Effective and Sustainable Turnaround in Rural Kentucky

Local professionals talk with high school students. They are seated at round tables in the high school library.

Leslie County High School has pioneered Operation Preparation, which brings in local professionals to discuss possible career paths and help students prepare for adult life. Photo credit: Kevin Gay

Three months after accepting the role of principal at Leslie County High School (LCHS) in rural Hayden, Ky., Kevin Gay was informed that his school was failing. Identified as persistently low achieving by the state department of education, LCHS was ranked in the bottom 10 percent of all high schools in Kentucky.

That was in 2010.

Today, following a concerted effort to turn around the struggling high school, LCHS is ranked in the top 10 percent of high schools in the state. The school also boasts a 99 percent graduation rate and a renewed emphasis on ensuring that students are college-and career-ready.

The school’s rapid rise is a special point of pride for this rural community of 11,000 residents and about 500 students.  Poverty is a real issue here. The Kentucky Division of Nutrition and Health Services estimates that at least 69 percent of the students at Leslie County High School receive free or reduced lunches. And, in this sparsely-populated area, many students travel about 30 miles to reach the mountainous region where their high school stands.

Yet despite these challenges, in four school years Leslie County High School went from being ranked 224 out of 230 high schools – to being ranked 16th overall in Kentucky.

While each school turnaround story is unique, successful turnaround efforts like the one at Leslie County High School are emerging across the country. Students are achieving new levels of success in places like Alchesay High School in Arizona’s White Mountain Apache Reservation; Emerson Elementary in Kansas City; and Orchard Gardens in Roxbury, Mass. In these places, school leaders have used federal funding from the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program at the U.S. Department of Education to kick-start much needed change in historically low-performing schools.

Thanks in large part to successful partnerships and an attitude of shared responsibility, Leslie County High School has built a new foundation for success in this rural Kentucky town.

How did they achieve such powerful results in such a short time?

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Georgia’s Performance Learning Centers Help Students Get Back on Track

A teacher helps a student with an online program.

Students at the Performance Learning Center in Augusta, Georgia, work at their own pace with the help of online programs and their classroom teachers. Photo credit: Natalie Robinson

Last February, 16-year-old Megan enrolled at the Richmond County Performance Learning Center in Augusta, Georgia, with just one high school credit to her name. She had lost ground academically while caring for her ill father and then was thrust into the unstable world of foster care after he died.

This spring, only a year after coming to the alternative high school, Megan is just a little shy of hitting the halfway mark toward graduation. She enjoys writing and literature, and is feeling hopeful about her future. She also thinks her father would have been proud. “What keeps me going is I want to be successful when I grow up,” she said. “If he were here, he would push me to do what was right.”

Performance Learning Centers (PLCs) are designed to help students such as Megan who are far behind accumulate credits quickly so they can graduate. The first one opened in Georgia in 2003 and since then they have been established in a dozen communities in the State. They also operate in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other States.

“They’re doing amazing work with the kids all of the time,” said Cayanna Good, Georgia’s Innovative Programs director. Critical to the centers’ success, Good said, is the flexibility they offer students, who can get extra help before or after school, work at their own pace, and even graduate at any time during the year. For example, the center in Augusta has had about 120 students of various ages enrolled this year, and 20 already have graduated. Another 20 are expected to graduate this spring, according to the school’s principal, Natalie Robinson.

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Colorado Teachers Leading New Standards Adoption

Nine teachers work around a table on model unit.

Pre-service elementary teachers enrolled in the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder work on a third grade social studies unit entitled “State your Claim.” From left to right: Jody Hunt, Lyubov Panchenko, Lauren Finn, Michael Lund, Whitney Johansson, Clare Eisinger, Ellie Roberts, Grace Im, and Katie Molnar. Photo credit: Jenny Arzberger, Colorado Department of Higher Education

Teachers create tools to help peers develop rigorous lessons focused on college- and career-readiness.

Pam Gibble is a veteran teacher with 25 years of classroom experience. She teaches health and physical education at Mountain Range High School in Colorado’s Adams 12 school district—a large suburban district outside of Denver—and serves as the district’s health education coordinator. Over the past two years, Gibble also was among a group of teachers that worked together to prepare curriculum materials that will help their colleagues across the state to smoothly navigate the transition to Colorado’s new standards for health education.

In the process, Gibble developed a deeper understanding of the new standards and how to teach in a more engaging way, one that pushes her students’ thinking. “This project has gotten me so much more familiar with the standards and understanding what needs to be taught,” she said. “It helped me focus on [the question] ‘Are my students actually learning the standards?’… and has taken me away from just teaching the factual to the conceptual.”

Karl Remsen, a high school mathematics teacher in Lake County—a tiny, rural district in the mountains south of Vail—worked with other teachers on sample curriculum for first-year algebra. In framing educators’ thinking about these new standards, Remsen asked, “What are the key questions teachers should ask of their students? [And] how could you organize a year with the standards so you [are] really focusing on the big ideas you want your students to walk away with?”

Gibble and Remsen were among about 500 teachers from 61 school districts who, in fall 2012, worked on the District Sample Curriculum Project, which produced 670 curriculum samples based on the Colorado Academic Standards in 10 subjects. The materials are not meant to impose a state curriculum on Colorado’s 178 school districts. Instead, they offer a starting point for teachers to design their own curricula.

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Tennessee Improves Teacher Preparation Programs Through Report Cards

A teacher writing on a blackboard while two teaching students listen.

A class at Lipscomb University on teaching geometry. Photo credit: Kristi Jones, Lipscomb University

Last year, the teacher preparation program at Nashville’s Lipscomb University was named one of the nation’s best by the National Council on Teacher Quality. In November, the State’s 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs also lauded Lipscomb, saying the overall performance of those that completed the program made the school one of the most effective in Tennessee as measured by the Tennessee Value Added-Assessment System (TVAAS).

Lipscomb’s overall effectiveness had previously been recognized on Tennessee’s 2012 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs. But that year’s numbers also revealed a weakness: recent graduates of the private institution were, on average, less effective than those of other programs in teaching social studies to grades four through eight.

These insights into the relative performance of Lipscomb’s graduates were made possible by the State’s revamped teacher preparation programs report card, a key element of Tennessee’s many Race to the Top-inspired reforms.

Senior Vice President and College of Education Dean Candice McQueen said the relative weakness of the school’s social studies teachers confirmed what she had been hearing anecdotally and seeing in surveys of graduates during those years. Many felt they did not have full command of good teaching strategies and did not know how to plan strong lessons. Armed with the data, she was able to work alongside the university’s provost to alter their advising and social studies methods course and bring in two grade K–12 experts.

This year’s report showed that Lipscomb’s graduates were, on average, more effective social studies teachers than veterans statewide, as well as other beginners. “The report card was helpful in pushing the conversation,” McQueen said.

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Delaware’s Teacher Preparation is Setting a Higher Bar

A teacher helps a student read.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

When Frederika Jenner began teaching elementary school mathematics 42 years ago, she realized that she wasn’t fully prepared. “I didn’t have opportunities to learn innovative ways to teach mathematics,” she said. “There were some important skills and strategies that were missing.”

Jenner is now president of the Delaware State Education Association and her experience at the beginning of her career is just one reason she strongly supported legislation signed in June 2013 by Delaware Governor Jack Markell to increase the rigor of the process of recruiting and preparing teachers and principals. “Strengthening teacher preparation is very, very important,” she said. “Educators need more meaningful, real world training.”

She is acutely aware of the challenges her members face and the need for better preparation to deal with them. “We have a greater diversity of students than I had when I first started teaching, and a higher concentration of high need students,” Jenner said. She explained that new teachers “need training in integrating technologies in the classroom, and how to judge student work.” Working with parents, classroom management and transition times are other areas where she believes educators need preparation.

Headshot of Frederika Jenner.

Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association. Photo credit: Frederika Jenner

Senate Bill 51, the legislation signed by Governor Markell, addresses a number of weaknesses in Delaware’s policies identified by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a non-profit education policy organization, as well as a report on teacher prep issued by the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in 2012 on transforming education preparation. The legislation, which goes into effect in the summer of 2014, raises the bar for teacher preparation programs by:

  • Requiring candidates to have either a 3.0 grade point average, be in the top half of their most recent graduating class, or pass a test of their academic skills.
  • After they complete their classes, teacher candidates will have to pass a test of their knowledge of the subjects they plan to teach, demonstrate their teaching skills and complete a 10 week classroom residency (at minimum) supervised by a mentor.
  • The Delaware Department of Education and the teacher preparation programs themselves will monitor the performance of their graduates in the classroom and data on the programs will be reported to the public.

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Race to the Top Boosts STEM in Maryland Early Grades

Three teachers scoop material from a bucket to put into a small cup.

Teachers Jennifer Mazza (bottom left), Breanne Edmonds, and Rebecca Russell explore macro invertebrates from a stream ecosystem. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

On a recent Tuesday evening, about a dozen elementary school teachers huddled together in a classroom at a Towson University satellite campus in Aberdeen, Maryland, north of Baltimore, debating the best ways to conserve water and how long a faucet leaking a drop at a time would take to fill a bathtub. Mathematics Professor Honi Bamberger then led the group through a series of related mathematics and science problems they could use with their students.

Bamberger also asked the teachers to reflect on an experiment from the previous week in which they poured water at different rates on piles of sand and dirt to see what would happen. While the lesson created a mess, it touched on measurement, the use of ratios and percentages, and involved scientific inquiry –all components of good STEM instruction.

Teachers Matthew Myer and Veronica Szabo identify submerged aquatic vegetation and macro invertebrates they found on a canoe trip with a Notre Dame of Maryland program to improve STEM instruction. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

Teachers Matthew Myer and Veronica Szabo identify what they found during a STEM instruction canoe trip. Photo credit: Juliann Dupuis

“It was a math-based lesson, but there was engineering involved in it, technology, and, of course, the science piece,” said Lori Pitcock, a fourth-grade teacher in Bel Air, Maryland, who has used the lessons she’s learned from the Towson program in her classroom.

These teachers are among more than 200 current and aspiring teachers learning to integrate lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) into their elementary school classrooms. This effort is part of the State’s comprehensive strategy to make Maryland a leader in STEM education. The strategy was developed as part of the State’s successful application for a Federal grant under the Race to the Top program, which was designed to increase college and career readiness by improving instruction.

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NYC Teachers and Students Take the Lead in Design of Innovative Education Solutions

A New York student, parent and software developer look at a laptop to view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge.

A New York student, parent and software developer view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge. Photo credit: Innovate NYC Schools

Innovate NYC Schools, a 2011 i3 Development grantee, is working to validate a different approach to achieve innovative answers to longstanding needs of students and teachers.  This approach emphasizes using technology to increase the degree of alignment between classroom needs and innovative solutions, and making students and teachers integral to the change process.

For example, in one undertaking for Innovate NYC Schools last year, the challenge was to develop apps and games to enhance math learning and engagement for middle school students. They invited developers to work directly with teachers and students to develop prototypes — a design-inspired, iterative process of refining ideas in order to end up with products that truly meet classroom needs. Surprisingly, nearly 200 software developers responded to the challenge, from which 39 were chosen to work with teachers and students who volunteered to be part of the product-development, prototyping process.

It is radically different from the typical procurement process in school systems, notes Steven Hodas, executive director of Innovate NYC Schools, and energizes potential “lead users” of new products and services in the schools — the teachers who volunteered their classrooms — to come “off the sidelines“ to contribute their ideas and be a part of developing the answers to their own needs. It gives them the “context and cover,” Hodas contends, to get involved and invested as opposed to staying outside the solution-finding process and assuming that whatever eventually arrives will be of minimal or no use to them.

The project is furthering the development and evaluation of the “Education Innovation Ecosystem,” a network of NYC schools, partner districts, solution developers, and investors that is helping to meet the STEM-related learning challenges of middle and high school students.  And the potential for scaling up an ecosystem approach that better aligns classroom needs with innovative solutions holds great promise for other urban school systems.

Click here to read the full article on the OII home page.

Ohio’s New School Models Spur Innovation

Five students crowd around two laptops to prepare a presentation.

Students prepare to make presentations about endangered species. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Aunay, a junior at Winton Woods High School outside of Cincinnati, is figuring out what she can do to combat the problem of child labor around the world for a school project.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Yasmine, who is a junior at Lincoln West High School, is arguing on behalf of Sierra Leone, the African country her group chose to represent in Model United Nations debates.

In a suburb outside of Cleveland, students at Brooklyn Middle School are learning skills for college success in study groups and juniors at Brooklyn High School are taking honors classes and visiting prospective colleges.

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work together on a math project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work on a mathematics project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

The schools that these students attend all have won State grants over the past two years, enabling them to remake themselves by adopting one of five innovative school redesign models endorsed by the State.  These transformations were set in motion by the State’s Race to the Top program. One of Race to the Top’s primary goals is to increase college- and career-readiness, and all of these models have track records in that regard.

This graphic displays the unique elements and national results of five models implemented in Ohio to increase achievement and graduation rates: AVID, Asia Society, New Tech Network, Ohio STEM Learning Network, and Early College High School Initiative. The unique elements of AVID are: rigorous course-taking (at least one AP or other advance course each year); required college-level AVID course to boost reading, writing and inquiry skills; and academic and social support (tutoring by college student role models). The national results of AVID are: Latino and African American graduates enroll in postsecondary education at higher rates than national average, Latino students take AP exams at five times the national rate for all students, and 89 percent of AVID students who go on to post-secondary education are still enrolled two years later. The unique elements of Asia Society are: international content integrated with all subjects, technology to support instruction and connect students to schools around the world, and international travel and exchanges. The national results of Asia Society are: schools in Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network outperform their peers in all core subject areas and across all grade levels in 85 percent of all cases, according to a study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. The unique elements of New Tech Network are: project-based learning (students collaborate on projects requiring critical thinking, creativity and communication); authentic assessment (students are assessed on ability to solve real-world problems using content knowledge); and technology to foster collaborative learning. The national results of New Tech Network are: high school graduation rate of 6 percent above the national average, college enrollment rate of 9 percent above the national average, college persistence in 4-year colleges 17 percent above the national average, and college persistence in 2-year colleges 46 percent above the national average. The unique elements of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: subjects integrated to emphasize connections across disciplines; investigation and problem solving tasks emphasize analysis and creativity; and classroom learning connected to real world through internships, mentoring, and other opportunities. The national results of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: graduates of selective schools (defined as those that enroll small numbers of highly motivated students with demonstrated talent and interest in STEM areas) are nearly 50 percent more likely to major in STEM, and graduates of selective schools are 20 percent more likely to earn a STEM-related postsecondary degree. The unique elements of Early College High School Initiative are: students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree; small learning environments that demand rigorous, college preparatory work; and extensive academic and social support provided. The national results of the Early College High School Initiative are: 77 percent of graduates pursue some form of postsecondary education, more than half earn two or more years of college credit, and graduation rate of 80 percent of schools is equal to or greater than the rate for the district as a whole.

Click for descriptions of the models. Image credit: U.S. Department of Education

That’s evident at the Academy of Global Studies, which is now part of the International Studies School Network operated by the Asia Society, a New York-based nonprofit organization. “When you go in and see the kids, they’re looking at things from different angles, they’re using technology, they know how to manage their time,” said Kevin Jones, a counselor at the school. “They’re engaged in real-world tasks; they’re pushed to think critically. We ask kids: ‘What is the global impact?’ We want them to think more deeply about these issues and become self-directed learners.”

The redesigned schools are having a broader impact on he State because they’re demonstrating what’s possible for students, said Pamela VanHorn, director of the Ohio Network for Innovation and Improvement. “Race to the Top allowed us to have many working models across the State that will give other schools an impetus to redesign their schools.”

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Roundup: Strategies for Increasing College-going and Success

Students graduating from high school.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Dual Enrollment Now in 47 States

A strategy for increasing high school graduation and college-going is dual enrollment, where high school students are allowed to simultaneously enroll in college classes. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) reported recently that 47 States have laws covering dual enrollment. A list of all States’ dual enrollment policies can be found on the ECS site.

Mapping the Transition to College

For many students and families, the pathway from high school to college can be challenging to navigate. To make it easier, the Citi Foundation created the Postsecondary Success Collaborative to help communities identify and provide the tools students need to succeed in college. In 2008, the collaborative partnered with local partners in three cities and five years’ later, the collaborative is sharing what it learned.

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Washington D.C. Charters, District Schools Collaborate Around College- and Career-Ready Standards

An elementary school educator leads a group of teachers in a discussion.

Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a group of second-grade teachers in a discussion about literary analysis and poetry as part of the DC Common Core Collaborative. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

Two hundred teachers from diverse schools inspire and learn from one another to increase student engagement and achievement.

The rhythmic sound of poetry could be heard coming from the second-grade classroom at Ross Elementary School in Washington, D.C., one recent afternoon, though the students already had left for the day. Inside, teachers from several schools in the city were trying to find a poem that would captivate second graders, teach them about figurative language, and serve as the basis for a writing assignment.

The teachers are part of the DC Common Core Collaborative, which has about 200 participants from 22 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools in the city. They get together regularly to discuss how to align their instruction with new college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were voluntarily adopted by the District of Columbia and 45 States to prepare students for college and careers. The teachers work in small teams of about six educators, all of whom teach the same grade, but at different schools in the city.

Kelly Worland Piantedosi teaches at Ross Elementary School and serves as the coach for the group of second-grade teachers that met in her classroom that afternoon. She said the teachers get inspired by hearing about strategies other educators use. “The exchange of ideas is great—nine times out of 10 you hear, ‘Oh we hadn’t thought about that yet,’” she said. “I know for myself, collaboration makes me a better teacher.”

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