order to scale up school improvement.  Mass Insight argues for:

A “Smart District” of the future, focusing on changing systems and structures so as to give schools more power to focus on the classroom level. Districts would create clusters of high schools and their feeder schools, bringing in Lead Partners to cover administrative and operational support for these clusters, and allowing central office to monitor performance, set standards, and serve as the go-between for federal and state agencies.

Clustering, I believe, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for systemic reform.  Until we hold clusters of school accountable, charters will remain free to focus on relatively easier-to-educate low income students and dump the most traumatized children on neighborhood schools.  Clustering, alone, will not force reformers to heed the research of the Consortium for Chicago School Research and Paul Tough which explains the additional challenge of improving schools with the most intense concentrations of extreme poverty. But, it could slow the “creaming” of more motivated students that has damaged neighborhood schools.

Continue reading "Thompson: The Promise of "Clustering" in Scaling Up Reform" »

Morning Video: Rescuing - And Disappearing - Students In Houston


Last night's PBS Frontline took a look at one of Houston's Apollo 20 schools, where they're trying to lower the dropout rate -- even if it means having at risk students move in (or saying that no-shows have moved back to Mexico).

Chicago: Nobody Wins Until (White) Parents Trust Schools

Michelle Rhee is calling the Chicago contract a "missed opportunity," and indeed it was a bungled job in many regards.  However, it's worth remembering that StudentsFirst never liked SB7, the deal underlying this contract, which was agreed to before SF got to Illinois.    And this Sun Times breakdown notes that outside reform groups weren't as influential as they might have expected given their role in SB7. Boo hoo for them.

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comCatalyst notes several union wins as well -- a three year contract, a minimum role for student achievement in teacher evaluations. This WSJ article also notes that Emanuel didn't get nearly as much as Denver or DC did in their recent negotiations.  But NCTQ is taking a more balanced view, describing it as "generally moving the district in the right direction" thanks to the longer day and year and the evaluation pieces. Click below for their breakdown.

And as I did in a previous post on my Chicago blog (Stupid Strike), NCTQ also notes that school closings and budget issues may have more to do with whether Chicago improves than the contract provisions.     

This is the issue that folks only now seem to be waking up to -- that Chicago is going to have to continue to downsize unless it makes its schools good enough for white, college educated parents in particular to stay in town and trust their kids to Chicago schools.  Very roughly speaking, only about one of three white Chicago families sends its kids to CPS.

At the end, CTU head Karen Klein  Lewis seemed to be clear about this as well: "We couldn’t solve all the problems of the world with one contract, and that it was time to suspend the strike."

Continue reading "Chicago: Nobody Wins Until (White) Parents Trust Schools" »

Thompson: Welcoming The "New" Kevin Carey

Tumblr_m7tslnBzmB1qa0uujo1_500The 1990s was a time when the entire New Deal/Fair Deal/Great Society approach to social justice was reappraised.  Digital breakthroughs seemed to promise data-driven solutions to economic and social problems. During the Clinton boom years, some speculated that computer systems could be more accurate than doctors in diagnosing illnesses. Others believed that they even made economic cycles a thing of the past. 

Since 2001, Kevin Carey has exemplified that era's commitment to accountability-driven school reform.  He argued that inequitable schools were the result of "a basic ethical failing." In 2004, he even  claimed that value-added evaluations were a "verifiable" way of improving teacher quality in low-performing schools. 

But times have changed, and for that reason, Carey's Education Sector report, "Some Assembly Required: Building a Better Accountability System for California," is great news. It is a joy to welcome Carey to the old-fashioned data-informed approach to school improvement.  Even better, Carey explains his kinder, gentler approach to accountability with perceptive observations that have previously been made by Deborah Meier and Richard Rothstein. 

Continue reading "Thompson: Welcoming The "New" Kevin Carey" »

Five Best Blogs: Detroit Rock City

196257_701322621845_5659639_nRandi Weingarten Heads To Detroit, Aims To Force Contract Negotiations For Teachers ow.ly/cyufA#5bb

From May: Former US News education editor @bwildavsky reflects on errors and missteps in his higher ed book ow.ly/cyn3Y #5bb

Five Reasons You Should (or Shouldn’t) Share [Education] Stories With Sources ow.ly/cyhBK@edwrriters #5bb

Last week's [mediocre] Breaking Bad featured an abandoned Albuquerque high school ow.ly/cygR3

What Effect Will $15M Penn Foundation Grant Have on Philadelphia’s Schools? – Nonprofit Quarterly http://ow.ly/cyb2q  #5bb From 07/06

In Chicago, longer school day for students, but not for teachers – Schools of Thought - http://CNN.com  Blogs http://ow.ly/cy8yr  #5bb

LAUSD social media survey is out http://ow.ly/cy7lp  but i can't seem to find the raw results just the presser

Reform: The Book I *Should* Have Written

A little more than a year since the publication of my book about the conversion and attempted turnaround at Locke High School, I remain proud of the work -- and heartened about the good news that continues to come out of the school and Barr's new endeavors -- but also clear about some mistakes I made:

image from ecx.images-amazon.com1 -- The book title should have been shortened, or at least reversed -- Saints, Saviors, and Stray Dogs.  The stray dogs represented the poverty and neglect experienced by the school over the years, and did indeed wander onto campus now and then, but the book wasn't really about poverty and neglect (and the title choice was confusing and troubling to some of the school community).

2 - The book should have included at least a chapter or two more about Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot and mastermind behind the Locke conversion.  I was overly determined not to focus on him.  But limiting his presence in the book to three chapters was a substantive mistake (considering his role at Locke and nationally), a narrative one (given readers' need to have a main character), and a commercial mistake, too (given Barr's prominence). That blue inset image of the kid graduating should have been him.

3 -- It was already clear by the time I wrapped up my reporting that Locke was a lot better than it had been in the past, and the book should have made a stronger, clearer argument that broken schools like Locke can be substantially improved (if not miraculously fixed) rather than attempting to be a neutral or uncertain description of events.  Ironic that I, a blogger who trades in commentary and understands readers' needs to be challenged by strong views, held back from making a strong and clear argument in the book.  

 

Morning Video: Whatever Happened To Antipoverty Programs?

During his talk with Bill Moyers from Friday, Peter Edelman criticizes pre-Clinton welfare, explains how welfare has been stripped down to little more than Food Stamps in many states, and defends Obama's record funding antipoverty program:

Video above, transcript here. Previous posts: Will Reformers Ever Broaden Their Agenda?Pay No Attention To The Nation's Child Poverty Rate Poverty Is Back!,  Bruno: Both Sides Mis-Calculate On "Out-Of School" FactorsLet's Not Talk About 43M Poor People.

Five Best Blogs: The Education Twins (aka "Obamney," "Rombama")

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Marc Tucker disagrees with Jay Mathews, imagines how the Obamney twins wld answer his questions ow.ly/bqx8B

New GAO report on bullying recommends ED and HHS provide more, better information about victims and remediesow.ly/bqXRF 

It's the ability to respond when things go wrong (not prevent mishaps) that marks excellence, reports Atul Gawandeow.ly/bqWNc 

RiShawn Biddle sucks up to @arotherham and @StudentsFirstHQ re CA primaries ow.ly/bqWq3

Banning soda isn't easy -- just as any school administrator or Mike Bloomberg, whom Kinsley dissects ow.ly/bqW7P

Five years since its official launch @dfer says it's helped raise/direct $31M for pro-reform Dems ow.ly/bqDRA

NYC Charter school rally brings out deep tensions within the sector @gothamschools ow.ly/bqAvk 

Reformers aren't evil geniuses, just naive do-gooders, says SOSer @garyrubinstein tch4.us/h4T 

Charts: Charter Laws Not Just About Cap Lifting Any More

image from www.publiccharters.org
More than 20 states have changed their charter laws since 2011 -- the roughly half of them around the much-needed issues of accountability and authorization. Via NAPC.

Thompson: One Teacher's Year-End SIG Exhaustion

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comOklahoma Centennial High School's Lynn Green embodies the essential quality for relating to teenagers - honesty.  Mr. Green's humor also is legendary.  Even as students grown at his puns, they praise his dedication. In "I Hit the Wall," Green candidly explains that near the end of the year at a school undergoing transformation, he was "emotionally and physically tapped out.  ...  So I took a Sick Leave day and stayed home."  He slept 12 hours straight, ate a bowl of cereal and then went back to sleep. Mr. Green sat in his reading chair and read for 4 hours.  But, he then went to the library for the student chess club that he sponsors.  After reading some more, the veteran teacher readied himself for rekindling his students' energy and taking advantage of the few remaining class periods.   His post-test lessons sound like they were great.- JT (@drjohnthompson) image via. 

Think Tanks: Hijacking The Education Sector*

145000-tomtom-medium_originalSomewhat lost in last week's news about John Chubb withdrawing from the Romney advisory team (here) was the news that EdSector's higher ed team was leaving for New America. Kevin Carey et al will be formally announced sometime this week.  No word yet on whether they'll be taking The Quick And The Ed with them (unlikely, given that Chubb has already started posting on the think tank's group blog).

Think tanks evolve over time, and are shaped by their boards and leaders, but I can't think of another example where a think tank has been transformed so quickly in such a short period of time. Former US News education reporter Tom Toch and moderate Democrat Andy Rotherham co-founded the quasi-journalistic think tank not so long ago, and another journalist, former LA Times writer R.L. Colvin, succeeded them.  Now Macke Raymond and John Chubb are in control.   Sort of amazing.  

Not that there are enough right-leaning education think tanks out there, compared to the masses of left-leaning ones. But I'd have never thought that the right would build its forces this way, or that the messy departures of Rotherham and Toch would allow the board to move so far to the right. Then again, why build a new think tank when you can hijack an existing one?

*UPDATED:  Just in time, New America sent out the announcement below.

Continue reading "Think Tanks: Hijacking The Education Sector*" »

Battlegrounds: Don't Forget New Jersey

There's StudentsFirst's partnership with state education reform advocates, and bipartisan support for measures like ending seniority-based layoffs that are strongly opposed by teachers unions (N.J. Democrats must step up on education reform). Vouchers in the air. ALEC sponsorship. Cami Anderson.  Chris Christie and his ALEC bills.  Cory Booker.  Derrell Bradford (2010 profile here).  There was a big AFC conference last week (next time, not cross-scheduled with NSVF, please). Powerpoints here. Speeches here.  Jindal's vouchers and tax rebates here (not NJ, obv, but he was at AFC).  

AM News: Renaming 24 Schools To Win SIG Millions

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For 24 Schools Getting New Start, 24 New Names NYT: Two dozen public schools are being renamed as part of New York City’s strategy to qualify for nearly $60 million in federal grants to help the so-called struggling schools get fresh starts.

Test Errors Draw New Criticism WSJ: A top New York state education official acknowledged Wednesday that the mounting number of errors found on this year's math and English tests has eroded public trust in the statewide exams.

LA Unified approves college prep requirements for all students SCPR:  Next year’s high school freshmen will have to take every class required to meet the minimum application standards for the University of California and Cal State systems. 

 Tennessee Tech policy violated First Amendment USAT: A federal appeals court ruled that Tennessee Tech violated the First Amendment in a case involving religious beliefs.

Unions, parents blast school austerity plans Philadelphia Inquirer: A coalition led by parent groups and Philadelphia school employee unions Wednesday blasted the district’s proposal to make drastic cuts and structural changes.

Where the Teachers Union and District Love Each Other VOSD:  If both the district and its teachers in San Diego are serious about repairing the relationship, then Poway is as good a place as any for them to study.

MORE NEWS ITEMS INSIDE

Continue reading "AM News: Renaming 24 Schools To Win SIG Millions" »

Update: What Gail Collins Gets Wrong About NCLB

School-clock(1)A couple of folks didn't like it much when, using that Twitter thing, I attempted to rain on their parade of passing around Gail Collins' recent column (A Very Pricey Pineapple).  The column makes the case that education is being privatized, and that Pearson in particular and in general is taking over, and that NCLB is the cause of it all.  Collins writes:  

"No Child Left Behind has created a system of public-funded charter schools, a growing number of which are run by for-profit companies... An American child could go to a public school run by Pearson, studying from books produced by Pearson, while his or her progress is evaluated by Pearson standardized tests."

Where to start?  Well, most charters aren't run by for-profit companies, so that's pretty much a red herring.  NCLB didn't invent or have any real direct impact on creating more charters (charter funding preceded NCLB and there were very few charter conversions).  The transfer provision was used very little.  Far as I know, Pearson does not yet run any charter schools.  

Sure, NCLB was good for testing companies because it required annual tests for reading and math instead of the periodic  ones of the past.  But this isn't news, really.  It isn't even new anymore.  Collins is trying to gin up outrage like so many others are.  But my feeling is that outrage should be reserved for truly outrageous situations.  Of which there are many.  But not this one.  

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.