Thursday, August 20, 2009

Initiative to determine equality in city schools

PG article describing project by A+ schools:


kathy fine said...

A+ Schools Presentation
“School Works”
August 18, 2009

On Tuesday I attended the announcement and presentation by A+ Schools on a new initiative called “School Works”. This initiative will mobilize volunteers into PPS middle schools and high schools to collect data regarding the administration of these schools by interviewing principals. A+ Schools will use results from these interviews to:

• Identify resources, supports and tools needed to drive student achievement
• Inform A+ Schools policy agenda
•Inform PPS practices
•Inform work of other community organizations

Similar initiatives in other cities have resulted in:

•Hiring of full time case managers for special ed students
•New teacher induction policies
Equitable distribution of textbooks in classrooms

How it works:

•A+ Schools will design instrument for interviews
•A+ Schools will recruit volunteers
•Volunteers will interview middle and high school principals
•A+ Schools will analyze data
•A+ School will present results to the community


August- design instrument and recruit volunteers
September-continue recruiting volunteers and provide training (9/29, 9/30 and 10/3)
October-Volunteers conduct interviews (10/13-10/23)

Questions and answers:

Q. Is equity the bottom line of this initiative? Does A+ Schools believe that there is currently inequity in the PPS?
A. Yes, equity is driving this initiative. There are certainly different outcomes at different schools.

Q. What is the time commitment for volunteers?
A. 1 hour training and 1 hour interview.

Q. How do you mitigate for subjectivity?
A. The initiative is only as good as the information that we get from the principals. There will be anonymity regarding the interview process.

Q. Regarding equity, are you duplicating work that is already being done through the Equity Task Force and the Achievement Gap Committee?
A. There is still some information that is missing

Q. Has A+ Schools considered interviewing teachers, parents and students to get a broader view?
A. We have and would like to evolve to including these other groups. Right now, that would be too ambitious. (ohn Tarka spoke and encouraged A+ Schools to fold teachers into this process.)

Q. Are you concerned that you will be getting canned answers that the district wants?
A. We are expecting the best from our principals and there will be anonymity regarding the interview process.

Q. Has the district agreed to release the information needed for this initiative?
A. We are confident/optimistic that the district will cooperate.

Q. Will there be comparisons to other districts? (suburban, county)?
A. This would be fascinating. Right now charter schools have been invited to participate.

To sign up to be a volunteer interviewer, go to

Parent said...

I'm confused. Are they looking at inequities in teaching/services delivered or in outcomes?

It seems obvious that schools with high levels of poverty, low achievement, few students with stable home lives that outcomes are going to be poorer than at schools with a more heterogeneous mix of kids from different backgrounds, income levels, education levels of parents.

Is the goal of this to maximize resources to the neediest schools? to penalize those schools whose students are least prepared to do well by comparing them to schools with a different population?

Agree with Tarka that not including teachers is a failing. I don't see why a volunteer couldn't at least be at a school during the teacher lunch times and at least allow any interested teachers to participate.

Kathy fine said...

Parent, you are right, it is pretty obvious that poverty is a large contributing factor in achievement. I believe that the goal is to identify specific inequities in low achieving schools and form policy to correct these inequities. For instance, I was told once that certain schools in high poverty areas are dumping grounds for teachers that were ousted from other schools by parents with the wherewithal to pressure school administration.

Anonymous said...

As stated on another thread, if we are going to look at the cause of low achievement in schools, then we must look at the home first and foremost. Unfortunately, this is not politically correct in scope and sequence. Poverty does not in and of itself equate with low achievement, but the lack of responsible parenting surely does. It's noteworthy that while we look at European and Asian societies and savor their acumen in academic achievement, we refuse to identify the fact that parents stress the need for an education within those cultures and look upon poor grades as being an embarrassment. Of course, it's always convenient to ignore ultimate truths, and it's convenient to blame teachers.
One point with regards to Kathy's last comment. We have a number of schools which are comprised of student bodies that come from poverty stricken areas in great numbers. I would disagree that such schools are dumping grounds for teachers that were ousted from other schools by complaints or vindictiveness. There are good and bad teachers across the district, in every kind of school. It is exceedingly difficult however to remove a teacher from a building simply due to complaints of parents. The teacher's union has little clout these days and Mr.Tarka is largely a figurehead, but on this issue, I'd say that you are mistaken. All teachers have the abilities to move in and out of schools via postings. The wherewithal you write about usually must come in concert with a litany of other concerns and even then, a complete dismissal would be more logical than a transfer to a school that is in a poverty area. I have never heard of that among teachers.

Parent said...

we must look at the home first and foremost. Unfortunately, this is not politically correct in scope and sequence. Poverty does not in and of itself equate with low achievement, but the lack of responsible parenting surely does.

What exactly are you going to do about the homes though? It's not so much as it's not politically correct, I don't think, as that what are you suggesting as a response?

What exactly is it that any school should be doing to get or enforce responsible parenting?
What is it that a school or teacher is to do differently for a child that has NO responsible adult in his/her life?

I'm not asking these facetiously -- I really am interested in your solutions. As far as I can tell from this post and others like it here, it seems like kids without responsible parents should be, well, written off.

If you don't believe that, what are the real steps that can be taken?

Questioner said...

Re: what should schools or teachers do to encourage parents to be responsible and be involved in their children's education-

Probably the district as a whole would have to take the lead. Deciding what initiatives to take sounds like a good use for funds from ARRA, the Broad Foundation, and/or the Gates Foundation, but I'll take a stab at some ideas.

Probably the first thing to do is determine the scope of the problem-in a typical classroom, how many uninvolved parents are there who would for example come in for a meeting with a teacher or for a really fun project, and how many are there who would ignore even repeated invitations?

To try to head off the problem before it starts- could someone speak with parents when they come in to register their children for school (ideally preschool), explaining that their participation will give their children a real boost toward success and beyond, and then regularly contact parents to reinforce this message? Can someone be available to talk with these parents when they drop kids off or pick them up (even for kids who take the bus, parents may occasionally need to bring them in late or pick them up early). Since kids need a physical every year, maybe there would be some way to work with physician offices to help get the message across, or through churches. Maybe they would listen to a message from the President.

Anonymous said...

Parent, you missed the point and I apologize for not being more clear. I believe any child can learn. I would never think a kid should be "written off."
I tend to look at our society as a train rolling off the track. How does one get it back on in mid-stream? I have no answers.
I see political spin as a shell game in all of this, and that was the point.
Let's look at Europe. Let's look at Asia.
No. You can't. At least, not in academic terms alone and not without looking at how academics and schooling are viewed by families in a given culture.
And yet, that's what politicians and researchers would point to--academics by themselves.
It's easy to scapegoat educators as being the culprits, and it's easy to look at administrators as being out of touch. The truth lies beyond the school's property lines.

I cannot imagine schools bending backwards any farther to accommodate the needs of kids today, at least not without handing things to the kids in a nice package. No work, no effort--here, take the gift. I don't blame kids mind you, this is what has been ingrained upon them.

Some cultural force has to evoke change on the home front. It's not a race issue, to be sure. Yet, some movement needs to illustrate to all parents the things which are important in life.

We as a nation don't like to admit we have failed anything and yet, generations of adults have failed their kids. It's translated to problems with academic achievement.

And I confess, I don't have the answers. I just think the continual harping on educators and the search for causes within academia itself is pointless.

Anonymous said...

Well stated. I don't think anyone really has the answers. I would agree about the train rolling off of the tracks but I simply feel more people who are looked upon favorably in American culture need to speak up about the need for education. I think the message needs to be continually pushed.

kathy fine said...

Anon 4:30, In regard to some schools being dumping grounds for ineffective teachers, I was only pointing out one example of possible inequities in some schools. This example is only anecdotal, I could not say that this is a rampant problem in the PPS. And I am not saying that there are not wonderful, dedicated teachers in schools with poor student bodies. I was speaking more hypothetically that this is the "type" of inequity that the A+ schools initiative might be looking to identify and my example was based on what I was told by the principal of a school with 100% student body on free and/or reduced lunch. This principal went on to take three of what he/she called "dumped" teachers to court to get rid of them and won all three cases.

As far as addressing the needs of children without the home support and push regarding the importance of education, someone recently relayed to me (I didn't hear it myself, so i don't have a lot of details) a report on NPR about an urban school district that, instead of any new programs, school configurations etc, used their stimulus money to hire social workers to help the at risk students/families.

parentone said...

I suspect the interviews will include discussion of issues parents speak about at building meetings with building staff. Some issues can be predicted right now. Gym facilities for middle graders in buildings where there were previously no middle graders, has already been a hot button issue. Access to outdoor facilities would go along with that. I think about 6 people in one room would give a pretty fair list of inequities and then A+ could conduct the interviews to gain the solutions.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Equalty isn't my top priority. Quality, sure. Excellence, sure.

In these times, we've seen too many instances of SUBTRACTION being used to deliver equality. With Title IX, with the pea-brained, they have often decided to 'take away' programs (wrestling / swimming) for the men to reach equality. No thanks.

Anonymous said...

Would 10:00 am lunches be the kind of thing a principal would be expected to mention as an inequality?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of equality: The Title 9 audit the BOE paid Peggy Pennepaker $10,000 for was supposed to be concluded by now. Why haven't the results been released yet?

Questioner said...

Apologies from PURE, we have been planning to follow up on that but have been sidetracked by some other issues.

Parent said...

**about an urban school district that, instead of any new programs, school configurations etc, used their stimulus money to hire social workers to help the at risk students/families.**

This idea strikes me as the most workable of any I've seen. If the social worker had a small enough caseload (hahaha, I know, I'm dreaming) they could be the de facto parent.

If the child was having a bad day, but the teacher knows that calling the parent/guardian/whoever is in charge that week hasn't ever helped in the past, having someone at the school to call and tell would be ideal. The problem could be dealt with sooner rather than later, the child would know that that person would be checking up on them throughout the day, the child would have access to someone who provided developmentally appropriate help and caring.

If that person remained the same for the years in a school, it would be a huge bonanza, too. I imagine principals and asst. principals would like that some problems were bypassing them as well -- many behavioral issues, at least at the elementary and middle school levels could likely be stopped or redirected *before* a trip to the office.

Questioner said...

Many people would probably agree!

But, there wasn't much public input into how the stimulus funds should be used. Just an announcement that funds would go to middle school literacy initiatives.

Mom who has seen it all before said...

This business of equity seems to pop up every few years and no one ever gets very far in the fact finding. If you are talking about facility equity, then at least you have some solid stats to compare. When you talk about teaching and administration, then things get murky and subjective. Parenting equity is an issue that schools can do little to change without becoming totally invasive in the family. If the schools are to parent as well as teach kids, then we need a whole lot more tax dollars to fund it all.