Monday, November 29, 2010

After Class -- Commentary: November 23, 2010

November 23, 2010
By Scott Stephens
Catalyst Ohio

The Council of the Great City Schools issued a report earlier this month warning that the performance level of black male students in America's schools is a national catastrophe.

Among the report’s sobering findings: Some 50 percent of black male fourth-graders attending urban schools were performing below basic. One out of three black children live in poverty compared to one in 10 white children. Black males were nearly twice as likely as white males to drop out of high schools.

Ohio's not immune to those depressing numbers. But new numbers suggest the Governor's Initiative for Raising the Graduation Rate, a statewide program launched in 2007, is actually having remarkable success in erasing them.

The initiative, created by former Sen. C.J. Prentiss, was designed to lower the dropout rates of high-risk freshmen students in urban and rural high schools with the highest dropout rates. The kids were identified as “at-risk” because they failed two or more classes in core subjects during the eighth grade, were absent 36 or more school days, were suspended from school for five days or more, or were overage for their grade.

The students are given a mentor with whom they have daily contact. They also participate in field trips and other activities – a visit to a college campus, for example – that are beyond their normal realm of experience.

The early results of the program were promising. The promotion rate for black male freshmen at each of the 12 participating high schools in Cleveland rose the first year, in some cases by outstanding percentages. At John F. Kennedy High School, for instance, the promotion rate improved more than 56 percentage points in one year. At East High School, it improved nearly 36 percentage points. At Glenville High School, the improvement was some 23 percentage points.

Now, many of those freshmen who participated in the program are getting ready to graduate. I'm told that at John F. Kennedy, seven of the top-10 graduating seniors next spring are African-American males who participated in the program. In fact, some 77 percent of the kids who started the program in Cleveland are on track to graduate this spring – remarkable because the participants, by definition, were students likely to drop out.

"There's definitely proof positive that the governor and C.J. were right on the money," says Bob Ivory, former linkage coordinator for the program at JFK. 

A 2009 report by Policy Matters Ohio tracked the program's progress and concluded its cost-benefit is considerable. Students who complete their high school education go on to college and jobs. Too many who don't go to prison.

I think the Ohio initiative works because it addresses poverty rather than pedagogy. The Great Society programs of the 1960s that helped reduce the income gap between rich and poor Americans actually helped close the achievement gap in education. In 1975, the percentage of white, black and Latino kids who went to college was equal. That all started to fall apart when those programs were dismantled in the 1980s.

“Had we stayed on track, we would have actually erased the achievement gap,” Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond said recently.

It's not too late to stay on track with Ohio's initiative. Rarely does a program enjoy such dramatic success so quickly.


Speculation continues to swirl around the fate of Ohio's $400 million Race to the Top grant.

Federal officials have warned states they risk losing their grants if they stray too far from the plans they submitted. That became a worry in Ohio after governor-elect John Kasich vowed to scrap Gov. Ted Strickland's evidence-based education funding model – the mechanism for achieving the state's Race to the Top goals.

But on Monday, state education officials told the Board of Control they were confident they'd be able to implement Race to the Top regardless of what mechanism the state uses to fund education. However, Assistant State Superintendent Michael Sawyer said the feds want Ohio to put together a “transition plan” that will detail how the state plans to achieve Race to the Top goals under new state leadership.

The board on Monday approved a request to create appropriation authority of the Ohio Department of Education to spend the first $100 million of the grant.

Stay tuned.

“Children are the innocent victims of a very bad economy and a tough time.” -- Lorain schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson on the defeat of her district's levy. Lorain hasn't had a new operating levy in 20 years. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What other countries are really doing in education

By Valerie Strauss
The Answer Sheet blog, Washington Post
November 2, 2010
My guest is Sean Slade, director of Healthy School Communities, part of the Whole Child Initiative at ASCD, an educational leadership organization.

By Sean Slade

Are we moving forward or chasing our own tail?

As the education reform debate continues – and is fueled by educational documentaries, educational forums and manifestos - let’s take a moment to look at what these countries that we are propping up on a pedestal actually do.

For a while now we have been told that the United States is falling behind and that we must catch-up. As Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last Aug. 25:

Today, there are many different approaches to strengthening the teaching profession -- both here in America and in countries that are outperforming us such as Finland and Singapore.
Our competitors in other parts of the world recognize that the roles of teachers are changing. Today, they are expected to prepare knowledge workers, not factory workers, and to help every child succeed, not just the [ones who are] easy to teach.

If this is our goal then – to catch up with the rest of world - how do we get there? A logical step would be to at least look closely at educational underpinnings of the countries most commonly cited - Singapore, Finland and Canada - and replicate. 

Let’s take a quick look at what these countries are actually doing:


Prime Minister Lee of Singapore (Aug. 29, 2010): 

"I think we should do more to nurture the whole child, develop their physical robustness, enhance their creativity, shape their personal and cultural and social identity, so that they are fit, they are confident, they are imaginative and they know who they are.

"Every child is different, every child has his own interests, his own academic inclinations and aptitudes and our aim should be to provide him with a good education that suits him, one which enables him to achieve his potential and build on his strengths and talents. Talent means talent in many dimensions, not just academic talent but in arts, in music, in sports, in creative activities, in physical activities.

"We need to pay more attention to PE, to arts and music and get teachers who are qualified to teach PE and art and music. 

"Give each one a tailored and holistic upbringing, so you get academic education, moral education, physical education, art and a sense of belonging and identity. We aim to build a mountain range with many tall peaks but with a high base, not just a single pinnacle where everybody is trying to scramble up one single peak. And we are realizing this vision."


Timo Lankinen, Director-General, Finnish National Board of Education (Sept. 13, 2010):

"We are not actually talking a lot about numeracy or literacy, the agenda for change is more about increase of the arts and physical education into curriculum, and the highlight of 21st century skills or as we call them citizen skills.
"We have relatively small class sizes so there is the possibility to individualize that attention for each children (sic) ability to personalize ... but we have questions to ask ourselves, do we enable teachers and students to flourish enough, for example giving them individual aspirations, and engaging students so that there will be more experiential learning.

"Looking at basic education and success in PISA [Program for International Student Assessment] results, we have to bear in mind that children also participate in early childhood education ... which is mainly through play and interaction.

"We will be great when every student and stakeholder says for example ‘I love school’ and ‘I’m doing well in school’ – so it’s not only the subject knowledge we are seeking after."


Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, Canada, Sept. 13, 2010:

"It doesn’t matter how much money you invest, it doesn’t matter how much you want change -- you won’t get results unless you enlist your teachers in the cause of better education.

"We have worked hard to build a positive, working relationship with our teachers. We do not engage in inflammatory rhetoric. We do not use our teachers as a political punching bag. Public bickering undermines public confidence. 

"Policy development and implementation happen in dialogue with our education partners.

"We don’t always agree, but I am reminded of some of the best political advice I ever received. I got it from my mother, on my wedding day, she said: 'Whatever happens, keep talking.'

"So we keep talking to our teachers. I make it clear to them, and all our education partners, that our pursuit of improvement will be relentless. And there is no place to hide."

To summarize:

*More emphasis on the whole child, physical education, the arts, fostering talents and citizen skills.

*Less emphasis on numeracy and literacy or testing

*Greater respect for teachers, the profession and their role as partners in educational reform.

I wonder if these people would be interested in putting together a manifesto?