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Making Schools Work with Hederick Smith lessons learned
 
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lessons learned
YES, WE WANT REFORM, BUT...

There has been much debate about reforming the nation's public schools. Drawing on our interviews, educators and nationally recognized educational experts respond to common skeptical comments.

Yes, But… Nationwide, Public Schools Just Can't Work

Yes, But… You Just Can't Teach Some Kids

Yes, But… Schools Shouldn't Have To Deal With
Behavior Or Motivation Issues, Parents Should

Yes, But… Those Problems Don't Apply To Me

Yes, That Reform May Work In Your Community,
But… It Won't Work In Mine

Yes, You May Be Able To Change A Few Schools,
But… You Can't Change Tens Of Thousands

Yes, But… Everybody Disagrees About What Works

Yes, But… This Country Spends Enough On Education

Yes, But… More Testing Is Not The Answer

Yes, But… Those Schools Just Turned Around Because Of Charismatic Leaders

Yes, But… Nationwide, Public Schools Just Can't Work.

Number one, it is very clear that even poor kids and kids of color who come from difficult neighborhoods can, in fact, achieve. We need them to achieve as a country. And number two, it is very clear that there are some public schools, some districts, that have figured out how to do that.

Our task has to be to help other schools and districts achieve those same ends because that's where the kids are. And that, after all, is what the promise of America is: that we will educate all of our kids.

If, in fact, private schools did a better job of this or if the evidence suggested that charter schools did a better job of this, some people might say, “Fine. Sign me up.” But the evidence doesn't suggest that. There are some terrific private schools; there are some horrible private schools. There are some terrific charter schools; there are some horrible charter schools. And the same is true of the public system.

But the vast majority of our kids are in the public system and we need to make it what it can be. And the evidence suggests we can do this if we don't get distracted, if we learn from the high achievers, and if we act with dispatch.

- Kati Haycock, Director, The Education Trust

It can work. It has worked. And if you believe in it, it will work. You have to invest. It can't just go on its own. You have to invest money. You have to invest, probably the most important thing is time. And it really does take a village to raise children, to raise young adults. But if you say in the beginning that it's not going to work, of course it's not going to work. If you turn your back on it, of course it's not going to work.

- Diana Soliz, Assistant Principal, KIPP 3D Academy
Houston, Texas

I understand where the frustration comes from that makes people think that public schools can't work. But there aren't a large number of fantastic demonstrations where private schools or parochial schools have done substantially better with equivalent groups of kids. The private schools and parochial schools usually deal with kids who have fewer problems.

The issue for all schools, regardless of whom they serve, is that they are not using the most effective practices they can. When we have effective practices that are used with care, with intelligence, with adequate funding, with adequate supports, then those schools will be effective whether they're public schools, private schools, parochial schools, charter schools, vouchers, whatever.

- Bob Slavin, Co-Founder, Success for All

What I say about public schools is the same thing we say about democracy. It's not such a good way of doing things, except in comparison to every alternative. So far, the public schools are doing better than the alternatives. They're doing better than the charter schools. They're doing better for similar populations than any of the private school options. We don't have any choice but to make the public school system work.

- Lauren Resnick, Director, Institute for Learning
University of Pittsburgh

The alternative is that we all move to Canada quickly because our country is going to go down the tubes.

We're talking about investing in the future of our country, investing in our children. The gap between the haves and have-nots is just continuing to grow, and it's not something that's sustainable. We have to address this challenge, providing all children of this nation with an excellent education.

- Mike Feinberg, Co-founder, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program)

I think that the public needs to understand that schools like PS 126 [in New York City] need resources, need smart leaders, but they do work. They work if they have the kind of leadership that can help teachers understand kids better.

I think that quick solutions don't work. I think there needs to be a patient, understanding approach to schools succeeding.

I think that schools like PS 126, and many other schools like it, represent a caliber of education that can be found in some of the best private schools. I think that they're just not looking in the right places if they haven't found good public schools. A public school like this – anybody would want their child in a school like this.

- Daria Rigney, former Principal, PS 126
New York City

Yes, But… You Just Can't Teach Some Kids.

People [who] say that low-income children, minority children, can't excel at extraordinary levels are flat out wrong. They just haven't seen the evidence.

- Eric Smith, former Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte, North Carolina

You cannot say, “I can't teach these kids because they don't speak English well enough,” or “I can't teach these kids because they're too poor,” or “I can't teach these kids because nobody read to them at home.” They're wonderful children. And they can read. They can do it.

- Andrea Guy, 1st grade teacher, Centennial Elementary School
Mount Vernon, Washington

I always thought that kids from educated, higher income homes probably had this innate ability to do well. What changed my mind? First of all, educating myself.

What I know now is based on research, is based on learning and is based on evidence that I see every day. Kids can excel, even kids from poverty – given the right framework, given the right tools – can excel as fast or faster than any other kids. So is there a direct link between poverty and ability? No.

- Jerry Brown, Principal, Spaugh Academy
Charlotte, North Carolina

There are so many people out there who still have a mindset that because of the zip code you're born in or the color of your skin or something like that, that there are limitations to what one can achieve in this world. And that drives me nuts.

- Mike Feinberg, Co-founder, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program)

Let's look in particular at low-income black children and see how they are doing on the same tests across multiple cities. What you will see in both reading and in mathematics is that low-income black children in Charlotte are performing at much higher levels than their counterparts in Los Angeles or Washington, D.C.

In fourth grade reading, for example, poor black children in Charlotte are at least a grade level ahead of their counterparts in D.C. or Los Angeles. In eighth grade mathematics, they're closer to two to three grade levels ahead of their counterparts in Los Angeles or D.C. So a very, very big difference in how poor black children achieve from one district to another.

- Kati Haycock, Director, The Education Trust

It's not a decision where the child sits down and says, “Well, I've decided that school's not important to me.” Once you fail in first grade, the chances are you're going to fail in second grade. The chances are you're going to fail in third grade and beyond.

You may be put in the low reading group. Any number of bad things will happen to you. And in the accumulation of those bad things, what you'll do is a normal human response. You'll say, “This is not important. I don't like this. I'll find any way I can to get out of this.”

And you end up with a child who hates school. And you end up very frequently then with children who have behavior problems, who have terrible motivation and attitude problems that interfere with their success later on as a student and then, ultimately, as an adult.

- Bob Slavin, Co-Founder, Success for All

Right now we have this little anecdote that goes out that says all children can learn. And everybody really ascribes belief in that. But the problem with that is that's only half of the equation. The other half of the equation is all children can learn if adults provide high quality instruction.

- Anthony Alvarado, former Superintendent, District 2
New York City

[High Schools That Work] simply says, if you enroll those students in very rigorous academic courses; give them assignments where they can see the meaning of what you're asking them to learn; link that, for some students, to a career in technical studies; really believe they can learn; and give them the kind of support they need, all students can learn at the level we historically taught only our best students in the past.

- Gene Bottoms, Founder, High Schools That Work

Yes, But… Schools Shouldn't Have To Deal With Behavior Or Motivation Issues, Parents Should

The success of a school isn't dependent on the children it serves. We are the ones that will compensate for any deficiencies or additional needs children bring to us.

- Eric Smith, former Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte, North Carolina

We need to believe that all children can learn. But then what we need to act on is changing the word “can” to “will.” So we need to act on the fact that all children will learn.

Every day, there are 101 reasons why the kids come into the school not set for success, not ready to learn. Some of those reasons are ridiculous, some are very legitimate. And I think we have to act on the fact that, as a school, we do have the potential and we do have the power, if we want, to eliminate those variables and do whatever it takes to help the kids learn.

- Mike Feinberg, Co-founder, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program)

Improving the performance of high poverty schools, whether urban or rural, is a huge challenge. And it involves more than getting the academics in the curriculum right. It involves getting social relationships right, creating a supportive environment, making better connections between the school and the community.

- Steve Fleischman, Managing Research Scientist, American Institutes for Research

We do know that teaching matters, but so does the culture of the school and its surrounding environment. They have to be combined or we're not going to reach many of our kids.

- Lauren Resnick, Director, Institute for Learning
University of Pittsburgh

You know the purpose of the school is not just to raise test scores or to give children academic learning. The purpose of the school is to give children an experience that will help them grow and develop in ways that they can be successful in school and as successful adults. They have to grow in a way that they can take care of themselves, get an education, take care of a family, be responsible citizens of the society and of their community. Now, you don't get that simply by raising test scores.

- James Comer, Founder, Comer Process

Yes, But… Those Problems Don't Apply To Me

The forces driving school reform are very clear and they have been clear since 1983. That is: American students aren't competitive when we compare ourselves to other countries throughout the world. And that threatens our ability to be economically competitive, but also our ability to support a democratic society in the way that we'd like.

I didn't say it. Thomas Jefferson did, and Benjamin Franklin did and Horace Mann did: An educated citizenry is key to a democracy. If people aren't educated, they won't be informed citizens and informed voters. And they will be susceptible to manipulation.

So it's not just an economic imperative. It's critical for the continuation of our democracy. What other way do we have in this country for knitting together the rich diversity that always exists in this country because of immigration and emigration? It's our schools that take all the people from the different countries of the world, and different languages in the world, and different beliefs in the world and creates a common ground for them. And that's the job that our schools have now.

-Warren Simmons, Executive Director, Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Brown University

We have two options. We can either shrug our shoulders and sit there and say, “What can we do about it? It's because of the families. It's because of the community. It's because of their former schools and former teachers, because of society.” Or we can say, “You know what, it might have been someone else's problem, but now it's ours, and we need to do something about it.”

- Mike Feinberg, Co-founder, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program)

The task of improving achievement in our cities is terribly urgent, not because their results are somehow worse than they were ten years ago, but because the consequences of those results for children are so much worse today.

In this economy, if you don't have a high school diploma, you don't have a chance. But we're losing half of our kids. That's a tragedy for them. It is a tragedy for us as a country.

- Kati Haycock, Director, The Education Trust

Yes, That Reform May Work In Your Community, But… It Won't Work In Mine

Our target's not a number of schools as much as our target is an outcome. And the outcome is that we are chasing the, “Yes, buts.” We are hunting them down and we are getting rid of them one by one.

And by, “Yes, buts,” I mean all the people that come and visit KIPP, and come here and tour the schools, and in the end think it's great. But when I get to the door with them, I hear, “This is great. It's the best school I've seen, but there's no way it would work in Chicago. There's no way it work in the Mississippi Delta. There's no way it would work in Washington, D.C. There's no way it would work in Los Angeles, California.”

And they tell me all the different political, socioeconomic, financial or legal reasons why their place is the most screwed up place in the planet and nothing can work there. And I realize I can't win the debate at the door. There's nothing I can do to convince people that, “Yes, this can work in the Mississippi Delta. Yes, this can work in Chicago.”

So now when I hear people say, “This is great, but it can't work in Chicago,” I get out my notes and write down “Alright, we have to start a school in Chicago.” Because the actual proves the possible. And so wherever people are making excuses, we want to prove what can actually be happening there. Because the day the excuses end is going to be the day the solutions start.

- Mike Feinberg, Co-founder, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program)

We're now in 32 states. We have over a thousand high schools in our network. And we have a growing number of middle schools to get students better prepared for high school.

The kind of high schools we have run the full gamut. They run from a 200-student small high school in Oklahoma, to 2000 to 2500-student high school in the state of Florida. Some of them are specialized technical high schools, but most of them are comprehensive high schools.

We have about 100 high schools located in 12 urban districts. We have a group of 65 very rural high schools. We have high schools in the suburbs. They're in all communities and contexts.

- Gene Bottoms, Founder, High Schools That Work

In the case of Success for All, we're working right now with about 1500 schools from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. And over the years more than one million children have been through these schools.

There are other programs that have also shown that good practice can be replicated. And I think that in all the successful parts of our society, what we do when we are really serious about something is we establish models of what can work and figure out how to make them replicable. We do that in medicine. We do that in technology. We do that in agriculture.

We base things on good research. We show what works and then we figure out ways to make it work on a broad scale. In education, for some reason, we've resisted this.

- Bob Slavin, Co-Founder, Success for All

Yes, You May Be Able To Change A Few Schools, But… You Can't Change Tens Of Thousands

Up until Tony Alvarado took over District 2 in New York City, we really as a country thought we were going to have to do this school by school. We knew we had some wonderful schools, even schools serving very poor kids that got those kids to very high levels of achievement. But we had no examples of whole systems that produced good outcomes for poor kids.

[District 2] is, by no means, the only example today. But they were the first place that was at least reasonably well known and quite well studied where those who doubted that districts could actually be an agent for good had to say, “Hey, it looks like they can.”

- Kati Haycock, Director, The Education Trust

Tony Alvarado took a stand on what good teaching is, and could be, and said, “This is how we're going to run our schools. We're going to teach people how to be those kinds of teachers. We're also going to select people who want to be those kinds of teachers.” And he showed that when you took a stand, made it clear, brought in the people who wanted to participate, you could make many schools bloom, not just a few.

- Lauren Resnick, Director, Institute for Learning
University of Pittsburgh

In my experience I have been befuddled by this phenomenon: No matter how big or small districts tend to be they can be incredibly unsuccessful. And so that's the one arena in life where size does not seem to matter. I have seen districts with 10,000 kids do miserably and I have seen districts like New York with a million kids actually do better than some smaller districts.

-Warren Simmons, Executive Director, Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Brown University

What we're trying to do is help and motivate others to start their own network of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 schools. We can also motivate the traditional public schools to raise their bar and get better. And I think that's how we're going to address the needs of all 50 million kids.

I don't think we can look at any one model to serve as the answer for everything. I think, as Howard Fuller talks about so eloquently, school systems need to evolve into systems of schools. And I think that we need to stop having one-size-fits-all and have lots of models so that parents and children have the freedom to choose what's right for them.

- Mike Feinberg, Co-founder, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program)

Yes, But… Everybody Disagrees About What Works

District-wide reform in major cities across the country really seems to be defined around about 8 or 9 common elements:

  • A consensus for reform. An overall agreement at the leadership level that reform is going to be pursued and it's going to be defined around the academic improvement of the kids and the school districts.
  • A very clear set of goals that are measurable and articulated over time.
  • Accountability for attaining those goals.
  • A curriculum aligned with the state goals and curriculum, sometimes prescriptive in nature, but not always.
  • A professional development program that is tied to that curriculum, and that's not fractured, and splintered and defined school by school.
  • A way for the reforms to go from the top of the system into the individual schools and classrooms and back up again, so that they are supported and monitored in their implementation.
  • And a good use of data to measure progress, to make decisions about additional training and professional development, and [to make decisions about] where interventions need to be put into place.

- Mike Casserly, Executive Director, Council of the Great City Schools

The core elements are: clear expectations; embodiment of those expectations in tests and examinations that students really can legitimately study for; good teaching help for teachers; and everybody knowing what counts – it's an accountability system.

- Lauren Resnick, Director, Institute for Learning
University of Pittsburgh

There are preferred ways of teaching kids how to read. There are ways that work better than others to teach a child mathematics. This isn't just a free flowing art form that takes on any shape you'd like. There is a science to this, and we need to spend more time in our districts looking at the science.

- Eric Smith, former Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte, North Carolina

The thing we've learned in the last quarter century is you don't get results unless you stick to something over the period of time that it takes to get those results. You can't get frustrated. If you expected that something is going to take three to five years to show results, as many programs do and many reforms do, you cannot switch after three years.

It's like taking a medication and saying I took three pills even though the doctor prescribed five. I don't feel any better. I'm not going to take the other two pills. If the doctor has good evidence that it takes five pills over five days to get you better, you ought to do it. You ought to have some confidence that you will get results.

- Steve Fleischman, Managing Research Scientist, American Institutes for Research

Education does not change overnight, and I wish it could. I wish there were a magic bullet and tomorrow we could have all of our kids be best readers.

You can't start with a ninth grader today and say, “We're going to fix everything that's wrong with you. And you're going to read well. And you're going to do math well, and you're going to take physics.”

It starts with little ones. It starts with children when they are born. It starts with our elementary schools. It's a cumulative effect, and it takes a long time to see dramatic improvement in education.

- Susan Agruso, Assistant Superintendent,Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte, North Carolina

Yes, But… This Country Spends Enough On Education

It takes the same amount of money [to run a KIPP school] that it takes to run a public school. We do not believe in trying to run schools on more money than what's already out there because that would be the biggest “Yes, but” of all – that no matter what kind of results we got, people would say, “Well, they did it because of the money.”

Money is an important factor, but money is not going to guarantee success. There are too many school districts out there that are spending twice as much money as they get here in Houston that are just failing the children miserably. So money is obviously not the ultimate answer.

We've also figured out how to run KIPP and run all these extra hours on that same nickel. The way we do that is simply by being very lean on the administrative side. You're looking right now, in the first couple of years, not just at the school founder and school principal, but the fifth grade math teacher, the bus driver, the lunch lady, the custodian and a few other things.

So all the money saved gets pumped in the classroom, mainly to pay the teachers for the extra hours during the day, during the week, and during the year. That's how we're able to run the KIPP schools very efficiently.

- Mike Feinberg, Co-founder, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program)

Part of our thinking in Success for All from the very beginning, was to demonstrate what could be done if you were willing to spend what was needed to insure all children succeed. That means that our original conception was that this was going to cost more than what schools ordinarily spend, but not vastly more, because we knew that would be unrealistic.

The cost of the program, the cost that schools pay for it, is about a $150 per child per year. Then it declines in the first year to less than that. In America we're spending $6,000, $7,000, $8,000 per child per year for all of education. To add $150 per child seems trivial in that context, and yet it's very difficult for people to come up with $150 dollars a child.

So I'm not belittling the cost, but I'm saying that we could, for a fairly modest percentage increase in what we provide to schools now, get much more effective schools than the ones we have. But we have to use that increase for programs that have good, strong evidence of effectiveness, or else people will say, ‘We're all putting more money down a rat hole. We've already been there and it didn't do anything for us.”

- Bob Slavin, Co-Founder, Success for All

Children who have educational needs need more time, and they need more support, and that's more money. And as a society, that's the thing that I hope that we will move towards: recognizing that we can be successful with all children, but we do have to have the resources to do that.

[The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district has] gotten very good at redirecting resources. We made a decision about what was important to us, and that is educating all children. And so every year, as an exercise in our budget, we literally redirect funds to those programs we believe will work the best for our kids.

- Susan Agruso, Assistant Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte, North Carolina

Yes, But… More Testing Is Not The Answer

Data is the most important aspect of what we did in Charlotte. We were driven by data. We insisted that every decision we made was based on data coming in from the schools. That's the way we identified problems, and that's the way we identified success – around the data points.

- Eric Smith, former Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte, North Carolina

People say we test too much. We actually test too little. Periodically the best teachers have always jumped in and checked what their kids are learning. The best schools and districts do the same thing. Every four to six weeks you check: “Are the kids learning the things they're supposed to learn?”

Don't just wait until they take the state test and fail then put them in some remedial program. When you know that they lack a skill, provide them with help then.

- Kati Haycock, Director, The Education Trust

When folks really understand the power of the data they want that information immediately. You don't want a day to go by where you don't know how your students are doing because you want to be right back in that classroom the next day working with that.

- Susan Agruso, Assistant Superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte, North Carolina

If you're in business, you watch your quarterly results very closely to know whether your business strategies are paying off. If you're a physician, you watch the patient's temperature, or lung function, or whatever it might be very closely to see whether you're providing the right kind of treatment. In any successful field, people watch outcomes very, very closely. In education, we have to do the same.

- Bob Slavin, Co-Founder, Success for All

Yes, But… Those Schools Just Turned Around Because Of Charismatic Leaders

You know, it's tempting to attribute Tony Alvarado's success to his charisma. And he is, in fact, an inspiring and charismatic guy. But I learned a long time ago, both about Tony but also about other superintendents in districts that have improved, that charisma is simply not a sufficient strategy. In fact, many of the superintendents in these high-end, high-performing districts are not charismatic at all.

The secret is really about getting consistency and quality in the teaching in the district. These school districts, even in districts teaching the poorest kids, have always had some really good teachers. What Tony did is help to expand that knowledge, to help rank and file teachers learn the strategies that high-end, highly effective teachers did, and to deepen their understanding of student learning. The depth of knowledge that they were able to help their teachers acquire in the area of literacy was astonishing compared to typical teachers in other communities.

- Kati Haycock, Director, The Education Trust

We've resisted the idea that good practice can be replicated and we're always getting all misty-eyed and romantic about some outstanding principal in the inner city who's doing something that may be absolutely wonderful. But you can climb to the top of their building and probably see three other buildings from there that are doing the most horrible things to children. And they will never change what they're doing on the basis of what that one wonderful principal is doing until you take what that wonderful principal is doing and make it into something that's got legs, that can travel, and that can be replicated in other locations.

- Bob Slavin, Co-Founder, Success for All


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