The Cornhusker Challenge

I talk to Education Cities’ Ethan Gray about the new Education Equality Index, and challenge him to accompany me to the #1 gap-closing city in the USA: Omaha, Nebraska. (Spoiler alert: he accepts!)

CornGuyEduShyster: Let’s not waste any time here. We’re headed straight to the top spot of your new Education Equality Index: Omaha, Nebraska—which is, according to your measure, closing the achievement gap faster than other city in the nation. Anything unusual happening in the schools there that you can put your finger on? 

Ethan Gray: You’re going to the question of why the results are the way they are. At this point we’re focused on trying to highlight the schools in those cities that have closed or are closing the achievement gap, and we think it’s really important for local education leaders, policy makers and researchers to spend some time in those schools and get to know them better and understand what educators in those schools are doing and what they would ascribe their success to. I haven’t spent time in those schools and so I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

EduShysterFull disclosure—that was actually a trick question. Omaha is unusual in that it has no charter schools. Nebraska, which is also home to your #6 gap-closing city, Lincoln, is one of just seven states that doesn’t allow charters. 

Gray: [Dry chuckle…] We don’t really think it’s about the type of school. We think it’s about spending time in those schools and learning more about what the school leaders, educators and parents are doing there. What we’ve noticed looking at the data is that there are schools of all types that are showing up on our list of gap-closing schools: district schools, charter schools, magnet schools, low-tech schools. We’re really encouraged that in almost every city we looked at, there is at least one, if not multiple gap-closing schools. Continue reading →

What’s the Point?

Even as the debate over charter schools in Massachusetts heats up, the ultimate goal of the experiment is anyone’s guess…

It’s time for a field trip, reader, and today we’re headed to a little place I like to call *an alternate reality.* Shall I summon forth the scene?

entering_brockton (1)A special meeting of the Board of Education is underway. Members have convened to discuss the single most successful school turnaround in state history: once failing Brockton High School, which 15 years ago under went a remarkable teacher-led transformation. Board chair Paul Sagan has allotted extra time to hear from teachers who helped lead the acclaimed literacy initiative, subject of national accolades (although, weirdly, mostly ignored in Massachusetts). Secretary of Education James Peyser has a question. Is it true that a third of each graduating class or some 300+ kids per year, at a school where 63% of students are considered *high needs* and 20% are still learning English, routinely qualifies for the state’s Adams scholarship, guaranteeing four years of funding to any public university in the state? Peyser does the math on his phone, then checks it on his other phone. He strokes his chin, musing aloud that this number dwarfs the combined total of grads from Boston’s charter schools, and, oddly, seems to include not just girls but boys too. Another question, this one from state Commissioner Mitchell Chester: this teacher-led concept sounds promising. Since every school has teachers is it replicable? At which point the Board members pause to check their calendars to schedule a visit so that they can see for themselves what lasting, teacher-led transformation looks like.

OK—so that’s not exactly how things went down. Instead, the Board voted to gift Brockton with a new regional charter high school that will compete against Brockton High by offering less—Look Ma, no art or music!—all the while draining an estimated 5% of the city’s total education budget per year.  Continue reading →

Best Practices Make Purrfect

Charter schools and kittens are both purrfect and have many best practices which they can be encouraged to share with the appropriate material incentives.

The subject of today’s EduShyster lesson is best practices. Which means that if you are a traditional, “low-expectations” teacher, this subject will hold no interest for you. (I happen to have it on excellent authority that your 600 page iron clad union contracts expressly ban best practices from school grounds). I invite you to check back in when we return to a more appropriate topic:  how to turn empty wine boxes into classroom holiday decorations. See you then!

Anyway, back to best practices. Did you ever read a story about a charter school that is 100 times more innovative and has like 1000 times more best practices than its sad failing public counterpart? Because EduShyster is among the handful of remaining people who still subscribe to the Boston Globe (I kick it old school), I have this experience almost everyday. Which gave me a brilliant idea: what if there were a way for charters to share some of their best practices with public schools? Now obviously they can’t possibly share all of them as that would take 862 years, and the for-profits are out because their best practices are—shhhhhhhhhh—proprietary. Continue reading →

OMG: We Can Learn So Much From Charter Schools!

Public schools are beginning to implement some charter school “best practices”–like unloading kids who are a drag on graduation rates and test scores.

The great thing about charter schools is that there are so many great things about charter schools. But if I had to pick one it would be best practices. These are all of the things that charters do better than traditional union-stifled public schools, like innovation, high expectations and no excuses. Luckily, charter schools are happy to share their best practices unless they are for-profit charters in which case all of their practices are proprietary. Continue reading →