Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cardinal Sin?

To understand what nonsense this is, see the comparison of Ravenswood to other schools with comparable percentages of low-income and ELL students in Andy Rotherham's blog post, below.


This appears to be your classic "happy school", a phrase coined by Howard Fuller to describe the most dangerous type of school – not the handful of violent, gang-infested high schools, but rather the elementary schools that are safe and appear ok: the students are happy, the parents are happy, the teachers are happy, the principal is happy…  There's only one problem: THE KIDS CAN'T READ!!!  These are the schools that sail along, year in and year out (sometimes decade in and decade out), producing the kids who ultimately drop out of school and usually end up leading broken, ruined lives.  It is these schools that are far more numerous, harmful, and impervious to change than the Locke High Schools – and are exactly why we need strong measurement and accountability systems.


Thankfully, there's such accountability for Stanford's Ravenswood school because it's a charter school.  Hence, unlike district schools, it has to demonstrate that it's successfully educating kids or else it will lose its charter and close.  This kind of fair, firm accountability should apply to EVERY public school in America!


The real issues between the LDHs and the "no excuses" reformers revolve around structure, rigor, discipline and accountability (including testing) – or lack thereof.  Those five words, especially "testing", are anathema to the ed school types (with apologies to the handful of ed school folks who don't fall into this category), so they hate "no excuses" schools and it drives them crazy when such schools are highly successful – so much so that they won't even acknowledge the success, arguing (as LDH does implicitly in her quote) that it's due to creaming, forcing out underperforming students, etc.  Yes, to their discredit, some charter schools do this and it gives our movement a black eye, but I've been to WAY too many highly successful schools that are taking MORE than their local district's percentage of below-grade-level, low-income, minority, special ed and/or ELL students.


If LDH and her colleagues want to save Ravenswood and get a two-year conditional renewal (vs. having the school closed entirely), they need to abandon their failed experiment rooted in disconnected-from-reality ideology and go visit any number of amazing schools, some only a short drive away like KIPP Heartwood in San Jose.  Or to see amazing elementary schools, go to KIPP Shine in Houston (where the students, 70% of which are ELL (there goes your excuse, LDH), are among the highest performing in the state, with 100% of 3rd graders passing the Reading TAKS test and 99% passing the math), one of the Harlem Success Schools in NYC (where 100% of 3rd graders passed the math exam, with 71% achieving the top score of "4," ranking the school #1 out of all public charters in the state; and 95% passed the English Language Arts exam, with nearly a quarter achieving the top score of "4," ranking the school #2 out of all public charters in the state), or fly down to LA and visit KIPP Raices elementary school.  (I visited Heartwood and Raices (and many more) last fall – see pics at:; photos from one of my many visits to Harlem Success are at


In particular, for young kids, they should look at how KIPP Raices does DAILY assessments of kids' behavior, using this form, which has to be signed by a parent/guardian and brought to school the next day:posted at:


In addition, RAICES tests every child every WEEK – but not stupid, stressful, teach-to-the-test-and-encourage-gaming testing, but rather tests that the teachers and the principal develop internally.  For kindergarteners, one teacher tests each child, one at a time, while the other teacher does the usual activities with the other children.  It's not stressful for the kids – instead, they're proud to show off what they've learned.  For example, see the photo below where the teacher has a page of 20 words the kids have studied and points to each word, and the child says the word.  After all the students have been tested, all of the teachers and the principal review the results with each other and make adjustments accordingly.


It's not punitive or stressful for either the children or the teachers – the goal is the make sure that EVERY child is learning the material and progressing properly, and get extra help for the students who behind.  This like such an obvious approach that I asked the principal, Amber Young, why this didn't happen at every school, like the one she used to teach at when she was a TFA corps member.  She laughed and said in so many words that the union would never allow it, mainly because it would reveal who the ineffective teachers are…


PS—Here's another story Amber told me that I sent around last fall (


While I'm recounting KIPP stories, here's one more, which perfectly captures the horrors of big-city school system bureaucracies.  It was told to me by Amber Young (I'm sharing it with her permission), the kick-ass school leader of the first KIPP elementary school in LA, KIPP Raices.


Eight years ago or so, Amber was a first-year TFA corps member at your typical failing school in Compton.  There was a great principal, however, and she quickly identified Amber as not only a great teacher, but also someone with leadership potential so by the end of her second year, Amber was effectively the Deputy Principal (though she didn't have that title officially and was still teaching).  Thanks to great efforts by the two of them (along with Angela Martinez, another TFAer who was in the adjacent classroom to Amber and now runs KIPP LA Prep -- see photos below), the school started to turn around and by Amber and Angela's fourth year, the school was the only one in Compton to win a coveted statewide award.


Then, the principal went on maternity leave, Amber became the Interim Principal and the school continued to do well.  Then, the principal decided not to come back from maternity leave, so you'd think Amber would be made the official Principal, right? 


HA!  You're forgetting that what's best for kids always takes a back seat to bureaucratic rules/imperatives, no matter how insane.  It turns out that there was a policy that requires five years of teaching experience before one can become a principal -- and Amber only had four -- so she would have to be demoted to being a teacher and do this for a year before she could become Principal again.


People like Amber have very little patience for nonsense like this, so she approached KIPP -- which of course grabbed her.  Once she told Compton Unified that she was leaving, they backpedaled and offered to make an exception to the policy for her, but it was too late...


You know the ending, of course: the school she left has sunk back to mediocrity, victimizing yet another generation of children...


I'm delighted that Amber is at KIPP, but stories like this make my blood boil...


Cardinal Sin?


Andy Rotherham



Andy Rotherham

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