Change a School’s Structure, Change the World: An Exchange

In which Empower School’s Brett Alessi and I go back and forth about whether the Springfield Empowerment Zone is *all that*… 

Image result for unicornEditor’s note: I recently wrote about the much-hyped Springfield Empowerment Zone, arguing that there isn’t enough *there there* to merit its coronation as the next big thing, and that the zone’s eye-popping suspension numbers are a serious red flag. Brett Alessi, head of Empower Schools, the nonprofit that is helping to empower the Empowerment Zone, responded and asked if he might respond to my piece, giving readers a fuller account of what’s happening in Springfield than my *negative Nancy* portrayal. (My description, not his). I eagerly obliged but requested that Alessi focus on the two specific issues I raised: the high student suspension numbers in the Zone’s schools, and whether the push to *scale up* the Zone is warranted given that the Zone has yet to do what its architects claimed that it would do. Alessi’s response is below, and my response to his response is below that… Continue reading →

The System Works*

If schools produce dramatic gains but leave students feeling scared, and scarred, are they still successful? An eighth grader poses some tough questions…

Traumatized. That’s the word my friends and I use when we talk about our school. It really scarred us. We were so used to freedom, like being able to walk to lunch in groups. All of a sudden, we were treated like children. Our lockers were taken away. Instead we had cubbies in our classrooms. We were like *cubbies? Are you joking???* We weren’t allowed to transition; our teachers transitioned. We stayed in the same room, in our chairs for 8 hours a day. We only moved when we went to lunch. We had to line up in a particular order and if you weren’t in the  right order or if somebody was talking, you’d have to go back to the classroom and start again.  There was one time when we missed lunch because we went through this process fifteen times.

They said that discipline led to academic success. They were incredibly strict about the uniform and we weren’t used to that. In the morning when we walked in we had to lift up our pants so that they could make sure we were wearing the socks we were allowed to wear, check to make sure we had a belt and that we had the school logo on our shirts. They’d say *if you don’t have the logo, we’re not going to let you in. We’re going to send you to the dean’s office and you’re going to get a uniform and you’re going to get out­-of­-school detention.* What really bothered me was that even if you had an excuse, like your uniform was in the laundry, and your mom called, they would still send you to the dean’s office.     Continue reading →

Third Way or the Highway

Third-Way-Logo

The future of education reform in Massachusetts requires mis-remembering its past…

Since 1635, Massachusetts has been known for its district public schools—the *first way.* Since 1993, Massachusetts’ charter schools have led the nation in pioneering a *second way.* It is time to recognize a Third Way – an emerging set of strategies that combine school-level autonomies and energetic innovation with a commitment to universal service and local voice…

Quick: what’s absent from this rather, um, selective account of the past 381 years of Bay State history? If you answered *that bit about 1993 seems to be a bit fact challenged,* you would be correct. As providence would have it, I happened to be acquainting myself with the history of Massachusetts’ bold experiment with school reform, circa 1993, at the very moment that the Third Way, brought to you by these guys, blazed into the Hub to blaze an optimistic path ahead in K-12 education. Which is how I happen to be in possession of such facts as that charter schools were a virtual afterthought in Massachusetts’ actual second way success story. And that the Third Way, which is already well underway, appears to veer off markedly from the course set by its bold predecessor all those 23 years ago. Strap yourself in, reader: it’s time machine time.

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If You Have a Voice, Use It

Have You Heard road trips to Lawrence, Massachusetts to hear what students have to say…

On a frosty spring Saturday (does New England have any other kind???), Have You Heard co-creator Aaron French and I piled in the car and motored to Lawrence, Massachusetts to spend the day listening to students who, it turns out, have quite a lot to say. These student writing leaders and story tellers, part of an organization called Andover Bread Loaf that I’ve written about here, are determined to write a different future for themselves and their city. You’ll be dazzled by their eloquence… But wait – there’s more! The students also have something to say about the city’s schools, subject to a state takeover five years ago, and widely recognized as a turnaround success story, and a model for struggling districts elsewhere. Except that no one appears to have talked to the students in Lawrence who were being turned around. Working with the Lawrence Youth Council and Elevated Thought, a local arts organization, students surveyed more than 600 of their peers across the city, asking them questions like *what kind of subjects would you like to study?* *how do you like to learn?* and *what opportunities are missing for kids in Lawrence?* Their findings, and the months they spent researching education, inspired this remarkable film called What Is Education? In other words, episode #4 of Have You Heard is a multi-media affair both eye-opening and ear opening.

Don’t forget that sharing is caring, and feel free to send comments to jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com. You can also find the Have You Heard team on Twitter: @EduShyster and @AaronMoFoFrench.

Not a Second To Waste

Fast-growing UP Education Network has an innovative approach to educating low-income students that starts with not wasting a second of valuable learning time…

Editor’s note: UP Education Network operates five schools in Massachusetts, including two in Lawrence, where the author of this piece taught. While the school she describes is operated like a charter school, it is a neighborhood 6-8 middle school that students are zoned to attend. UP recently received $4.3 million fMultifunctional Timer PS50 Stopwatch Professional Chronograph Handheld Digital LCD Sports Counter Timer with Straprom the US Department of Education in order to replicate and expand its high-performing model. 

I was hired to teach at UP Academy in Lawrence, MA starting in August of 2014. Everyone on staff had a duty and mine was to stand in the girl’s bathroom and make sure that the students were leaving quickly and that they only used two pumps of soap and took two paper towels. If they used more I was supposed to give them a demerit. Everything is timed and teachers walk around with timers. Kids are timed when they go to the bathroom and when they have their snack so that they aren’t wasting valuable learning time. At orientation, which lasted a month before the start of schools, we spent an entire day on how to pass papers and how to get the students to compete against each other as they did this.  

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