Monthly Archives: February 2014

Improving Struggling Schools – Houston’s Apollo Program

19 of 20 principals were replaced, as were 45 percent of the teachers

The Houston school district’s Apollo program could more effectively improve struggling schools if it extended intensive tutoring sessions beyond math to include reading studies, an independent review concludes.

But even as Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium hailed 2010-2011 middle school math gains in the Apollo schools, which increased sharply over the previous school year, it noted that the test score increases were much smaller the following year. Middle school gains in reading were unimpressive in both school years, the review found.

“The reported effects on math gains are good but not sustained,” the report said, “and the reported effects on reading gains are negligible. These limited effects must be considered in light of the cost and the sustainability of the program.”

The Rice researchers examined an earlier Apollo study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who was involved in creating Apollo for the Houston Independent School District. Fryer’s conclusion that the gap between white and minority students in math achievement could be closed in three years is “problematic,” according to the Rice review.

The review also questioned the impact of restructuring faculty and administration in the 20 Apollo schools. Nineteen of 20 principals were replaced as were 45 percent of the teachers, the study said.

Some of the reported improvements, the study said, likely “were a result of the initial shock experienced by teachers and principals, both old and new. If some of the gains observed in Year 1 of the program were due to this initial shock, they are unlikely to be sustained in subsequent years.”

The school district spent $52 million, much of it from grants and donations, on Apollo during the program’s first three school years. Almost $15 million from the district’s budget has been allocated for the current school year – about half of it earmarked for math tutoring. Students receive about an hour’s instruction daily from a cadre of college-trained math tutors.

The Apollo program, Superintendent Terry Grier’s signature initiative, has drawn national attention for its ambition to turn around long-struggling schools. But skeptics have questioned its cost, its focus on a limited number of students and the lasting effects of any test score gains.

Grier said the Rice review was welcome.

“These additional insights will help guide HISD’s work to critically evaluate the effectiveness of intensive interventions at low performing schools,” Grier said through a spokeswoman. “As the research team at Rice noted, increased instructional time, intensive tutoring and using data to inform instruction have helped lead to gains in student test scores at Apollo schools.”

Added HISD board president Juliet Stipeche, “A lot of folks want the program to work. There’s been a positive impact in the tutoring aspect. In terms of the other ones, every program in HISD should be carefully scrutinized to determine if it’s having the positive impact on students that we expect.”

Stipeche said aspects of the program that are beneficial should be replicated; those that are not should be de-funded.

Former board president Anna Eastman, who favored an independent review of Fryer’s initial study, noted that funding for the program is limited.

While grants and donations aided the early efforts, she said, “Going forward it will be funded with taxpayers’ money.”

The study, she said, confirmed that targeted tutoring can achieve higher test results.

“We need to ask further questions about persistence (of the gains),” she said. “Is the tutoring building skills and knowledge that build stamina on tests or is it just targeted toward tests?”

School board member Manuel Rodriguez Jr. said he would favor adding reading programs.

“We have more than just the Apollo schools that could benefit from tutoring in math and literacy,” he said. “We can’t just throw money at one group of schools and say that fixes the problem across the board.”

By Allan Turner
Houston Chronicle


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Georgia House passes several bills to help charter schools

Getting the money to start a charter school in Georgia could be a bit easier if a bill recently passed by the Georgia House of Representatives becomes law.
By Wayne Washington – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Getting the money to start a charter school in Georgia could be a bit easier if a bill recently passed by the Georgia House of Representatives becomes law.

House Bill 897, sponsored by Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, would allow the State Charter Schools Commission to set up a nonprofit foundation to assist charter schools.

Some school districts and individual traditional public schools already have such foundations to accept charitable contributions.

Money for facilities and to complete the paperwork associated with applying for a charter is a major roadblock for those who want to start a charter school. If HB 897 becomes law — it passed the House by a vote of 120-51 and is likely to find a receptive audience in the Senate — the State Charter Schools Commission would be able to set up a foundation that would use private contributions to give charter schools start-up grants.

Charter schools are public schools given organizational and instructional flexibility in exchange for a promise to pursue specific academic targets. Supporters see them as an alternative for students trapped in underperforming traditional public schools. Others say that charters are too often held up as a sort of cure for public education. They complain that the focus on them comes at the expense of traditional public schools, where the vast majority of Georgia students are educated.

There were 310 charter schools in Georgia during the 2012-2013 school year, according to an annual report on charters compiled by the state Department of Education. Most of those charter schools were approved by local school boards and share funding with the traditional public schools those boards oversee.

But 18 charter schools got their approval from the state, a number that could rise with more financial assistance.

Some public school groups have privately expressed frustration with the efforts of state legislators to assist charter schools.

In addition to laying the groundwork for more financial help for charters, H.B. 897 also established a specific threshold for when charter schools must be given the right of first refusal to buy underused school facilities from school districts. That aspect of the bill only covers charter schools approved by local school districts.

School districts would not be compelled to sell underused facilities. But they would have to give charter schools the right of first refusal in buying facilities where 40 percent or less of the facilities’ capacity is being used for student instruction.

Charter schools could buy those facilities at or below market value, HB 897 states.

HB 897 wasn’t the only charter bill the House passed this week.

House Bill 886 would require school districts and charter schools to hold at least two public hearings on proposed budgets. It passed the House by a vote of 164-3.

House Bill 405, passed by a vote of 155-20, would require charter school governing board members to undergo governance training. That’s already a requirement for school board members in Georgia.

“It is my belief that we ought to bring charter schools up to the same standards (as schools boards),” said Rep. Rahn Mayo, D-Decatur.

Charter school groups worked with Mayo in crafting the bill, and no one spoke against it on the House floor.

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Bibb County Superintendent Dallemand spent more than $26 million without required prior approval

Former Bibb County School Superintendent Romain Dallemand repeatedly violated school board policy by ordering more than $26 million in technology equipment and services without required, prior approval from the board, according to a 2013 audit of the school system.


One of those purchases — for nearly $3.8 million — was for 15,000 virtual desktop devices. Now, more than a year after they were ordered, about 14,800 of the devices still sit unused in a Bibb County warehouse. The order was placed without bids and without prior board approval, the audit said.

But that’s just a sample of the scathing report, scheduled for presentation to the school board this afternoon by the system’s auditor, Mauldin & Jenkins. In some cases, the system is now trying to cut its losses — involving millions of dollars from sales tax proceeds — by trying to resell both hardware and software that it can’t or hasn’t used.

Over the seven months in question, July 2012 to February 2013, Dallemand “authorized, directed and coerced staff to make transactions that were in violation” of board policies, said the audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013. The Telegraph obtained the audit through an Open Records Act request.

The audit lists the cause of the violations as an “apparent reckless disregard by the former superintendent for existing school district procurement policies established by the board of education.”

Attempts to reach Dallemand, who left the school system a year ago after the board bought out his contract for $350,00, plus benefits, were not successful. The Telegraph also tried to reach one of his former lieutenants, Suzanne Griffin-Ziebart, for comment. Griffin-Ziebert, who served as interim superintendent after Dallemand departed, took a job in Minneapolis, Minn., last year.

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Testing To, and Beyond, the Common Core

New assessments can support a multiple-measure framework to deepen teaching and learning.
By Linda Darling-Hammond
Principal, January/February 2014

After more than a decade of test-driven, high-stakes accountability in the No Child Left Behind era, many educators and policymakers in the United States are looking to move toward a more thoughtful approach. Rather than maintaining a system that uses narrow measures of student achievement to sanction poorly performing schools, the push is now to implement next-generation learning goals that encourage higher-order thinking skills.

The driving force behind this shift is the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts and mathematics. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. State-led initiatives—such as the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Career Technical Core—are next in line.

A critical piece in this roadmap will be new assessments, which have the potential to give school leaders new and better tools to guide instruction, support teachers, and improve outcomes. Assessment decisions will have a big impact on principals, who know the difference between leading a school constrained by punitively used tests that fail to measure many of the most important learning goals, and a school that uses thoughtful assessments to measure what matters and inform instruction.

If we are to achieve 21st century standards for learning, it is critical that these new assessments:

  • Are much broader than the standardized tests of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era. They must measure the full range of higher order thinking skills and important education outcomes, including critical thinking, communication, collaboration, social-emotional competence, moral responsibility, and citizenship.
  • Are part of a framework that considers multiple measures of valued outcomes in all decisions about students, educators, and schools. As advised by the Psychological Standards on Testing, decisions about student promotion, placement, and graduation—as well as teacher, principal, and school evaluation—should never be based on a single test, but on a combination of classroom and school measures appropriate to the students, curriculum, and context of the decision.
  • Become part of a new accountability system that replaces the old test-and-punish philosophy with one that aims to assess, support, and improve. Tests should be used not to allocate sanctions, but to provide information, in conjunction with other indicators, to guide educational improvement.

Moving Beyond NCLB
When it comes to student testing in the United States, it is clear that changes are needed. The public doesn’t trust most tests in use today. In the 2013 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, only 22 percent of respondents said increased testing had helped the performance of their local schools, a decrease from 28 percent in 2007. More striking, 36 percent of those questioned said the testing was hurting school performance; 41 percent said it had made no difference.

Educators are also increasingly leery of current assessments and how they are used. Last year, Primary Sources: 2012, a report by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation, found that only 28 percent of educators see state-required standardized tests as an important gauge of student achievement. In addition, only 26 percent of teachers say standardized tests are an accurate reflection of what students know.

This collective skepticism is a reaction to a decade of tests that almost exclusively emphasize low-level skills. A growing number of parents and educators are uncomfortable with the fact that today’s students are drilling for multiple-choice tests geared to the expectations of the past. It’s in this context that CCSS offer an opportunity to pivot toward a richer and more rigorous system of assessment.

An Opportunity to Improve Assessment Systems
Because the CCSS are intended to be “fewer, higher, and deeper” than previous standards, they have created a natural opening for the development and adoption of better assessments of student learning. The assessments developed by two new multi-state consortia could move us toward more informative systems that include formative as well as summative elements, evaluate content that reflects instruction, and include some challenging open-ended tasks.

These assessments, though, will not include all necessary tasks and skills for students, such as long-term research and investigation tasks or the ability to communicate orally, visually, and with technology tools. These kinds of tasks are needed to develop and assess students’ abilities to find and use information to solve problems, explain different approaches to a problem, and explain and defend their reasoning. That is why some schools, districts, and states are developing more robust performance tasks and portfolios as part of multiple-measure systems of assessment. In addition to CCSS-aligned consortia exams, multiple measures could include:

  • Classroom-administered performance tasks (e.g., research papers, science investigations, mathematical solutions, engineering designs, arts performances);
  • Portfolios of writing samples, art works, or other learning products;
  • Oral presentations and scored discussions; and
  • Teacher rating of student note-taking skills, collaboration skills, persistence with challenging tasks, and other evidence of learning skills.

These activities not only engage students in more intellectually challenging work that reflects 21st century skills, they also serve as learning opportunities for teachers, when they are involved in using the assessments and scoring them together. Priti Johari, the redesign administrator for Chelsea High School in Massachusetts notes about her school’s efforts:

Our work of creating common performance assessments and rubrics and scoring them across classrooms has created a culture of inquiry and a collaborative atmosphere… This is a result of our process of learning about the Common Core, unpacking standards, writing lesson plans and tasks, sharing those plans, giving each other feedback, creating common rubrics, and collectively examining student work.

Two decades of research has found that when teachers use, score, and discuss the results of high-quality performance assessments over time, both teaching and learning improve. Teachers become expert in their practice and more attuned to how students think and learn. Meanwhile, students learn to internalize standards and improve their own work, as they work on tasks guided by rubrics against which they self-assess and are assessed by peers and teachers.

In New Hampshire, where the new accountability system will rely substantially on a bank of complex performance tasks developed and scored by teachers with support from the state, deputy commissioner Paul Leather explains, “We want to move forward on a continuum toward deeper assessment that is more challenging for students and teachers. We are aiming eventually to have a system where the students create their own tasks and teachers score them with common rubrics.”

If used wisely, performance assessments have the potential to address multiple important education goals through one concerted investment. Not only will pedagogical capacity be enhanced, but assessment will remain focused on its central purpose: the support of learning for all involved.

Supporting Better Teaching
In addition to supporting professional development, high-quality performance assessments can be part of a basket of evidence about student learning for teacher evaluation. Assessments that provide direct evidence of what students can do related to the specific curriculum they are taught can be more accurate and productive than the value-added metrics based on state test scores that are currently popular.

Although the idea of measuring teachers’ contributions to student learning through gains on standardized tests is appealing—and has been very valuable for large-scale studies— it turns out that, at the individual teacher level, value-added models (VAM) have many pitfalls. These are particularly problematic when state tests are used.

In addition to the fact that the tests are narrow and do not measure higher-order thinking skills, researchers have found that value-added models of teacher effectiveness are highly unstable: Teachers’ ratings differ substantially from class to class and from year to year, as well as from one test to the next. This is in part because there are many other influences on student gains other than individual teachers, and in part because teachers’ value-added ratings are affected by differences in the students who are assigned to them, even when statistical models try to control for student demographic variables.

In particular, teachers with large numbers of new English learners and other students with special needs have been found to show lower gains than the same teachers when they are teaching other students. This, in turn, is partly because—due to rules under NCLB—state tests are designed to measure only grade-level standards, which means they cannot assess growth for students who are either below or above grade-level, since there are no questions on the tests that are designed to measure that content.

As a result, VAM results can be extremely inaccurate for teachers. Consider, for example, the case of Carolyn Abbott. Ms. Abbott was a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at a New York school for gifted students. Beloved by students and parents alike, in 2010 her seventh graders scored at the 98th percentile on the city math test, many already hitting the top score (and thus unable to show growth). When she had these same students in eighth grade the next year, where they mostly worked on high-school level material, all of them passed the tenth grade Regents test and fully one-third had perfect scores.

There was a problem, though: Although they did extremely well, Ms. Abbott’s students hadn’t shown “growth” on the eighth-grade state test, because it could not measure what they had learned beyond the grade level. This fact led to her being ranked as the worst eighth-grade math teacher in New York City on the value-added metric. Although her principal thought she was a great teacher and wanted her to stay, the rules for tenure in New York stood in the way. Ms. Abbott left to enter a Ph.D. program, and public education lost a great teacher.

This case is not unusual. A minority of teachers actually teach classrooms of students who are all achieving at grade level. The solution is to develop a basket of evidence about student learning gains that is appropriate for the curriculum and the students being taught. In Ms. Abbott’s case, for example, her basket of evidence might have included the tenth grade Regents test, perhaps with a pre-test she had designed to evaluate student needs at the beginning of the year and growth by the end of the year. It could also have included pre- and post-tests from a particular unit she wanted to focus on improving, and evidence from students’ interdisciplinary math/science projects, designed to allow them to apply mathematics in a real world context. This would inform the entire teacher team working on the projects together.

A number of states and districts have devised multiple-measures approaches to teacher evaluation that combine classroom observations with a basket of evidence about student learning, as well as evidence about professional contributions. Sometimes, teacher teams work on their targets and strategies together, enhancing collaboration more powerfully. These kinds of systems also improve student learning, as teachers set goals on meaningful targets that they track using authentic evidence that emerges directly from classroom work. I discuss these systems in my 2013 book, Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: What Really Matters for Effectiveness and Improvement.

Toward Assessments That Improve Learning
Assessment can be, and should be, instructive for educators. A 21st century education system has no place for the antiquated distinction between teaching and testing. Modern assessments should provide valuable information to educators on their practice as well as insights about how individual students are doing.

In the coming years, principals will have a chance to help construct systems of assessment that help improve learning—for teachers, parents, students, and policymakers. Questions that principals might ask themselves in this new era include:

  • How can we engage students in assessments that measure higher order thinking and performance skills—and use these to transform practice?
  • How can these assessments be used to help students become independent learners, and help teachers learn about how their students learn?
  • How can teachers be enabled to collect evidence of student learning that captures the most important goals they are pursuing, and then to analyze and reflect on this evidence—individually and collectively— to continually improve their teaching?
  • What is the range of measures we believe could capture the educational goals we care about in our school? How could we use these to illustrate and extend our progress and successes as a school?

For principals, the new focus on high-quality assessment represents a critical juncture. As instructional leaders and catalysts for change, principals can work with teachers to develop, select, and use more productive assessment options that can help improve instruction and guide school improvement.

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

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Spell Check – Ashley Bell

Riddled with grammar and punctuation issues, Ashley Bell
released his Press Statement yesterday. In an ongoing attempt to find Spell Check, Mr. Bell launched his campaign website and managed to misspell the office he is running for. John Barge, plagued with the same problem earlier this year, was not available for comment.

Said Jon Richards at the Peach Pundit, “We hope he has not yet ordered yard signs, push cards, bumper stickers, etc. with the errant spelling. Of course, it’s possible the new spelling will catch on.”

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Sharyl Dawes Announces Campaign for Georgia’s School Superintendent

Sharyl Dawes comes out of the gates today with a focus on minorities. Not too concerned about funding or graduation rates, Ms. Dawes believes Georgia needs to address the language barrier in education today. She wasn’t clear what she wanted to do about the parents in these situations, since communicating with the parent is usually the obstacle and not communicating with the student.

The following is her press release:

Feb. 26, 2014 – JOHNS CREEK – Sharyl Dawes, a former educator and former Chairman of the Gwinnett Republican Party announced her campaign today for Georgia’s School Superintendent in the Republican Primary. Sharyl Dawes was born on Travis Air Force Base in California, while her father served as a Major in the Korean Conflict. Dawes is a fourth-generation teacher, who earned an MBA and spent 26 years as a corporate executive – specializing in turning around projects which were not profitable or inefficient.

The Republican Primary for School Superintendent will be held on May 20th of this year and already is a crowded field – with six candidates currently vying for the seat. Dawes is the only candidate with experience as an educator, businesswoman and chairman of a Republican Party organization in a large Georgia County.

Dawes has spent nearly 20 years as an active PTA Legislative Liaison to the Georgia Legislature and is uniquely qualified to work with state government on behalf of schools. Under her leadership, her local PTSA in Johns Creek was recognized as Georgia’s “Most Outstanding High School PTSA.”

“One of my great concerns for Georgia’s schools is the inability to adequately teach our children because of the language barrier of many students,” said Dawes, “I plan to implement an ‘English Only’ policy for classroom instruction. This is not intended to be punitive – it is intended to prepare Georgia’s students for the competitive job market of the future. I also want to keep classroom instruction from being slowed down due a student’s inability to understand English.”

Sharyl Dawes and her husband live in Johns Creek with their two children. Michael Dawes attends Notre Dame Law School and Danielle will be a freshman at Duke University next fall.

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Fed Up With Zero Tolerance In Schools, Advocates Push For Change

In 2010, De’angelo Rollins got into a fight with a bully at his new middle school in Bryan, Texas. His mother, Marjorie Rollins Holman, says her shy son reported the bullying, but the teacher didn’t stop it.

By Laura Isensee
Georgia Public Broadcasting

De’angelo Rollins got into a fight with a fellow student at their middle school in Bryan, Texas. He was sent to the principal’s office and, later, adult criminal court.

In 2010, De’angelo Rollins got into a fight with a bully at his new middle school in Bryan, Texas. His mother, Marjorie Rollins Holman, says her shy son reported the bullying, but the teacher didn’t stop it.

Then it came to blows.

“The boy ended up hitting my son in the face first,” Holman says. “My son hit him back, and they got in a little scuffle.”

That scuffle landed her then-12-year-old son in the principal’s office and in adult criminal court after the school police officer wrote the sixth-grader a ticket.

“We end up paying for everything for our son and made sure he did everything the judge had passed down to him. But we were outraged,” Holman says. “We couldn’t believe that this was happening.”

Since the mid-1990s, schools have increasingly disciplined students with harsh tactics like suspensions and, in some cases, the criminal courts. Now, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction even in Texas, one of the most aggressive states in criminalizing students’ misbehavior.

The National Center for Youth Law in California ultimately took on De’angelo Rollins’ case. Attorney Michael Harris says momentum has also been building from many academic researchers for a more positive approach.

“All this stuff that the people who sold us ‘zero tolerance’ said it was going to do, none of those things turned out to be correct,” Harris says.

Studies show that zero-tolerance policies don’t help students who are removed from the classroom, or the students who remain. What’s more, multiple reports indicate schools punish black, Latino and disabled students more often and more harshly than others. Those students face a higher risk of falling behind or dropping out.

One study came from Texas Appleseed, a public interest law firm. Deputy Director Deborah Fowler says the researchers looked at data from the Bryan school district.

“We saw some very big disparities that would be hard to explain outside of … implicit bias and discrimination,” Fowler says.

African-American students there were four times more likely to get a ticket for minor misbehavior than other students, Fowler says. Even federal officials now say that racial discrimination in school discipline is real.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, along with the Justice Department, has issued new guidelines for schools to rethink discipline.

“We don’t want schools to have to wait. We don’t want schools to have to think about it,” says Catherine Lhamon at the Office for Civil Rights. “We want schools and districts to treat all of their students as valuable learners right now.”

Under the Obama administration, more schools have been investigated for possible discriminatory discipline than under previous administrations. The Obama administration has initiated 25 investigations, as compared with just one under former President George W. Bush.

There are also more than 1,600 complaints, including one against the Bryan school district.

Federal investigators will determine whether there was any discrimination there, but it doesn’t have to be intentional racism to count. Harris, the California attorney, says that there’s an implicit, even unconscious bias in society that’s also found in schools.

“The overwhelming majority of people in the country associate white with good, and black with bad,” he says. “Because we have adopted these stereotypes and it’s all of us, it doesn’t matter what race you are our implicit bias comes into play without us even realizing that that’s what’s going on.”

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