Archive for December, 2010

Virginia school making progress

A school that’s part of a cohort of low-performing schools from Virginia (disclosure: that I’m working with through a contract with VDOE) is featured in a recent Washington Post article (posted  & linked below). Obviously, there’s still a great deal of work to do, but the major shift in the school environment is a very strong indicator of early improvements.

Low-achieving Va. high school turns crisis into challenge

When the bell sounded one autumn morning, the first-floor hallway at T.C. Williams High School was nearly empty. No lingering. No fights like last year’s [sic]. No one talking on cellphones or dragging in late to class. …

This time it’s a 21st-century struggle that began in March, when Alexandria’s only public high schoolwas labeled “persistently lowest-achieving” in Virginia because of lagging test scores among some of its 2,900 students.

Nine months later, the school has an energetic new principal, more order and discipline and a stronger emphasis on writing. Teachers set goals and get critiques. Counselors are assigned fewer students so that they can help devise detailed achievement plans for each one. There is a new math and writing center where students drop in for tutoring.

Read the rest of the article…

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Congratulations to the Chicago Posse cohort!

On Wednesday night, 85 Chicago students joined the growing ranks of Posse Foundation scholars across the country. The high school seniors received 4-year full tuition scholarships to leading colleges and universities, along with strong alumni and mentor networks and additional on campus supports. Over 2000 Chicago students were nominated for 85 slots at 8 schools.

Two of the students I’ve been working with through Chicago Scholars are recipients of Posse scholarships to DePauw and UW-Madison. Watching the students receive their formal letters of admission and a school sweatshirt was an amazing experience. Friends and family members cheered, students hugged the admissions representatives, and smiles filled the auditorium.

As an alumna of Denison University, it was thrilling to also see a new cohort of Chicago students that are headed to Denison in the fall. I was aware that the partner universities covered a large portion of the Posse cohort costs, but I didn’t realize that the universities funded the entire scholarships. From now on, my Denison donations will be given the Posse program on campus.

I couldn’t be more proud of the two students from the Chicago Scholars No Limits cohort who are headed to DePauw and UW-Madison.

On a side note: Kudos to the Noble Street Charter Network of schools. Posse lists all of the sending high schools and Noble Street-affiliated schools were the most frequent. Obviously, the Noble Street network is not only educating their students, but also nominating them for a variety of scholarship and other growth opportunities.

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Not surprising that charters weren’t more common

I’m not surprised that less than 5% of schools receiving School Improvement Grant funds chose the charter takeover model. See EdWeek’s Politics K-12 blog for more detail on which federally recommended improvement model schools selected. Why am I not surprised?

1) the districts usually write the SIG applications, so why (besides for the well-being of students) would a district choose to relinquish control over a school (and the money that comes with it)?

2) the SIG timeline was extremely tight. Efforts were supposed to begin this school year, so if a charter takeover was selected, it’d be logistically challenging (though not impossible) to transition a school during the school year and to potentially have the old failing school and the new charter school working in the same building.

3) Some states still don’t have charter laws, so it immediately takes that option off the table, especially in more rural states.

4) There’s a lack of good Charter Management Organizations who are willing to take on turnaround efforts, “new starts” are much easier than transitioning a chronically low-performing school.

A charter takeover may be “cleaner,” but it also requires a great deal of political will and community support to become successful. The charter takeover option may become more popular if some of the initial transformation and turnaround efforts aren’t successful.

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Are the schools you control good enough for your kids?

As the Chicago Mayoral election heats up, it was only a matter of time before the candidates were questioned about where they send their own children to school. For some reason, much of the public thinks it’s bad that a candidate/politician won’t send their children to the very schools that he/she is in charge of (in a mayoral controlled city). I disagree for many reasons, and have one major caveat.

First, the safety and security of the politician’s children must be taken into consideration. Can a public school provide the additional security that would be needed for these children? If so, who’s paying for it? If public dollars are used to fund the additional security, is the money being taken away from other students? What are the repercussions on the children if major changes are forced on the school (i.e. when Michelle Rhee fired the principal of the school her daughters attend in DC).

Second, there are some very good public schools in any large city, but it’s extremely challenging to gain admission to those schools (i.e. Waiting for Superman). Imagine the uproar if a politician’s children gain enrollment into one of the most competitive magnet/charter schools. Even if the students are admitted fairly via the lottery process, the public and media will question the validity of the process.

Third, if the students are not admitted to one of the better schools, they will be placed in a less-desirable school. The majority of parents (at any income level) want their children to attend a good school. If a parent has the ability to pay for a private education for his/her children and is willing to make that choice or sacrifice, why is that bad?

Caveat, if a politician sends his/her children to private school AND says that the public schools are good, that’s a problem. Actions do speak louder than words and it is not okay to state that the public schools are good enough for other people’s children, but not your own.

Most parents want a safe environment and strong academics for their children and politicians are no exception. Until the public schools are good enough for politician’s children, it is an indication that more reform and improvements are necessary. We cannot lessen the pressure until schools are good enough that people who can afford private school CHOOSE to send their children to public school.

See a related story in today’s Chicago Tribune.

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