Monthly Archives: November 2011

Teacher Stephanie Licker helps fifth-graders at Octavio Paz Elementary, the lowest performing school in the UNO charter network. (Antonio Perez/Tribune)

By Joel Hood and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune reporters

12:08 a.m. CST, November 30, 2011
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city leaders have long heralded charter schools’ innovative approach to education, but new research suggests many charters in Chicago are performing no better than traditional neighborhood schools and some are actually doing much worse.

More than two dozen schools in some of the city’s most prominent and largest charter networks, including the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), Chicago International Charter Schools, University of Chicago and LEARN, scored well short of district averages on key standardized tests.

In two of the city’s oldest charter networks, Perspectives and Aspira, only one school — Perspectives’ IIT Math & Science Academy — surpassed CPS’ average on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, taken by elementary schoolers, or the Prairie State Achievement Examination, used in high schools.

At Shabazz International’s DuSable Leadership high school on the South Side, just 7 percent of students met state standards on the PSAE. A few miles south, nine out of every 10 students at CICS’ Hawkins high school missed the state benchmark.

The dismal numbers are part of a new set of school report cards the state is releasing to the public Wednesday, results sure to reignite the debate over education reform one day before Chicago Public Schools is expected to release its long-awaited list of school closings for next year.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, acknowledged that maybe a dozen underperforming charter schools are in need of “substantial actions” that may include closing. But simply looking at how many students have met state benchmarks is not a fair assessment, he said; a more important indicator is student growth over time.

“We’re in this business because we want to prove that public schools can work,” said Juan Rangel, president of the politically connected UNO charter network, which operates nine schools in CPS and plans to open three more next year.

Addressing the failures at UNO’s lowest-performing school, Paz Elementary on the West Side, Rangel said: “We’re at a point where it’s do or die. We’re either going to put Paz on course … or we’ll have to consider whether this is a school we should keep open.”

Two years after Illinois lawmakers approved a more thorough accounting of charter school performance, the state has released data that will allow the public for the first time to see how individual charter schools are measuring up against traditional public schools.

The report cards are somewhat limiting, only looking at a school’s performance in 2010-11. But the trends show that despite their celebrated autonomy, discipline and longer school days, charter schools are struggling to overcome the poverty that so often hampers underperforming neighborhood schools.

Charters with the highest numbers of students from low-income families or those with recognized learning disabilities almost universally scored the lowest last year on state exams, a trend common throughout CPS.

One exception is the performance of high schools within the Noble Street Charter network, often touted by Emanuel and others as some of the best charters have to offer. Report cards show Noble students did not reach the level of CPS’ elite selective enrollment or magnet schools on the PSAE, but did score on par with state averages — a notable feat for any school in CPS.

But even charters’ staunchest supporters admit that success has not been widespread across all schools. New Schools for Chicago, which invested in dozens of charters after then-Mayor Richard Daley launched a massive charter expansion program in 2010, has compiled a watch list for poor-performing charters that they’ve turned over to CPS.

“In general for charters that have been around for more than five years and not performing, we’re supporting their closure or restructuring of these schools,” said New Schools Chief Executive Phyllis Lockett. “At the end of the day, we need the bar set on what achievement needs to look like.”

Over the last decade, the number of charter schools, which are publicly funded but have relative freedom in decision-making, has grown to 110, and they have become a force in Chicago’s crowded public school system.

A report to be released Wednesday by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution ranks CPS second among large urban districts in providing choices for parents aside from traditional neighborhood schools. Expanding those options is a major point of emphasis for Emanuel and CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard.

But the majority of charter schools in Chicago and around the U.S. rely on nonunion teachers, who are frequently paid lower wages and asked to work longer hours. That has led to friction with powerful teachers unions, who accuse charter networks of devaluing the profession by driving down salaries and of stripping public money from long-standing neighborhood schools.

“Charter schools, quite frankly, have shown no innovations in instruction,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “The only innovation they have is in labor management where they can afford to pay a significantly lower amount to their teachers.”

Whatever their flaws, charters have a unique advantage over other public schools in their ability to make wholesale changes quickly at schools dogged by poor performance.

Paz has replaced its principal and about 50 percent of its teaching staff and lengthened its school year by 17 days in the last two years, Rangel said. Chicago International Charter, which oversees 16 campuses in CPS, last year removed the management organization responsible for day-to-day operations at five schools.

“That’s a very serious thing on our end; it’s definitely not something that’s taken lightly,” said Christine Poindexter-Harris, chief data analyst at CICS. “But it’s really done with the thought that if you can’t provide the best education for our students then we need to find someone who can.”

At Aspira of Illinois, which operates two high schools and one middle school that perform below district averages, officials recently shook up the board of directors and have plans to grow. They hope to open another campus in Logan Square in 2013, said new board President Fernando Grillo.

“We’ll never be in a position to say charters are the magic bullet to the public schools,” Rangel said. “But there is something special happening in them that we should be paying attention to.”


CaseClosed2: What people don’t seem to realize is that charter schools aren’t the magic bullet per se, any school can achieve good results if everyone including parents, teachers, students and anyone else who could make a positive difference in a child’s life are needed to see good results. Schools must be stedfast in ensuring every student succeeds and does whatever is necessary to make that happen.

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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Education News


Teach For America Grows

MIAMI — In a distressed neighborhood north of Miami’s gleaming downtown, a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced instructors from Teach for America is trying to make progress where more veteran teachers have had difficulty: raising students’ reading and math scores.

“These are the lowest performing schools, so we need the strongest performing teachers,” said Julian Davenport, an assistant principal at Holmes Elementary, where three-fifths of the staff this year are Teach for America corps members or graduates of the program.

By 2015, with the help of a $50 million federal grant, program recruits could make up one-quarter of all new teachers in 60 of the nation’s highest need school districts. The program also is expanding internationally.

That growth comes as many districts try to make teachers more effective. But Teach for America has had mixed results.

Its teachers perform about as well as other novice instructors, who tend to be less successful than their more experienced colleagues. Even when they do slightly better, there’s a serious offset: The majority are out of the teaching profession within five years.

“I think ultimately the jury is out,” said Tony Wagner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and an instructor to the first class of TFA corps members.

Teach for America teachers work with not just the poor, but also English language learners and special education students. They provide an important pipeline of new teachers. But critics cite the teachers’ high turnover rate, limited training and inexperience and say they are perpetuating the same inequalities that Teach for America has set to eradicate.

“There’s no question that they’ve brought a huge number of really talented people in to the education profession,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income and minority children, and a longtime supporter of TFA.

But, she said, “Nobody should teach in a high poverty school without having already demonstrated that they are a fabulous teacher. For poor kids, education has to work every single year.”


Wendy Kopp started Teach for America while studying public policy at Princeton. For her senior thesis, she developed a plan to place top college graduates in the poorest schools. She sent the plan to dozens of Fortune 500 executives. Within a year, she had raised $2.5 million and had 2,500 applications.

Over the past 20 years, thousands of recent college graduates have taught for two years in some of the most challenging classrooms in hopes of helping close the achievement gap. Applications have doubled since 2008. Foundations have donated tens of millions.

With Teach for America’s guidance, groups are being established in India, Chile and other places with deep educational inequalities.

Many countries, including those where students perform higher in math and reading, send the strongest and most experienced teachers to work with the lowest performing students. The U.S. has done the reverse. There are nearly twice as many teachers with fewer than three years’ experience in schools where students are predominantly low income and minority.

Family income is one of the most accurate predictors of how well a student will perform. Just 18 percent of low-income eighth-grade students, for example, scored as proficient or above in reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“When we started this 20 years ago, the prevailing notion backed up by all the research was socio-economic circumstances determine educational outcomes,” Kopp said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’ve seen real evidence it does not have to be that way.”

How to overcome the challenges of poverty is at the center of the debate over education reform, with an increasing focus on effective teaching.

Highly effective teachers are hardest to find at the least advantaged schools.

“The reality, particularly in urban centers in America, is they aren’t there,” said Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, who served as the founding director for Teach for America in New York City.


Teach for America believes it can create a corps of such teachers in a short time.

Research, however, shows that beginning instructors improve with experience.

A Harvard study of students in Texas found that a teacher’s level of education, experience, and scores on licensing exams have a greater influence on student performance than any other factor. North Carolina research on teacher training programs, including Teach for America, showed that elementary students taught math by a first-year teacher lose the equivalent of 21 days of schooling compared with students who had teachers with four years of experience.

If inexperienced teachers don’t perform as well, then why pair them with students who struggle the most?

“When they started, we were staffing our high poverty schools … with anything that breathed,” said Haycock. But, she added, “Saying their solution is better than what came before it is not to say it’s the right thing.”

Wagner noted that his master’s degree in teaching from Harvard hardly prepared him for the challenges of being a first-year teacher. “Unless and until we have a dramatically different system, and a universally high quality system for preparing teachers, I think TFA is a stop gap, and an important one,” he said.

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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Education News


For These Teachers It’s More Than Money

** FILE ** Kaya Henderson (Rod Lamkey/The Washington Times File)

The National Education Association has responded to a D.C. proposal to give city teachers a bonus to transfer to underachieving schools by saying money is not what motivates great educators.

Association President Dennis van Roekel says his group has conducted focus groups on what gets a teacher to leave one building for another, and “money is not” the determining factor.

“The most common answer is, ‘I want a real good principal, a leader,’ ” Mr. van Roekel told The Washington Times. “A good principal is like a magnet; a bad principal is like same poles.”

Legislation before the D.C. Council would offer a $10,000 bonus and other financial incentives to “highly effective” teachers who agree to transfer to “high-need” schools. Sixteen states offer similar programs with various incentives, including tax breaks and housing assistance.

The bill’s sponsor, council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, says the three-year pilot program for as many as 20 teachers would give four high-need schools — two of which must be middle schools — a boost. It also would reassure instructors who worry that teaching in schools with lower test scores will impact their evaluations, his office said.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said his goal is to help students in underachieving schools, not force teachers to leave their current schools.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is scheduled to testify on the measure Dec. 14 at a hearing before Mr. Brown’s Committee of the Whole.

While Ms. Henderson has not signaled what she will say, she has indicated her desire to work with Mr. Brown on “creative solutions” to getting effective teachers in the neediest classrooms.

“Similar kinds of incentive programs have been attempted across the country, so we should be careful not to make the same assumptions or fall into the same traps as districts who have tried this before, and failed,” Ms. Henderson said. “I am especially concerned about the assumption that teachers are interchangeable. Because someone is successful in one context, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in another context.”

She said teachers must be treated as professionals whose input is critical to forming a plan.

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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Education News


Yes, It’s Cool To Be Smart

The president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Freeman Hrabowski, was profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes last night in a segment that focused on the great work he’s done in the areas of science and math at his university

Hrabowski: An educator focused on math and science

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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Education News


Black Students Lack Basic Skills?

About 90 years ago, one-quarter of service members drafted to serve in World War I could not read. As a result, American Education Week was founded to urgently boost American literacy. Today, it’s critical that we continue this focus on reading skills.

This month’s reading results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” reveals some progress on student performance by scores and its three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.

In fourth grade, the percentage of black students at each of those levels was higher in 2011 than in 1992. And for eighth grade, black students had higher percentages at Basic and Proficient over this same time period. At both grades, reading scores were higher in 2011 than in 2009 for black, white, and Hispanic students.

See Also: Hitch A Trip To The Windy City Also Known As Chicago, Illinois

However, there is an alarming fact seen in NAEP reading: 51 percent of black fourth-graders and 41 percent of black eighth-graders fall below Basic, which indicates partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at each grade level. How can any student reading below a Basic level — regardless of race or ethnicity — be prepared to learn in other subjects?

Across the country, the achievement gap between white students and black students persists. On NAEP reading in both grades, that gap is 25 points. It’s a reduction compared to what we saw in 1992, but that’s not much of a victory.

Read more at TheGrio

CaseClosed2: If black students are lacking basic skills, then who is responsible? I say, the teachers, the students and the parents are responsible. They haven’t taken the steps needed to achieve which are applying themselves to accomplish, paying attention in class, doing homework and speaking up in class and saying they don’t understand what is being taught. Getting educated doesn’t come easy, you have to put in the work and when you do, you will reap the rewards and benefits. There is no excuse to not be educated and know basic skills.Parents must be diligent in making certain their children are prepared to achieve by doing whatever it takes to make it happen.When measures are applied to achieve, there’s n reason a black student should fail. He is capable just like anyone else when given the tools necessary to achieve.

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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Education News


Probe Into School Discipline

The NAACP is urging Indiana officials to examine the discipline procedures in the state’s schools.

The organization says discipline data it reviewed in Marion County school districts indicate the schools with the largest African-American populations suspended Black students in twice the proportions one would expect based on population.

In addition, the group also found that the Back students were often disciplined for “attitude problems” like insubordination, while white students were typically only disciplined for specific offenses such as drug possession or vandalism. Although a 2004 state law prohibits disproportionate discipline, its mandate is discretionary and does not require any specific action from schools to stem the problem.


CaseClosed2: Not only is the strict discipline of black students;mainy black boys scrutinized more for the least little thing than white students, the discipline is doled out by white teachers who don’t have a clue about the black experience and what it means to be African American in the United States of America.

In addition, while watching The X Factor the other night, I took offense to Simon Cowell calling out the young African American boy on the show for his attitude. Whites don’t understand why blacks have attitudes and it’s mainly because of the treatment they receive by whites. However, no longer are blacks turning the other cheek and keeping quiet about the maltreatment and racist treatment they receive. Simon didn’t know why the boy had an attitude and when the boy explained if he’s in the bottom to possibly be eliminated from the show, he didn’t want to sing, he had the right to express what he felt without being called out by Simon Cowell on national television. Coping with racism in America isn’t easy and sometimes the frustrations of dealing with it comes to the surface and not always in a calm way.

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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Education News


Say It Is’t So

Smart children are much more likely to use drugs as adults, according to a new study of 8,000 people in Great Britain. (Shutterstock) High IQ Children Grow Up to Be… High

Kids who score well on IQ tests more likely to score drugs as adults

By Mark Russell, Newser Staff

Smartypants kids are much more likely to use all sorts of illegal drugs as teenagers and adults, according to a new study of 8,000 Brits born in 1970. Five-year-olds who scored high IQ scores were more likely to have tried marijuana by age 16, reports the LA Times, and by age 30 high-IQ men were 46% more likely to have used amphetamines in the past year and 65% more likely to have used ecstasy. High-IQ women at age 30 were twice as likely to have used cocaine or marijuana in the previous year.

“High-IQ individuals have also been shown to score highly on tests of stimulation seeking and openness to experience,” wrote the researchers, who hypothesize that “illegal drugs are better at fulfilling a desire for novelty and stimulation.” They also suggested that the increased drug use could be tied to the tendency for high-IQ young people to be bored or teased.

CaseClosed2: That’s right, damage a kid’s potential before he’s has a chance to live his life as an adult. SMH

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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Education News


Education Today

A lesson on today’s education By GENE LYONS | Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2011

Three mildly heretical thoughts about American education: First, given the impossible assignment we’ve given them – an egalitarian mission in a nation rapidly growing more stratified by income and class – American public schools are probably doing a better job than they ought to be. One big reason is greater professionalism among teachers. A lot has changed since I wrote a Texas Monthly article documenting the awful state of teacher education back in 1979, mostly for the better.

Despite melodramatic pronouncements to the contrary by sundry politicians, tycoons, tycoon/politicians and media-enhanced “reformers” like former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, the available evidence shows American students performing steadily better on standardized assessments of educational progress over the past 30 years.

“The only longitudinal measure of student achievement that is available to Bill Gates or anyone else,” writes Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, “is the National Assessment of Educational Progress.” Scores on the NAEP have trended steadily upward to where the most underprivileged African-American children do better in eighth grade reading and math today than white students did back when the measurements began in 1978. But no, they haven’t caught up because white kids’ scores have improved too.

This doesn’t mean the United States is turning into Finland or South Korea, to mention two small, ethnically homogeneous nations education reformers like to cite as (quite contrary) examples of how to proceed, but it does indicate that much doomsday rhetoric we hear from the likes of Rhee and Education Secretary Arne Duncan is predicated upon false assumptions.

Yes, we could be doing better; no, the sky’s not falling.

Second heretical thought: very little good can come from treating teachers like part-time cashiers at an underperforming Walmart outlet. I was moved to this observation by a sad, mordantly funny account by New York Times education columnist Michael Winerip about Tennessee’s brilliant new, Obama-approved scheme for teacher evaluation.

Dubbed “First to the Top” by Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, the plan reads like something from Joseph Heller’s satirical novel “Catch-22” – a bureaucratic morass so confounding as to invite disbelief.

Surely Winerip’s exaggerating. Anybody who thinks about it for 30 seconds can readily see problems in evaluating teachers according to their own students’ test scores. But basing tenure decisions and pay raises on how other people’s students perform? Yet that’s exactly what Tennessee’s doing.

In deference to the bureaucratic god of false objectivity, Tennessee demands hard numbers where none exist. Little kids have no standardized test scores, so kindergarten through third-grade teachers there are evaluated by fifth-graders’ results. Seriously.

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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Education News


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Satisfaction guaranteed…

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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Education News


Isn’t This The Truth

“When it comes to giving Americans equal opportunity, our schools are demonstrably failing at their task,” writes Andrew Rotherham. (Shutterstock)
Occupy School Districts, Not Wall Street

They contribute just as much to inequality: Andrew Rotherham

By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff

Posted Nov 17, 2011 1:26 PM CST

(Newser) – Wall Street is an easy target, but if protesters really want to improve social mobility in America, they should be occupying the school districts. “There is perhaps no better example of how the system is rigged against millions of Americans than the education our children receive,” writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. Public schools may not be to blame for our struggling economy, but “zip codes remain a better predictor of school quality and subsequent opportunities than smarts or hard work. When you think about it, that’s a lot more offensive to our values than a lightly regulated banking system.”

Consider the fact that while only 8% of low-income students earn a college degree by age 24, a full three-quarters of affluent students do. Why? That’s where things get difficult, because there are many reasons, and they differ across the country. What matters is that politicians are “too wrapped up in ideology to acknowledge that no single solution … will fix our education system,” so we end up fighting “phony wars about teacher pay or No Child Left Behind” rather than taking real steps toward more fair school funding.

CaseClosed2: I couldn’t agree more with the writer of this article Evann Gastaldo. Our children are the future and will be making the decisions that will affect us in the future. Education in America should be a top priority and in some cases it is, but in some cases it isn’t especially when good teachers don’t get the salaries they deserve. A quality education should be mandatory and no child should be left behind. The slogan sounds good, but it isn’t true.Many students are being left behind.

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Education News