Archive for September, 2010

Closing schools need additional supports for homeless

Closing a school is never easy (even a bad one), but it’s being done with increasing frequency. In many large cities there are multiple factors that increase the need for school closure: 1) decreasing enrollment as populations shift  and students leave the city, 2) a concentration of low-performing schools, and 3) the increasing number of charter or magnet schools that may be higher-performing and create competition.

While closing a school might be the right decision, the consequences of such actions must be examined. Recently, the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness in NYC released a report on the negative effects of school closures on homeless students. Sarah Sparks of EdWeek writes, “The report also found homeless students transferring from a school were at greater risk of ending up in another low-performing school. That finding echoes that of a 2009 study on Chicago school closures, which concluded that the effect of having to shift to another school eliminated the benefit for students of closing the first low-performing school.”

This is precisely the issue that needs to be addressed. Action plans for all students attending a low-performing school slated for closure must be created to ensure future enrollment in a higher performing school. All students need such transition plans, but homeless students require additional guidance in what schools are available, what services are available, and they need district staff or social service agencies to oversee that  transition.

This is also a place that community and faith-based organizations can assist schools. A recent meeting sponsored by The White House, USED and CNCS highlighted how such organizations can assist in the school turn around process.

Closing a school can be a useful strategy in the education reform toolbox, but it cannot be done in isolation. Community leaders and district staff must come together to create transition plans for all students. I addition, follow through must be provided for those students most at-risk, and most likely to get lost in the system.


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Education news finally reaching the masses

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek recently published a great article, “How Obama is Making Real Progress on Education,” that discusses how RTTT has significantly impacted education reform in the last year, and how the democrats are finally getting on the ed reform train. While the article doesn’t go into tremendous detail about any of the specific issues, it’s about time that the mainstream publications/media are highlighting the truth about our education system. Some excerpts from the article:

In a meeting in Seoul, President Lee Myung-bak confided to Obama that his biggest problem in education was that South Korean parents were pressuring him to import more English teachers so their kids could learn English in first grade instead of having to wait until second grade. This is what we’re up against in global competition, the president said. “And then I sit down with U.S. reporters, and the question they have for me, in Asia, is ‘Have you read Sarah Palin’s book?’?” At that point Obama shook his head and said, “True story. True story.”

The good news, which should in-spire a little hope (though not the usual complacent overconfidence), is that the education-reform movement in the United States—the most critical social movement of our time—has made more progress in the last year than in the previous 10. The push for reform, which began with the 1983 government report “A Nation at Risk,” had been stymied for years by what’s sometimes known as “The Blob”—the collection of bureaucracies, school boards, and teachers’ unions committed to protecting the failed status quo. But Obama is the first Democrat who was elected president without the early support of teachers’ unions (they backed Hillary Clinton), and he has seized the opportunity.

Under pressure from teachers’ unions, many states had shackled charters, which operate outside the archaic contracts that make it nearly impossible to have longer school days, fire bad teachers, or turn around failing schools. It’s true that there are plenty of lousy charter schools that bring down the averages, but today’s renewed attacks on charters ignore the fact that the vast majority of the best-performing schools in at-risk communities are charters.

The key to saving kids and thus the future of the country is to foster good teaching. Perhaps the most important component of Race to the Top is the requirement that student performance be used as a partial factor in teacher evaluation. Instead of comparing schools—the apples-and-oranges centerpiece of President Bush’s unpopular No Child Left Behind program—Duncan aims to find out whether Johnny actually learned anything over the course of the year. It’s hard to believe, but until recently these so-called value-added data hadn’t even been collected.

All this reform has kicked off a family feud within the Democratic Party, and the forces of the status quo are fighting back. When a few House Democrats tried to gut Race to the Top, Obama issued a veto threat. Now Republicans want to prevent White House efforts to replicate the success of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone. For the first time ever, substantial numbers of Democrats back real reform, though important reformers like Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia face tough campaigns this fall.

The two major teachers’ unions have diverged recently. The American Federation of Teachers, headed by Randi Weingarten, even helped enact a teacher- tenure-reform bill in Colorado that’s a national model. By contrast, the hidebound Nation-al Education Association is still bitterly opposed to any accountability. Obama insists that education policy center on what’s good for students, not adult interest groups.”

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Front the front line

“I’m getting to know my counselor, but how she supposed to write about me when she don’t know me?” I received this text message this weekend, and it reminds me of the other side of school turnaround – what’s actually happening to the students. I’m working to help a group of Chicago Public Schools high school seniors apply to leading colleges & universities across the country. Many of the students attend magnet or charter schools in the city, but some go to the traditional public high schools, and experience all the cons of a school in (or, in need of) turnaround. This particular student attends one of the (historically) worst high schools in the city that is in year-1 of a turnaround effort.

Over the summer, athletic fields were improved, facilities were updated, and much of the staff changed. This student now needs a recommendation from a teacher and a guidance counselor to complete her college applications. Luckily, she is close to her debate coach, but the guidance counselor is brand new. Due to this program’s deadlines, college applications are due this Saturday. That gives a guidance counselor less than three weeks from the start of the school year to meet and get to know all students affiliated with this program – while also dealing with all of the other responsibilities of a counselor during the first few weeks of school.

This student has endured and survived one of the toughest schools in the city and she wants to go to college. This program will help her access colleges, universities, and potential scholarships, but she still needs the support of her teachers and counselors. When teachers are hired/fired/moved, students are shifted into small schools, and an administration is changed over the summer, how does this effect the students? In the long-run, students will likely receive better educations and opportunities, but what about the seniors? These students are so close to graduating (with or without the skills they should have), but what is the transition plan when all these changes take place over the summer? How do these changes negatively impact the opportunities for the students that are so close to making it out of the system (and succeeding despite the system)?

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United We Learn and The Education They Deserve

United We Learn is a grassroots organization that strives to promote equitable funding and opportunities for all students in Chicago and Illinois. The organization is launching a film, The Education They Deserve, on Sept. 16th at Northwestern University that highlights the disparities between some of the best Chicago-area high schools and some of the worst.

Vignettes of teachers, parents and students are used to compare and contrast the high school experience, in a Two Million Minutes-like style. One student states that her high school African American literature class used a 5th grade textbook for instruction. Students who attend the top public schools talk about their 30+ scores on the ACT, while students at some of the worst schools discuss their scores in the teens. One teacher states “The kids that are behind need the best gym, not the worst one.”

While it’s true that funding alone will not fix these schools, having financial resources definitely helps. The film accurately highlights the economic disparities of public school funding, but the real question is: what actions will state lawmakers take next?

A short version of the film is available now, and the full-length feature will be released next week.

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The end of an era…

Chicago Major Daley stunned the political world yesterday by announcing that he will not run for office again. There’s lots of discussion about who will run in the 2011 elections and takeover the city. Whoever wins has his/her work cut out: the city’s is in horrible debt, the violence issue is not getting any better, and much of the progress Arne Duncan made when he was in charge of Chicago Public Schools has been undone since he headed to Washington.

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CNN’s theme week: Fix Our Schools

CNN is highlighting the problems in our public schools and potential solutions in a back to school special this week. So far this week:

The firing and rehiring of teachers at Central Falls HS in Rhode Island. The story is skewed towards the teachers’ perspective, and lacks the other side [i.e. why the teachers were fired in the first place… chronic low-performance (7% proficiency in 11th grade math) and refusal to make concessions that would improve the school]. It may not have been the smoothest process, but at the time, it may have been the only viable way to make the changes that were so desperately needed. Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

Listen to what students have to say about what makes a good teacher.

Read about what award-winning teachers have to say about strategies to improve public schools.

Explore Charter Schools CEO & Founder, Morty Ballen, says the adults have to change first… We too often blame the kids and the families… We need to: 1) dig into data for each student, 2) look at resource allocation- change how we use time, 3) ensure that we have freedom around human capital. Charter schools serve 3.5% of our student population, but we need a more systemic solution. The approximately 5 minute interview barely gives Morty enough time to cover the broader ideas of HPHP schools, let alone provide solutions for how to scale up the best/promising practices into the entire public education system.

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