Hawaii Zones of School Innovation Committed to Improvement

Four students pose for a photo, holding vegetables they have picked as part of an agriculture project with Makaha Farms.

Hawaii created two Zones of School Innovation to support regions with many of the state’s lowest performing schools. Schools in these zones benefit from greater flexibility and from state investments in curriculum, professional development, technology, teacher recruitment, and wraparound services such as medical care and nutrition education. Photo credit: Hawaii Department of Education

Investing in teachers, time, services and technology to close achievement gaps

Bem is a ninth-grade student who lives with his parents, cousins and grandparents, migrants from the Marshall Islands, in a sparsely populated area of the island of Hawaii, 25 miles away from Kau High School. There are many obstacles Bem faces on a daily basis to receive an education. Just getting to school regularly is a challenge, as it is for many other students in this largely rural part of the State.

But, lately, Bem has been attending school more regularly and has become more engaged in his school work. He even says he wants to get involved in student government. “He’s been coming to school every day, he’s more serious about his studies and he knows that learning is going to take hard work,” said Kau High and Pahala Elementary Principal Sharon Beck.

A comprehensive set of policies and services put in place over the past few years across the sprawling Kau–Keaau–Pahoa Complex Area of schools is starting to make a difference. Unlike every other State, Hawaii has a single, statewide school system. Complex areas function like school districts in other States. In its successful application for a Federal Race to the Top grant, Hawaii said it would make two complexes—Kau–Keaau–Pahoa on the island of Hawaii and Nanakuli–Waianae on the island of Oahu—Zones of School Innovation (ZSIs) because they each had several schools that were among the lowest performing in the State.

That meant additional flexibilities and investments for ZSI schools including:  more instructional time during the school year as well as in the summer; financial incentives to attract effective teachers and leaders to remote schools; a common curriculum; intensive support for early-career as well as experienced teachers; an infusion of technology to expand students’ understanding of the world; giving principals more control over hiring decisions; and arranging for medical care, mental health counseling, nutrition education and other services.

These enormous changes have led to evidence of progress. Eight of the 18 schools in the zones identified as low-performing four years ago have now met performance targets and, in more than half, student growth is outpacing State averages in both reading and mathematics. Statewide, Hawaii public schools have narrowed the achievement gap by 12 percent, and on-time graduation has increased by seven percent.

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California Training Partnership Helps New Teachers Bring Innovative Practices to Home Communities

With the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Lupita Prado Machuca has returned to her home community to teach language arts at her former middle school. Once an English language learner, she now teaches students in the community where she grew up and helps them to see the importance of an education that prepares them for college and careers.

Lupita Prado Machuca teaching her 8th Grade Language Arts class in Kern County, California

Machuca is the product of efforts in the central region of California to change the face of teacher preparation by equipping future teachers from local schools with high-quality training. California State University Bakersfield (CSUB), with funding support from a federal Teacher Quality Partnership grant, brings mentor teachers into classrooms of first-year teachers and provides teacher candidates with field experience from day one, increasing their confidence and abilities to take on their own classrooms.

The five year, $10.5 million grant, which began in 2009, supports a partnership among CSUB, California State University Monterey Bay, and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, along with K-12 school districts in Kern and Tulare counties. Known as Edvention Partners, their combined efforts address the diverse needs of schools, teachers, and students within a large geographical, primarily rural, area.

The training program emphasizes solutions to individual and community challenges with professional development tools for educators such as differentiated instruction, positive behavioral intervention, and the culturally responsive teaching (CRT) model. By facilitating teaching aspirations in central California communities, Edvention Partners is empowering teachers to integrate personal experience with research-based teaching practices to promote student achievement.

Local school leaders are very excited to have a talented former student return to teach. “She really has some innovative practices and ways to connect to the students,” said Language Arts Department Chair Stacie Rubinol, who taught Machuca in junior high school. “She really inspires them to learn beyond what is just in the textbook.”

Superintendent Ricardo Robles recognizes how important the Edvention Partners program has been to Machuca and his district. By keeping talented teachers in the community, students can witness an example of the importance of an education that prepares them for college and the workforce. “We’ve been very lucky to get her… Cal State has been a huge asset to our school district,” Robles said.

To learn more about Machuca’s experience, watch this video.

 

Cross-posted from the May 22, 2014, edition of The Teacher’s Edition, a weekly e-newsletter of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Parent and Community Engagement is Key Driver of School Transformation in Baltimore

A teacher leans over a students desk, helping him with an assignment.

As part of its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, Baltimore City Public Schools has employed a holistic parent engagement strategy to turn around struggling schools. One principal built relationships with parents and students by shaking hands before and after school each day. Teachers sent out flyers, knocked on doors, and made phone calls to parents to discuss their children’s performance. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

School turnarounds require changes in school culture and strong relationships with parents

Commodore John Rogers Elementary/Middle School is located in an impoverished neighborhood of East Baltimore that struggles with high rates of gang violence and teen pregnancy. Ninety-five percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and many are three or more grade levels behind in reading when they enter. The school floundered academically for years. In 2010, based on its test scores, Commodore ranked 872 out of 875 schools in Maryland. It enrolled only 225 students, half of the building’s capacity. Four principals had come and gone during the previous five years.

In the past four years, however, the school’s results have improved measurably. Enrollment more than doubled, chronic absences dropped significantly, and the percentage of students proficient in reading and mathematics rose 20 percent. In 2012, the school’s mathematics performance exceeded the districtwide average.

Creating More High Quality School Options

How did this happen?

In 2010, Baltimore City Public Schools chose Commodore to participate in its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, an effort launched by former Superintendent Andrés Alonso to increase the number of high quality schools in the district. The city opened new schools, expanded the capacity of high-performing ones, closed the lowest performers, and began working to turn around struggling schools. During the first full year of the program, the Baltimore City school board approved eight new schools and moved to close nine low-performing ones. In addition, all high schools became schools of choice.

Commodore was among a group of persistently low-performing schools selected to be part of a districtwide turnaround initiative, which brought intensive support underwritten by the State’s Federal Race to the Top award and School Improvement Grant. The goal: transform school culture and dramatically accelerate learning outcomes. Interventions varied by school, but included new leadership, extra support staff, a longer learning day, new technology, more staff mentoring, and professional development for teachers.

Parent Engagement a Top Priority

Marc Martin, a seasoned school leader with a strong track record of success, became Commodore’s new principal. In addition to hiring new staff and renovating the building, Martin made parent engagement a top priority. He set out to get to know each parent personally, to build trust and hope. “I literally slept here during the summer before the school opened,” he said. “We sent out flyers, made phone calls and knocked on doors to let families know we were here.”

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Colorado Expands Opportunities for Under-Represented Advanced Placement Students

Arvada High School Principal Kathy Norton and students hold the over-sized check the school received from the Colorado Education Initiative for outstanding A.P. course completion scores. Norton and the students are surrounded by various officials from the district, the State, and the Colorado Education Initiative.

Arvada High School Principal Kathy Norton (fourth from left) and students accept a check from the Colorado Education Initiative for outstanding A.P. course completion scores. Photo credit: Colorado Education Initiative

Across Colorado, high school students who previously would not have had the opportunity to enroll in Advanced Placement (A.P.) classes are not only enrolling, but also are earning passing scores in those classes.  “The best thing about A.P. classes is you get the prep for college and you get to learn so much more than you ever would have imagined in high school,” said Megan, a student at Arvada High School in Jefferson County. “It expands your mind to places you never thought it could go.”

Responding to disparities in A.P. enrollment across the State, the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) is engaging with 23 high schools to increase the number and diversity of students taking and passing A.P. mathematics, science, and English classes to ensure that more students like Megan are better prepared for postsecondary education.  CEI’s program, called the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative (CLSI), is driven by the philosophy that all students are capable of succeeding in rigorous courses.

CLSI’s strategy is already delivering dividends.  After only the first year, participating schools had already seen improvement: in 2012-2013, many CLSI schools showed a 70-percent increase in the number of students who earned a passing score on the mathematics, science, and English A.P. exams.  “These outstanding results equate to 522 new high school students who have had the opportunity to participate and succeed in rigorous A.P. coursework” stated Helayne Jones, president and CEO of the CEI. This includes the students at Arvada High, whose 95-percent growth in passing A.P. scores was more than 10 times the state and national average in 2013.

CLSI benefits from a partnership with the National Mathematics and Science Initiative (NMSI), which uses part of its $15 million Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to fund the program.

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

More Students Challenging Themselves by Taking AP Classes

States across the country join Colorado in preparing more students to be ready for college or other advanced training after high school by promoting the Advanced Placement (AP) program.  Over the past decade nationally, the number of high school graduates who took AP classes nearly doubled, according to the College Board.   The below graphic shows how Race to the Top States have responded to the charge to prepare students by increasing access and success in AP classes.  Students in Colorado took 16.4% more exams in 2013 than they did in 2011, and are posting 15.7% more qualifying scores on exams in the same time period.  To learn more about strategies other States are using to increase college and career preparation, read about how Kentucky students are taking more AP classes and posting more qualifying scores on the exams here. The College Board offers 34 different AP classes.

The text across the top reads: The Advanced Placement program is one way to ensure that more students gain access to challenging courses that prepare them to think, solve problems, write and master what the global job market demands. The box on the top is titled: Participation Rates in Race to the Top States. The box includes several statistics. Students took 1.8 million AP exams in 2013, an increase of 13.2% since 2011. The gains since 2011 include an additional 71,388 exams taken in mathematics and science (an increase of 12.9%); an additional 135,954 exams taken in English, history, and social science (an increase of 11.9%); and an additional 10,409 exams taken in arts and world languages (an increase of 8.7%). The box also includes a map of the United States with the States that received Race to the Top funds highlighted. Participation rates in Louisiana rose 60.3% since 2011, the biggest gain of any State. Participation rates increased in other Race to the Top States: 14.6% increase in Hawaii, 23.6% increase in Arizona, 16.4% increase in Colorado 21.0% increase in Illinois, 19.7% increase in Kentucky, 17.1% increase in Tennessee, 17.3% increase in Georgia, 5.7% increase in Florida, 15.9% increase in Ohio, 14.1% increase in North Carolina, 14.8% in Pennsylvania, 7.4% increase in New York, 10.9% increase in Maryland, 24.6% increase in the District of Columbia, 19.1% increase in Delaware, 16.5% increase in New Jersey, 18.7% increase in Massachusetts, and 24.0% increase in Rhode Island. The box on the bottom is titled: Qualifying Scores in Race to the Top States. The box includes several statistics. Students scored 3 or higher (qualifying for college credit) on 1.1 million AP exams in 2013, an increase of 16.1% since 2011. The gains since 2011 include an additional 63,113 qualifying scores in mathematics and science (an increase of 18.2%); an additional 75,790 qualifying scores in English, history, and social science (an increase of 11.4%); and an additional 13,230 qualifying scores in arts and world languages (an increase of 15.4%). The box also includes a map of the United States with the States that received Race to the Top funds highlighted. Qualifying scores in Louisiana rose 35.1% since 2011, the biggest gain of any State. Qualifying scores increased in other Race to the Top States: 4.7% increase in Hawaii, 24.2% increase in Arizona, 15.7% increase in Colorado, 20.5% increase in Illinois, 25.0% increase in Kentucky, 19.2% increase in Tennessee, 19.3% increase in Georgia, 13.5% increase in Florida, 18.6% increase in Ohio, 14.1% increase in North Carolina, 18.3% in Pennsylvania, 9.9% increase in New York, 13.4% increase in Maryland, 15.9% increase in the District of Columbia, 17.2% increase in Delaware, 17.0% increase in New Jersey, 18.8% increase in Massachusetts, and 18.8% increase in Rhode Island. At the bottom of the image there is a note: This graphic has been updated from a previous version. Updated on May 23, 2014. The source is also given: http://research.collegeboard.org/programs/ap/data.

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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