Tag: Broader Bolder Coalition


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Why Russ Whitehurst Gets It Mostly Wrong on Harlem Children’s Zone


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The Harlem Children’s Zone and it’s chief executive, Geoffrey Canada, have not only exemplified what school reformers can do when they take a community-based approach to improving education, but has…

The promise of the Harlem Children's Zone can be seen in Garry Kasparov playing chess with one of its Promise Academy students

The Harlem Children’s Zone and it’s chief executive, Geoffrey Canada, have not only exemplified what school reformers can do when they take a community-based approach to improving education, but has even spawned a movie, an American Express commercial, and the Obama administration’s Promise Neighborhoods program for tackling poverty and education. So naturally, the release of a report this week by the Brookings Institution criticizing the performance of one of the Harlem Children’s Zone’s charter schools (and by proxy, the underlying approach of Promise Neighborhoods) was certainly going to get some attention (along with a terse response from Canada himself). While Canada and the report’s co-authors, Russ Whitehurst and Michelle Croft, get to sparring, here is Dropout Nation‘s analysis of the report and the competing philosophies behind both Harlem Children’s Zone and the Brookings report:

  1. Certainly Harlem Children’s Zone can — and should — do better in improving student achievement in its schools: The fact that its Promise Academy does a better job of improving student achievement than traditional public schools in the community it serves isn’t enough, especially when those schools are abysmal in the first place. Harlem Children’s Zone isn’t just proving itself against those schools, but against other public charters that don’t offer such a wide array of services. More importantly, it comes down to this: Black and Latino children in its school have to do better than average because they often enter school so far behind academically. So Harlem Children’s Zone needs to take a hard look at its performance and get going on improving its outcomes.
  2. But the Brookings report argues unconvincingly that the model doesn’t work: The report doesn’t really attempt any sort of true longitudinal snapshot of academic progress at Promise Academy over time; there is some evidence that Whitehurst and Croft had opportunity to do some longitudinal analysis for grades six-through-eight (from 2007, 2008 and 2009 results), but the report doesn’t offer evidence that such an attempt was made. Certainly the analysis provided offers a sobering glimpse on Harlem Children’s Zone’s success and challenge. But it  also comes to some headline-grabbing conclusions about the program’s future success with incomplete analysis.
  3. The report also underscores an amazingly thoughtless conceit among Beltway school reformers — that grassroots networks don’t really matter: This may not be intentional on the part of Whitehurst and his co-author (or from folks such as Sara Mead), but it seeps through the entire piece. It is also quite incorrect. As Dropout Nation has argued ad nauseum this week, it is the very lack of bodies — especially networks of grassroots activists and churches — that has posed the single-biggest problem for Beltway-based reformers in sustaining their prescriptions for overhauling American public education. It isn’t enough to argue for policies: It also requires getting the hands dirty, working with the 51 million single parents, grandparents and immigrant families ready to embrace school reform (but who lack the resources, especially knowledge and guidance on what high quality education should look like, in order to make it a reality). Given the remaining strength of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and their allies on the ground, Beltway reformers need get into the grassroots game. This means understanding that you can’t solve educational issues without also working with those who understand the other social issues (and who can rally support around reform solutions). [By the way: There is also a major difference between the family empowerment through education  approach taken by Canada — who is a co-signatory on the Broader, Bolder manifesto Brookings so rightfully criticizes — and the rest of the crowd, who are defenders of traditional public education and argue that education cannot overcome poverty. Sadly, however, Whitehurst (an otherwise excellent researcher) and Croft neither notes those differences nor provides much nuance on any of this. They should have done so. Period.]
  4. But this doesn’t mean the Harlem Children’s Zone approach is for everyone: The idea behind Canada’s program is powerful and exciting, as is the promise and even the reality. It will serve well the children and families under its umbrella. But there are plenty of successful programs on the community end which can do the social services work better than any school reformer can; after all, there is something called comparative advantage. What Beltway-based school reformers can do (and, in the case of the grassroots-based reform counterparts already do) is form networks of organizations that can handle those social needs, then create data systems that can track how kids are doing over time. Easy to do? Not in the age of FERPA (traditional school districts don’t do this well). But school reformers have the resourcefulness to make this a reality.

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The Read


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All the news inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Updated throughout the day (new items and updates are marked with an *): Bad instruction + Bad parenting =…

At some point, Black America must say enough is enough when it comes to tolerating academic failure. The time must be now.

At some point, Black America must say enough is enough when it comes to tolerating academic failure. The time must be now.

All the news inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Updated throughout the day (new items and updates are marked with an *):

  • Bad instruction + Bad parenting = poor academic performance: How poorly did San Francisco’s black students in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade perform on the latest round of state tests? Reports the San Francisco Chronicle: “Special education students had slightly higher proficiency rates than black students in second-, third- and fourth-grade math as well as fourth-grade English.” No wonder why black middle class residents who can afford to move to Silicon Valley or to cities with better-performing school systems, do so. Educational genocide at work, dear folks. And this must stop.
  • Meet one of L.A. Unified’s worst dropout factories: Just north of Compton and near the famed Hancock Park, Jefferson High School has been blessed with a beautiful Art Deco building and an alumni list that includes diplomat extraordinaire Ralph Bunch, dance impresario Alvin Ailey and saxophonist Dexter Gordon. But the school has become more notorious for schoolyard brawls, being at the center of the battle between the district and charter school outfit Green Dot schools (which opened five charter schools surrounding Jefferson in response to parent complaints about the school) and pervasive academic failure. And during the 2006-07 school year, it has garnered the status of being one of the state’s worst dropout factories, according to the Associated Press. Six out of every ten freshmen leave school without a sheepskin, making it the worst-performing dropout factory among the academic roach motels run by L.A. Unified.
  • Public school choice? What public school choice*: Parents and students in Washington, D.C.’s woeful public schools just got notices that they qualify for the public school choice option under No Child, by which they can transfer from one failing school to a better one. But as the Washington Post reports, the parents already know that the choices they face in the school system are grim to none. And the notifications come out so late that the options aren’t available at all. As I’ve mentioned last week, public school choice doesn’t exist for most parents and students in any form.
  • Building for nothing: Back in 2001, Milwaukee Public Schools embarked on a $102 million building spree in order to create local schools and in order to eschew the more destructive elements of school busing. This despite the fact that the district, like so many urban systems, has seen three decades of declining enrollment. The results, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a three-part series, is, well, predictable: Students are still being bused to schools outside their respective neighborhoods; new additions and old buildings are sitting half-empty or — for the shame of the district — being rented out to private schools. And combo efforts such as building a church alongside another public school has gone awry, with both students and parishioners taking the hit.
  • The Milwaukee schools experience offers another reason for a new model: Over the past three years, I’ve floated something I call the Hollywood model for public education under which local school districts would move from becoming operators of schools and masters of academic instruction — a job which many people argue (and the evidence suggests), they don’t do so well — to becoming a dormitory authority similar to the state agency used in New York state to build colleges. Similar to the major motion picture studios (which rarely produce films, but focus on distribution and finance), school district would construct buildings, provide school lunch services and handle transportation services on behalf of public charter schools and private schools(none of which have the scale to do those jobs efficiently). The charter schools and private schools would become, essentially, become like small-shingle Hollywood studios, handling the instructional work that districts used to do. This embraces public education as being a system of financing the best options for every student, no matter their race or income, while maximizing the public dollars that are in place. The reality is that public school districts are actually pretty good in constructing buildings and moving people around, not so good at academic instruction or data systems. A Hollywood model of education may not be such a bad idea after all.
  • Speaking of building: Public school officials in New Orleans plans on building 28 new school buildings while selling off or otherwise jettisoning 50 others as part of a $685 million plan funded by FEMA funds, according to the Times-Picayune. The key part of the plan: A separate authority that would essentially build and manage the buildings on behalf of both the existing traditional public school system, the Recovery District of charters and traditional public schools run by the state and other entities. Essentially, this could be the Hollywood model at work — if the penchant of officials for corruption and sleaze  doesn’t trump the goal of efficient building.
  • Better middle schools, New York style: The Daily News offers some suggestions on middle schools that aren’t “middle of the pack.” Check it out.
  • A challenge*: Jay Greene asks the Broader, Bolder crowd to put their words to practice by coming up with a test model of their proposed community school concept. Save for Leo Casey’s response and a small missive from Lawrence Mishel, no response has been forthcoming from the group in response to other criticisms of their anti-accountability plan.
  • From my end*, Broader, Bolder is right to note that a better approach to the current public welfare system — one that offers some form of wrap-around help for families in need — is probably needed for the children coming out of poverty-minded homes. But schools cannot abdicate their responsibility for educating these children and preparing them for higher education and life. Good teachers can overcome other socioeconomic problems. But good instruction and rigorous curricula must first be provided by schools in order for this to happen.
  • And feel free* to check out my latest piece for The American Spectator, this time, on how Reason magazine’s rating of Chicago as the most nanny-statelike city in America doesn’t fully consider all the problems of the City of Broad Shoulders. For most people, the Second City’s status as first in the nation when it comes to corruption — along with its underperforming schools — is far more disconcerting than its anti-liberty coddling and toddling.

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The Read


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What is going on inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Updated throughout the day: Surprise, surprise: Poor black and other minority students in Texas are less likely to…

What is going on inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Updated throughout the day:

    1. Surprise, surprise: Poor black and other minority students in Texas are less likely to get highly-qualified teachers than students of all races in wealthier parts of the state, reports Gary Scharrar of the Houston Chronicle.
    2. Spend, spend, spend: The Wall Street Journal looks at spending by the national operations of the NEA and AFT. Given that teachers generally don’t have much choice but to join the unions — either on their own or agency fees that they pay even if they aren’t members — it is important to think about how the NEA and AFT spends the money of its rank-and-file. Especially — and more importantly — as the state and local affiliates lobby state legislators and policymakers for more favorable governance rules.
    3. Mike Antonucci has his own thoughts.
    4. Liam Julian on Affirmative Action: “Affirmative action hasn’t just somehow changed, somehow morphed, into a policy by which privileged whites can expiate past wrongs and rid themselves of guilt… These are what affirmative action has, in fact, always been about.” Credit Kevin Carey for this discussion.
    5. Is education devalued by rhetoric: So asks Mike Petrilli at Flypaper in a discussion about why education doesn’t always grab the attention of the average voter as other issues do. From where I sit, the problem lies in the reality that education is one of the few government goods everyone uses and therefore, each person thinks their experience is the norm. Suburban students who graduate from school, make it to college and succeed in the workforce, therefore, have difficulty understanding why their counterparts in urban schools don’t do so. Or why their parents keep them in those schools in the first place. Thus adding to the difficulty of selling the value of concepts such as vouchers and charters schools to suburbanites. And proving the point that people only know what they see and don’t care about what they don’t.
    6. Of course, it doesn’t help that some people think schools aren’t the problem: Just read the declaration of the Broader, Bolder Coalition, which proclaims that poor-performing schools aren’t the problem. Then read this polemic by Michael Holzman of the Schott Foundation for Public Education — who just oversaw the release of its latest annual report on low graduation rates for young black men — in which he declares that such schools are the problem. One of these folks knows better. The others, well, ignore most of the problem, thus weakening their argument altogether.
    7. Speaking of Schott: Joanne Jacobs offers some thoughts on the report, while commenters offer their own explanations for the academic woes of black males.
    8. In charts: Ken DeRosa explains the correlations between school spending and academic performance.
    9. Suburbia and School Reform, Part MMM: Chicago Public Radio takes a look at one effort to start a charter school in a suburban community — and why the effort is not taking hold. Until suburban parents recognize that their schools are often no better than some average-performing urban high schools, they will not embrace reform.
    10. Self-promotion, as always: The real reason why so many Americans aren’t reaping the benefits of free trade and globalization can be seen not in NAFTA, but in L.A.’s Hollywood High School and other schools in which academic failure has become the norm. Check it out today at The American Spectator.

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