Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More information about RIDE's school classifications: PPSD PowerPoint

As I work on a long post and East Side Monthly column about the significance and lack thereof of RIDE's new school classification system, I want to share this PowerPoint created by PPSD and shared by Superintendent Sue Lusi in various venues, including last week's Providence City Council meeting that Zach Mezera wrote about here.

Councilman Sam Zurier posted the PowerPoint in PDF form (click here to download). If you have any interest in this issue, it's well worth a look for its more specific focus on Providence than the material that RIDE has provided thus far as well as the detail about timelines and next steps. Thanks to Councilman Zurier for sharing.

At the risk of being a nudge, I'll point out that this belongs on the Providence Public Schools website as well, along with more info that provides guidance and context about this whole deal. I've mentioned this to folks at PPSD and assume it's in the works...so let's see it. Thanks.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thinking about back to school...

School starts for my kids and their 23,000+ peers in the Providence Public Schools in a month, on August 28. Right now, we're deep into our summer routine, such as it is. Bedtime is a moving target. The guys are reading according to their own initiative (see this for the prickly relationship that our family has with required summer reading). Leo is obsessing about fantasy baseball and Henry about Legos. So their minds are at work. I am cool with them and they seem pretty cool with themselves. As Anne Lamott might put it, right now, most of the time, their minds are hospitable neighborhoods in which they are safe alone. I credit the laid back pace of summer for that.

Elias is at camp for nearly a month, totally out of my clutches. From his letters, we're getting little glimpses here and there but I don't need those to know he's learning big--about other people, life outside his family, how to take care or himself, self-reliance, coping without tv and other comforts of home, probably about archery and kayaking and I can't wait to find out what else.

The other guys are having fun at their camp (this week it's soccer, hence last night's late night scramble for shin guards). We're watching a whole lot of Olympics and pursuing the learning that comes from that, which includes frequent reference to an atlas and lots of conversation about the rules of various sports, competition, setting and achieving goals, world records, and more speculation than I ever thought possible on whether body hair really does slow someone down in the pool THAT much (if this topic fascinates you as much as it fascinates Leo, you are welcome to take it up with him and spare me another explanation of friction and milliseconds).

However, I've been in the game for long enough to know that now is the time to get our heads (mine, for starters) into getting ready for school. Because in one way or another this is an annual rite of passage for all of us with kids at school, during the coming days and weeks, I'll to share bits and pieces of our family's transition back to school during the coming weeks. What's on my mind now:
  • establishing routines and rituals 
  • setting up the house to encourage and invite learning 
  • figuring out the best way to deal with the sometimes glorious distractions of tv and computers 
  • getting our parental heads around their upcoming curriculum and learning expectations 
  • school supplies, clothes, etc. 
  • afterschool activities 
  • figuring out schedules, buses, transportation, and babysitting/afterschool care
All that and more is on my mind, so if you're reading this, it's probably on yours too. So let's do this. Soon. Today, though, we have a sprinkler to run through.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Report from 7/23 City Council Education Subcommittee on RIDE school classifications

Big huge thanks to Zach Mezera, reporter extraordinaire, who attended the City Council Education Subcommittee meeting last night and sent along this detailed, thoughtful report. What follows is Zach's excellent report verbatim - all thanks go to him.


Education Subcommittee Hearing — July 23, 2012

Relevant players included Councilmembers Zurier, Salvatore, Matos, and Principe; Superintendent Lusi; Chief Academic Officer Paula Shannon; and Director of Research, Planning and Accountability Marco Andrade

As the Superintendent put it, the new classifications that came with the waiver from NCLB provide more flexibility, but are more difficult to explain to the public. I’ll do my best.

Over half of the District is now “identified” for poor performance. This happened because there was a shift away from identifying schools solely by AYP, and instead toward measuring multiple factors. These are: percent of students with proficiency, percent of students with distinction, percent of NECAP participation, achievement gap closing, progress to 2017 targets, growth (K-8), improvement (9-12), and graduation rate. 

The measurement of achievement gaps merits special attention. From what I understood, there are three relevant measures: 1) The average score of students with an IEP or LEP (limited English proficiency); 2) The average score of students on free or reduced lunch (and minority status?); and 3) A district-wide “performance reference group” of students without any of the prior qualifications. So take Hope High: average the scores of IEP/LEP students in the school, average the scores of FRL students in the school, do something with those two averages, and then compare that school average to the average score of non-poor, non-IEP students across the entire district, and voila, the “gap-closing” score. [Interesting to note here that RIDE refers to this “performance reference group” as “high-performing” when actually, the PRG has nothing to do with performance. It’s a tacit admission that not having an IEP and not having subsidized lunch pretty much suggests the student is scoring well.]

Whereas the NCLB goal was to have all students (read: all schools) reach proficiency by 2014, the waiver sets more realistic goals for individual schools, based on a baseline. AYP then, as I understand, is a thing of the past, superseded by what Andrade called “a more comprehensive picture.” The classifications that are rendered by this more comprehensive process then dictate whether the school/district must reform with various options from a menu of “empirically proven reform strategies.” Superintendent Lusi stressed that what was better about this system is that by creating a system for measuring gaps, the suburbs are now held accountable as well. Although, not too many were identified in the lowest tiers anyway.

One that was ID’d as “Focus” that probably caught peoples’ attention was Nathan Bishop. The primary reason for this, it seems, was that only 9% scored proficient (in what?) in the most recent NECAP. The RIDE rules state that if a school has a proficiency score of less than 10, it automatically is placed in Focus regardless of other scores.

Some things are still unclear. 

1) If the reforms take almost a year to implement (this Spring or later), and then NECAP testing happens at the beginning of the following year, the test will fail to measure the full impact of the reforms for at least 2 years. It’s just another dumb side effect of having NECAPs at the beginning of the year.

2) How are the affluent white suburbs measuring achievement gaps? — I asked this question, but was still confused by the response. Rather than calculate a “low performing performance reference group” for places like Barrington or East Greenwich as I thought it might, it instead seems like RIDE made the “quorum” for measurement arbitrarily low. In the past, schools (or districts?) needed to have 45 students with IEPs or LEPs or FRL to be scored for gaps; now that number seems as low as 10. That means gaps should be able to be calculated for most schools, but it’s based on a sample of 10 situationally-challenged students that is likely too small to overcome natural statistical variation. I.e., the rankings of achievement gaps across the state are calculated on the backs of a very few FRL, IEP or LEP students in affluent districts.

3) How disruptive are these reforms going to be? We have to wait until the package is chosen. And because the district is mandated only 60 days to choose a package, the community won’t have many chances to engage in the process.

4) How is baseline calculated? Is it NECAP scores over the last few years? Or is it just the most recent full set of scores for the school, a la RI-CAN’s criticized report cards? I hope it’s the former, but the phrasing members used made it sound like the latter.

5) How are we going to pull this off? Credit to Councilmember Principe, who pointed out the core problem: PPSD only receives an additional $400,000 to enact reform packages at an additional 15 schools! It’s insane.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Providence City Council education-related hearings this week: RIDE rankings and elected school board

In his weekly newsletter, Providence City Council member Sam Zurier shares two events likely to be of interest to fellow education obsessives.

1. TODAY (!!!), Monday July 23 at 5:00pm, the City Council Education Subcommittee will hear a presentation from the  Providence School Department concerning the State’s recent rankings of schools for intervention (discussed here on this blog last week). The purpose of the hearing will be to learn how the rankings were compiled, and how they will impact the affected schools.  The meeting will take place on the third floor of City Hall (25 Dorrance Street).

I cannot make it to this hearing - will be en route from work. Am putting this out there in case someone reading this is able and as usual, if you're incline to write up what happened and share here in the comments, so grateful we would be!

2. On Thursday July 26, at 5:30pm, the City Council Ordinance Committee will hold a public hearing on proposed revisions to the City Charter, including one to replace the appointed school board with an elected school committee.

So not likely that I will make this hearing either, though I am quite interested. I am also quite without a firm opinion about the best direction in which to head. I am inclined to support an elected school board more out of distaste for the current appointed board, which puts too much power in the hands of the mayor's office. Clearly much more to say and debate but I'll be quiet about this for now in the interest of sharing this post with 4 hours and 53 minutes to spare before tonight's meeting - should be plenty of time to clear your calendar and be there, right?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Free trip for kids to Newport Jazz Festival!

My friend Gwen shared with me the news that Opera Providence and Jazz is a Rainbow are sponsoring a free trip for kids the Newport Jazz Festival on August 4. This all expense paid trip is for children ages 8-19 only. Event includes a free ticket, free bus trip, free T-shirt and free lunch! Adult supervision provided. Seating is limited!  Bus departs from Providence. To reserve a seat for your child, email ribooks@aol.com by TOMORROW, Saturday 7/21.

Click on the flier for more:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hope High School Alumni Association in August East Side Monthly

My August East Side Monthly column on the Hope High School Alumni Association, which I posted about earlier this month here, is online - not at coffeeshops near you quite yet. So here's a sneak peek; click here to read the version on ESM's site or just keep reading below.

Many thanks to Brian Lalli and Anthony Sanders for all that you've done to organize Hope High School alums and inspire current students.

Illustration by Jessica Pollock

Leading the Way

As a school-obsessed East Sider, I am always on the hunt for the scoop on our neighborhood’s schools. Usually this comes from parents, students and teachers, but of course, a school is as much its history as its present inhabitants. So when I heard that Hope High School’s alumni had formed an active alumni association, I chatted with Anthony Sanders (class of 1989) and Brian Lalli (class of 1993) to learn more.

Both Sanders, the president of the Hope Alumni Association, and active member Lalli fondly remember their time at Hope. Both attended Hope Essential School, a school-within-a-school program at Hope during the 1980s and 1990s that formed the basis of the small school reform approach that was implemented within Hope during the subsequent decade. Sanders, who attended Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School and Nathan Bishop Middle School before Hope, recalled, “Hope High School prepared me for college possibly more than necessary. Everything that we did in college I was ready for because of Hope. To this day, I write in a journal because of what I learned there, which were the core values needed in life.”

Sanders, who went on to graduate from Northeastern University and then received his MBA from Johnson and Wales, is a fraud investigator with Allstate Insurance. Along with other Hope alumni, he founded the alumni association in order to ensure that current students benefit from connections with successful alumni. “There are so many of us who are now lawyers, doctors and business owners who can go back and connect students to Hope’s traditions. We need to let everyone know that great things come out of Hope.”

The Hope Alumni Association, which is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, also arose from a sense that “something was missing,” as Lalli put it. “I never had a 10th reunion, and that didn’t feel right, so we started connecting with alums from across the years. And as we kept talking, we realized we wanted to do more than just get together and remember. We wanted to provide opportunities for Hope students today.” Lalli, the assistant director of residential life at Rhode Island College, grew up and still lives on the East Side. He attended Holy Ghost School and Nathan Bishop Middle before Hope, graduated from URI and is completing a certificate for advanced study in mental health counseling.

In order to provide that opportunity, Hope Alumni Association members created the Reach for the Stars scholarship program for Hope grads. The program raises funds from donations, an alumni weekend (which this year was July 13-15) and sales of Hope Blue Wave gear. This fundraising is on-going; you can make donations, buy Blue Wave sweatshirts and, if you’re a Hope alum who hasn’t yet joined up, become part of the alumni association by registering online.

The Hope Alumni Association plans to expand its involvement beyond the Reach for the Stars Scholarships and other sponsored awards for graduates by boosting alumni financial support and alumni attendance at sporting, theater and other events. Plans for a mentoring program are in the works, too. “Money on its own isn’t the answer,” said Sanders when asked about his vision for alumni involvement at Hope. “Kids want to see a living, breathing example of what can be done. I was the first one in my family to graduate from college, and I want to make sure that kids who are at Hope today can connect with people who came from where they are now. Sharing the pride that I have for Hope is what motivates me to continue to do this. Students who are at Hope now will carry that pride with them throughout their lives.”

Lalli shares Sanders’ interest in connecting alumni with students. “Young men in particular need positive male role models, and I want them to know that you can graduate and give back to your community.” And Lalli’s vision extends to the building as well as the people within. “I would love to rename Hope’s auditorium Alumni Auditorium,” he said. “It could be the East Side auditorium. We look at Nathan Bishop and see what is possible. That’s what I want for Hope.”

It’s been written before in the pages of East Side Monthly that the East Side benefits from feeling like a small town within a big city. But with eight public high schools in Providence, and many more charter and independent school options, we don’t share the defining experience of going to school together. Nevertheless, Hope High School, located at the center of our neighborhood, should also be at the center of our shared experience. So even if you did not attend Hope, consider supporting the Hope Alumni Association to keep your “hometown” school strong.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Learning from charter schools - what could that mean?

Related to the previous post on RIDE's big list and what it means for Providence, this July 14 ProJo article contains comments on the implications of this new RIDE classification schema from Superintendent Sue Lusi and School Board President Keith Oliveira, including this insight: 
Providence School Board President Keith Oliveira says it’s time for Providence to look to local charter schools that are moving the academic bar.

“It’s unacceptable that we have so many schools on the list,” he said. “We need to look at those urban schools with high degrees of achievement and parent satisfaction — the charter schools. They are doing something that’s working. It’s about time we consider learning from them.”
Mr. Oliveira, which charter schools are you referring to? A huge amount depends on that answer. If hope that you're thinking about some of our local, independently run charter schools such as ICS, the Learning Community, and, Times2, and Paul Cuffee. I think we have lots to learn from what they're doing - and of course, plenty to learn from other schools in the district including, of course, school on "the list." 

I will keep saying and writing, until I am blue in the face and the fingers, that PPSD already has much of the wisdom and skills needed to change outcomes for young people in our schools. What we lack is the political will that would provide resources and opportunities for effective professional development, site-based management, appropriate support for school leaders, sustained district leadership, lack of disruption from top-down district reorganization. Yes, I am still bitter about last year's school closings and their impact on young people and their schools. To think that there's no connection between that and lack of progress within a number of PPSD school that resulted in these new classifications is ridiculous. 

In addition to all that, collaboration among and between district schools and local charter schools would be great, especially given the high quality of local independent charter schools that surround us. Yes, let's learn from and with them. 

However, I hope that "learn from" doesn't mean "we invite charter chains managed by for-profit operators to take over our school district." That kind of "learning" we can do without. 

RIDE's new school classifications and what they may mean for Providence

On Friday, July 13, RIDE released a list of the state's school ranked according to its brand-new classification system that was the result of Rhode Island's ESEA waiver (clicking on that link leads to a PDF from RIDE that provides an overview of the system). The results weren't great for many schools in Providence--as if any real good could come of simplistic rankings of schools. 21 of PPSD's 37 schools are now on "the list," a number that includes the several schools already designated as in need of improvement and receiving SIG funds. 

I use the term "the list' to mean that group of schools that are classified with "warning," "focus" or "priority" statuses. The reasons for those statuses are varied, related to achievement gap concerns, lack of progress overall in scores and other factors that right now seem far too nebulous. Some schools, such as MLK Elementary, have been designated with the "warning label" though there are elementary schools with worse outcomes for kids. Some schools, such as Nathan Bishop Middle School, met all NECAP targets last year yet have been designated as "focus" schools. Priority for great resources that help all kids in the building - that's what that means, right? 

Here are my other questions thus far:

1. What's the timeline and process by which school communities, including families, will use to select intervention strategies? In particular, I am interested in knowing whether and how parents and family members will be included in this decision making.

2. Are there quotas or limits on the intervention methods from which schools can choose?

3. What's the funding to support improvement within these schools (as well as schools districtwide no matter their RIDE status)?

4. How will the various intervention and support options will affect ongoing programs, and to what degree does the school leadership, faculty, and community have control over this?

5. What are the specifics of RIDE's classification? As I understand it, this resulted from RIDE changing the way it classifies schools in terms of their achievement levels. What were the specific triggers that caused so many schools to be classified as needing intervention? What does that tell us about the challenges the schools may be facing? How do those specifics affect the intervention strategies and options that may be available?

6. What are the intervention strategies and options that may be available?

At this point, I have no answers that are likely to enlighten anyone. I'm using what time I have available this week to seek answers that will help me understand more about the new system and what it might mean for all schools that have made it onto "the list." I will share here anything that feels like it might be useful. In the meantime, you might want to check out Tom Hoffman's blog, Tuttle SVC - Tom's been able to get his head around this much more adroitly than I have.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

There's baseball and then there's waiting

More accurately, for this blog's readers,  because there's baseball, there's waiting.

Sad to say, my kids' baseball days are finally over for this summer. The Fox Point East Side All Stars team lost last night to Johnston 16-0. They were most definitely outmatched but they played hard and with heart. I'm grateful to have my evenings back for a bit (until Fall Ball in September!) but will miss watching them play.

Between our three kids playing this year, plus playoff games, All Star games and now this summer tournament, we estimate we've been to around 100 baseball games this spring and summer. As I've written before, I get wrapped up in not only the games but also the guys' emotional states heading into the games. Ahead of the big game last night, I could hardly focus on work during the day and as it's been clear from the lack of posts here, I haven't been thinking about much else, either. Yes, it is summer and Providence education news is slow, but it's also that my head hasn't been in this game. It's been in the game on the field.

Serendipitously, as I was thinking about how to get this blog's engine to turn over, I came upon Moneyball, Superman, Angry Royals Fans and Education Reform? from School Finance 101 which compares inequity within Major League Baseball to school finance inequity. Apparently, I am not the only one in the headspace that connects baseball and education.

Bottom line, in education and baseball, money matters. We've been wildly distracted from dealing with the implications of economic inequity both within education and more generally. And, course, the critical difference is that baseball is a game and education - and the lives it impacts - isn't. We cannot afford, nor can we tolerate, Yankees and also-rans among our children, and we can't pretend that paying for kids' basic needs, including education, doesn't matter or can somehow be compensated for by "no excuses." I didn't like hearing the boos for Cano either, but I think that School Finance 101's Bruce Baker has a point that the KC fans weren't simply ungracious.

(Who said "there's baseball and then there's waiting?" to describe how we feel about the time after the World Series ends and spring training starts? Wish I could remember - I love that idea.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hope High School Alumni Association Weekend, July 13-15

Next weekend, July 13-15, the Hope High School Alumni Association is hosting an all-classes alumni weekend - info available online here.

I'm sharing this to help get the word out to all Hope alums, The weekend is both for alums to get together and to raise money for the Hope Alumni Association's Reach for the Stars scholarship, awarded to current Hope grads who will be attending college and who " show commitment to education, citizenship and community."

Count me as a Hope High School Alumni Association cheerleader and supporter. You may want to lend your financial or other forms of support too, if you can, to bolster the efforts of alumni through the decades dedicated to making sure that Hope High School continues to be a place where students can thrive. Click here to donate or buy Hope High School gear. And stay tuned for more on the Hope High School Alumni Association - I'm writing about their efforts for August's East Side Monthly which should be out later this month.

Have a blast at the Blue Wave Alumni Weekend, everyone!