Friday, November 16, 2007

Jeanne Allen on Charter Schools in Ohio

A good letter to the editor from Jeanne Allen:

Ohio’s Charter Schools  
Published: November 15, 2007
To the Editor:
While your Nov. 8 news article Ohio Goes After Charter Schools That Are Failing  offers a balanced presentation of the issues and opinions driving the charter school controversy in that state, it unfortunately leaves a stigma attached to charters by saying the state is cracking down on the schools (as if they’re  somehow a scourge) and overlooks the continuing and far more widespread failures of traditional public school systems across the state.
Certainly some of Ohio’s charter schools are not performing as well as had been hoped for when they were founded. But in many of these cases it’s because the schools have taken on the challenge of educating the difficult-to-reach children who were given up on by traditional public schools  —  the children who, every year, fell further and further behind and received no help; the children who, were it not for their charter school, would have dropped out or landed in jail or worse.
For them, charter schools are their last best hope for receiving an education and ultimately succeeding in life.
Will these students be better off if their charter schools go out of business? The answer must be a resounding no.
If Ohio’s governor and attorney general truly want to deliver on a promise of delivering quality education for all of the state’s children,  let them launch an across-the-board crackdown on all failing public schools,  including the traditional, union-run schools that for far too long have been far too comfortable in their abysmal performance and shameful failure to help children learn and succeed.
Jeanne Allen
President, The Center for Education  Reform
Washington, Nov. 13, 2007

5) This looks like a great program.  Kudos!


Last year, when Amherst College welcomed 473 new students to  its idyllic campus, 10% of them came from QuestBridge.

But QuestBridge is no elite private school. It's a nonprofit  start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., that matches gifted, low-income students with  20 of the nation's top colleges. In return, the schools -- including  Princeton, Yale, Stanford and Columbia -- give scholarships to the students  and pay QuestBridge for helping to diversify their student  bodies.

Little Progress for City Schools on National Test

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Chancellor Joel I. Klein said he saw plenty of good news in federal scores.

Published: November 16, 2007 <>
New York City’s eighth graders have made no significant progress in reading and math since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg <>  took control of the city schools, according to federal test scores released yesterday, in contrast with the largely steady gains that have been recorded on state tests.

The national scores also showed little narrowing of the achievement gap between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts.

The results for New York and 10 other large urban districts on the federal tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress <> , paint a generally stagnant picture for the city, although there are gains in fourth-grade math. On measure after measure, the scores showed “no significant change” between 2005, when the test was previously administered, and 2007.

Mr. Bloomberg has trumpeted improving state test scores as evidence that the city is setting the pace for urban school reform. But the federal scores, on a test often called the nation’s report card, suggest that the city’s gains are limited. Similar patterns of gains on state tests outstripping gains on the national assessment have emerged elsewhere as well.

New York City’s federal scores showed that while fourth-grade reading results have improved over the past five years, the most significant jump came in 2002, before Mr. Bloomberg took control.

The schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein <> , said he saw plenty of good news in the federal scores, drawing attention to the fourth-grade math results during a news conference. He noted that with 79 percent of students performing at or above basic levels of competence, the city was approaching the national average of 81 percent.

“I said when I arrived, a goal was to be at the national average,” he said. “That is a landmark that should be celebrated.”

But a range of other educators said the results undercut the city’s reputation as a beacon of school improvement. Michael J. Petrilli, a researcher at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, said the city did not seem to be improving any more than the rest of the state. “That to me seems quite damning to the Bloomberg administration,” he said.

The national assessment has become an important way to measure states and cities against each other. State by state results were released earlier this year, but 11 large cities have agreed to have their own results published separately since 2002.

Forty-three percent of fourth graders in New York City were below the basic level in reading in 2007, the same percentage as in 2005. In eighth grade, the percentage of students below basic increased to 41 percent, from 39 percent in 2005.

There was a slight uptick in the percentage of students reaching proficient or above in math, which federal officials said was not significant.

The city’s best results were in fourth-grade math. This year, 21 percent of fourth graders scored below basic on the math exam, down from 27 percent in 2005. In eighth-grade math, 43 percent of students were below basic, down from 46 percent in 2005.

In contrast with New York City, federal scores in Atlanta and Washington rose significantly across all grade levels and subjects since 2005.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind <>  law, states are required to administer reading and math tests every year in grades three through eight, with the goal of bringing every student to “proficiency”‘ in math and reading by 2014. But the law lets each state write its own tests and define proficiency. The national assessment is considered a more reliable indicator of performance.

“The question is, why are the students making so much more progress on the state tests? What is likely to be happening is that schools are teaching students to that particular test,” said Mr. Petrilli, who released a report last month analyzing the differences between state and national tests. He said similar patterns had emerged in South Carolina and California.

Mr. Klein called the federal scores “supplementary” ways to measure school improvement, because the national assessment was given only every two years and tested only a sampling of students. He suggested that the state tests were more important.

“This is not just about a single-year picture,” Mr. Klein said. “The state tests are aligned with our standards, and our teachers know that.”

Alan Ray, a New York State Education Department spokesman, echoed Mr. Klein’s concerns and added that students might not perform as well on the national test because passing the test is not required to advance to the next grade level, as it is on the state tests.

The federal results are divided into four categories: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced.

B. Jason Brooks, director of research at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, said it was “appalling” that the national test found just 34 percent of fourth graders in the city “proficient” or above in math, while the state test showed that 74 percent of fourth graders met that standard.

“Today’s release of federal testing data for urban districts underscores what New Yorkers have suspected: New York State has dumbed down its assessments,” he said in a statement. “The simplified state tests are misleading. New York’s education policy makers need to face up to the glaring inadequacies of the state’s public education system and get down to the business of fixing it.”

At the news conference, Mr. Klein also suggested that the federal reading scores dropped this year because more students who are still learning English were tested. Officials said this was because in 2006, the federal Education Department began requiring thousands more non-English speaking students to be tested for No Child Left Behind.

Mr. Klein also suggested that the change in testing requirements for non-English speakers masked improvements for Hispanic and Asian students on the tests.

New York City’s achievement gap between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts stayed the same and even widened in reading on the federal tests, after narrowing two years ago. Part of the improvement in 2005 came because the scores for white students dipped slightly, while those of black and Hispanic students increased. But as white students’ scores went up again this year, the decrease in the gap evaporated.

Overall, the results in large cities across the country largely reflected national trends: Students are showing more improvement in math than reading, and eighth-grade performance is roughly flat.

Randi Weingarten <> , president of the United Federation of Teachers <> , described the scores as “bad news.” Ms. Weingarten said the disparity between state and national scores was particularly troubling because state scores were used to determine schools’ A through F grades under a new rating system.

“When scores become so high stakes, then you have to really think about and ensure the reliability of these testing systems,” she said, adding that the federal scores “call into question the reliability of the New York State testing system.

“Is it right?” she continued. “Is it wrong? I’m not a psychometrician. But what I do know is when everything is so high-stakes, you have to be doubly, triply, quadruply sure of the accuracy of the data.”

New York's schools
The great experiment
Nov 8th 2007 | NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition
Bringing accountability and competition to New York City's struggling schools
THE 220 children are called scholars, not students, at the Excellence charter school in Brooklyn's impoverished Bedford-Stuyvesant district. To promote the highest expectations, the scholars—who are all boys, mostly black and more than half of whom get free or subsidised school lunches—are encouraged to think beyond school, to university. Outside each classroom is a plaque, with the name of a teacher's alma mater, and then the year (2024 in the case of the kindergarten), in which the boys will graduate from college.

Like the other charter schools that are fast multiplying across America, Excellence is an independently run public school that has been allowed greater flexibility in its operations in return for greater accountability, though it cannot select its pupils, instead choosing them by lottery. If it fails, the principal (head teacher) will be held accountable, and the school could be closed. Three years old, Excellence is living up to its name: 92% of its third-grade scholars (eight-year-olds, the oldest boys it has, so far) scored “advanced” or “proficient” in New York state English language exams this year, compared to an average (for fourth-graders) across the state of 68% and only 62% in the Big Apple. They did even better in mathematics.

This is the sort of performance that the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, now wants to extend from New York's 60 charter schools to all of the city's schools. On November 5th, the mayor and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, announced what is in effect the final piece in their grand plan to charterise the entire city school system. As charter schools remain politically contentious, though, they have been careful not to use that phrase in public.

When Mr Klein took the job in 2002, having led the Clinton administration's efforts to break up Microsoft, The Economist joked that he should try to do the same thing to New York's schools monopoly. He more or less has. Under the new scheme, every school run by the city will receive a public report card, with a grade that reflects both academic performance and surveys of students, parents and teachers. The first grades were given out this week.

Schools that do well will get a boost to their budget; the principal may get a bonus of up to $25,000 on top of a base salary of $115,000-$145,000. Schools graded D or F (about 12% of them this year) will have to submit improvement plans that will be implemented with support from Mr Klein's department. Principals whose schools are still faltering after two years will be fired. Schools still failing after four years will be closed. Though each element of what is happening in New York has been tried elsewhere, this seems to be the most far-reaching urban school accountability initiative in America. Mr Klein claims that no school system on earth has innovated on the scale of New York.

Even New York's previous reforming mayor, Rudy Giuliani, failed to improve the city's disastrous schools, despite several attempts. When he ran for election in 2001, Mr Bloomberg said the school system was “in a state of emergency”. The graduation rate in 2002 was alarmingly low, 51% of students compared to a national average of 70%. Most New Yorkers thought the system impossible to fix.

To do something about this, Mr Bloomberg demanded, and got, the thing that Mr Giuliani had with the police but not with the schools: mayoral control. As soon as he had it, the new mayor promptly moved the schools headquarters from its sprawling building in Brooklyn to be next to the heart of his government in City Hall. He hired Mr Klein, and they set about changing things—initially by taking decision-making away from the patronage-heavy local school boards, and then by decentralising it to accountable principals, and by actively piloting experimental charter schools that could be models for others. A new “leadership academy” was created to train principals. Big schools with poor graduation rates were closed, and replaced with smaller ones, often several sharing the same building once occupied by a single big school.

Many of these innovations were paid for by wealthy philanthropists, including Bill Gates of Microsoft, Eli Broad from Los Angeles and sundry hedge-fund managers who have been cajoled into handing over millions of dollars at the annual Robin Hood Foundation auctions. Mr Klein says that this private source of funds was crucial in paying for experiments that might have involved huge political battles had they been paid for out of public funds. The hope is that in future, such reforms might be more widely supported.

Even before this week's reforms, progress has been sufficiently impressive that the Broad Foundation declared New York the most improved urban school district in the nation. Some $500,000 in Broad scholarships will be distributed to graduates. In 2002 less than 40% of students in grades three to eight (aged eight to 14) were reading and doing maths at their grade level. Today, 65% are at their grade levels in maths and over 50% in reading. Graduation rates are at their highest in decades. Last year the city outperformed other New York state school districts with similar income levels in reading and maths at all grades. The gap between white and minority students has been narrowed.

The New York reforms rely on collecting a lot of data. An $80m computer system designed by IBM will give teachers access to information about student performance and progress as well as contact information for parents.

Equally crucial has been Mr Bloomberg's success in winning round hitherto reluctant principals, who have agreed to sign a new accountability contract, and the teachers' unions, which despite quibbles broadly support the new system. The fact that teachers' starting pay is up on average by 43% since Mr Bloomberg took office may have helped. But whatever the reason, there seems a good chance that the reforms are here to stay.


Schools (2)
The untidy revolution
From The Economist print edition
Elsewhere in America, school reform is slower and messier, but the pressure for change is coming from parents, which bodes well
OUTSIDE New York, as usual, it is a different story. Most American mayors look longingly at Michael Bloomberg's accomplishments and wish they were equally mighty. West of the Mississippi, none has succeeded in seizing control of a school system. Nor are they likely to be able to do so: the early 20th century progressive movement, strongest in the West, severely blunted their powers. “We haven't had reform from the top here,” says Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist. “So instead we're seeing change from the bottom up.”

And, yet again, they did
In the vanguard are charter schools like the Academy of Opportunity in south-central Los Angeles. Here 13- and 14-year-olds, almost all of them black or Hispanic, firmly shake your hand and outline their plans to go to Yale and Stanford. They work long hours—from 7.30am to 5pm five days a week, plus four hours every other Saturday. The grind pays off. At the end of their first year in the school just 28% of pupils are proficient or advanced in maths, compared to 48% of pupils elsewhere in California. By the time they leave, three years later, they far outperform their peers.

Los Angeles has 125 charter schools, more than any other school district in America. That is partly a reflection of the dismal state of the mainstream public schools. Perhaps no city would find it easy to educate such a diverse group of children, many of them the offspring of immigrants from rural Mexico. In California, with its miserly education budget and stifling state bureaucracy, the task is almost impossible. For many parents in poor areas, charter schools represent the only hope for a decent education.

That became even clearer this week when another promising reform was stymied. Voters in Utah struck down a scheme, passed last year by the state legislature, which would have helped parents pay for their children to go to private schools. In principle, vouchers are popular: a YouGov poll for The Economist (see chart) finds 53% of people favouring them, with only 32% opposed. Yet voucher schemes have been defeated in every state where they have been on the ballot. Some fear harm to the public-school system, others an influx of poor children. If a universal voucher system cannot be introduced in America's most conservative state, it probably can't be anywhere.

As public schools, albeit independent ones, charters cannot deliver nearly such a strong competitive shock to the system. Yet they still introduce a welcome element of choice. Because they are not too controversial, they have been able to grow quickly: some 1.2m American pupils attend them, compared to fewer than 100,000 who receive vouchers. And they are beginning to affect other schools. In May a majority of tenured teachers in Locke High School, one of the worst in Los Angeles, expressed a desire to convert the school into a charter. It was an astonishing gesture, since (as the teachers' union quickly pointed out) they would lose some of their rights.  
The drowned and the saved
Michael Kirst of Stanford University reckons about 15% of pupils in a district need to be going to charter schools before the system as a whole faces real pressure to change. That is not easily achieved, given a lack of appropriate buildings: the Academy of Opportunity has moved three times since it was founded in 2003. Yet the threshold has been reached in a few places, such as Washington, DC, and Dayton, Ohio. And it has been spectacularly exceeded in a city that is among the last one would associate with reform.

New Orleans's public schools have long been a shambles. Since the 1980s the middle class has fled them for the private sector, with the result that most of the system's 65,000 pupils came from poor, often single-parent, homes. A potent teachers' union combined with a meddling school board to frustrate reform. The system was startlingly corrupt: in June a former president of the board pleaded guilty to receiving some $140,000 in kickbacks.

Two years ago Hurricane Katrina swept away this sorry edifice. The state of Louisiana, which had seized control of some of the worst schools before Katrina, took over most of the district, leaving only the best-performing schools to the local board. Charter schools were approved in bunches, with an entire “charter district” created in the Algiers neighbourhood, on the west bank of the Mississippi River. As a result, New Orleans now has a higher proportion of pupils in charter schools than anywhere else in America.

So far, test results suggest that the charters are doing better than the competition. And there are other encouraging signs. Earlier this year the state brought in a new superintendent, Paul Vallas, who had helped turn around schools in Philadelphia and Chicago. The once-mighty teachers' union and school board have seen their influence wane. Still, fixing New Orleans's schools will be a daunting task. The system is in flux: more students are trickling back each month, swelling the school population from a low point of about one-third of pre-Katrina levels to about half today. And Karran Harper Royal, a trenchant critic of the public schools, points out that corruption may be even harder to root out when there are more than seven school-board members to keep tabs on.

In New Orleans, as in Los Angeles, a certain amount of chaos is to be expected. Some charter schools are bound to close. Five hundred and sixty others have done so around the country since 1992. Yet, while that will be painful for the children affected, it will be a good thing in the long run if it leads to better schools. Reforms carried out by a mayoral strongman are quicker and tidier. But most revolutions are messy.


Matching Top Colleges, Low-Income Students
November 15, 2007; Page B1

Last year, when Amherst College welcomed 473 new students to its idyllic campus, 10% of them came from QuestBridge.

But QuestBridge is no elite private school. It's a nonprofit start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., that matches gifted, low-income students with 20 of the nation's top colleges. In return, the schools -- including Princeton, Yale, Stanford and Columbia -- give scholarships to the students and pay QuestBridge for helping to diversify their student bodies.

The program is gaining in popularity because it addresses a growing interest of private and public colleges: increasing the diversity of their student bodies without relying solely on race. Since some states banned racial preferences in college admissions, many public colleges have begun focusing on income as a means to broaden the backgrounds of their students. Private schools, while not bound by the states' restrictions, are also eager to admit more students from low-income families.

QuestBridge isn't the only program that helps schools achieve diversity by focusing on the economically disadvantaged. The Posse Program, launched in 1993 by a New York nonprofit, specializes in sending groups of students who already know each other to top colleges. It got its start after the founder, Deborah Biel, discovered that several of the inner-city youth she had worked with in New York had dropped out of college. When she asked why, one responded that he didn't have his posse with him.

Another program called Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement, or MESA, helps recruit low-income students for the University of California, California State University and other California colleges. Upward Bound, a long-running federal program, feeds low-income high-school students into colleges all over the country. And some colleges, including schools that are partnering with QuestBridge, have begun their own recruiting programs for low-income students.

The efforts come as diversity remains elusive, particularly at elite colleges. According to a 2004 study by the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group, at the 146 most selective colleges in the U.S., just 3% of the students came from families that ranked in the bottom 25% in income, while 74% came from the top 25%,

School officials say that having a more diverse student body will make their graduates better prepared for the real world. "Every student we graduate today is going to work in a shrinking world with tremendous disparities," says Jeff Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, which began using QuestBridge this academic year. "We want the Yale undergraduate body to reflect that reality to whatever degree we can."

QuestBridge was conceived by Michael McCullough, an emergency-room doctor, in 2003, and it has been run by him and Tim Brady, who helped to write the business plan for Yahoo <;symbol=yhoo>  Inc. The program has created a network of about 30,000 recruiters, including high-school counselors, teachers and youth ministers, to identify a pool of about 4,000 talented, disadvantaged students.

QuestBridge contacts the nominees by both email and old-fashioned mail. They are asked to fill out a 17-page application that, like regular college applications, requires essays and short answers. But the questions are tailored to better suit a low-income student's skills. For example, instead of asking why they like a particular poem, the students might be asked what obstacles they have overcome.

Last year, the pool of names was winnowed down to about 1,600 finalists based on criteria that also included income, grade point averages and community service. "We want to help those who help others," Dr. McCullough says.

The finalists' applications are then matched with QuestBridge partners. Last year, about half of the finalists were admitted to their match with partial to full scholarships. Those who aren't admitted through the program can still apply to other QuestBridge partners, frequently using the QuestBridge application plus a supplement and having their application fees waived. Their names are also kept in a pool for other opportunities, such as when an employer needs an intern or law schools are seeking low-income talent down the line.

Once they're at school, the students get support from QuestBridge mentors through online forums on Facebook and other sites. Alumni organizations that will provide mentoring are also being set up.

Each college or university that uses the program pays QuestBridge $40,000 to $70,000 annually in recruiting fees. But QuestBridge says that only half of its $1.6 million annual budget comes from those fees. The other half comes from philanthropic groups, including the Goldman Sachs Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Edward Fein Foundation.

One student who has gone through QuestBridge is Dante Lamarr Benson, a 19-year-old from Camden, N.J., who is now in his sophomore year at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., with a full scholarship. An African-American, Mr. Benson says he was raised by his grandmother and made the dean's list at a high school where as many as half of the students drop out. When he received a QuestBridge application in the mail, he was skeptical of his chances of getting into a prestigious college and reluctant to fill it out. But he did, he says, and "to simply put it, QuestBridge changed my life."

For Dr. McCullough, the program is the second educational project. He and his wife, Ana, a lawyer, started a program in 1994 that provided an intense, five-week "boot camp" at Stanford, from which the couple received their professional degrees. But the camp required too much money and staff, so the couple replaced it with QuestBridge.

To scale up the new program, the two turned to Mr. Brady, who had left Yahoo after becoming one of the multimillionaires that helped get the company going in the 1990s. Mr. Brady, who declined a QuestBridge salary, says he was looking for a nonprofit to focus on and agreed to become chief executive after a mutual friend connected him with Dr. McCullough.

QuestBridge's use of the Internet has allowed it to have a big impact relatively quickly. In addition to its showing at Amherst last year, 2% to 6% of the accepted freshmen at Princeton, Wellesley and Williams last year were QuestBridge applicants, and 62 QuestBridgers were accepted at Stanford. In total, the program has placed 2,300 low-income students in top colleges in the four years of its existence. By contrast, the Posse Program has placed 1,850 students in 18 years.

QuestBridge now plans to expand the program by adding 10 more colleges as partners, capping the program at 30. And next year, they plan to launch a one-week boot camp, with hundreds of low-income students converging in Palo Alto to hear from Dr. McCullough and others on what they can expect in the Ivy League and how to thrive there.

"We hope that in 10 years we'll have added a new generation of talented and thoughtful minds to American leadership, drawn from the lowest economic spectrum," Dr. McCullough says.

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