When the Data Come Alive

When I started at Ed Trust, my first project was to sort and filter through states’ school-level achievement and demographic data. My mission: to find schools with sizable low-income and/or student of color populations that were outperforming their state. They would then be considered for our Dispelling the Myth Award, which we give to a few schools each year. A few months ago, after analyzing several states’ data, Brimley Elementary School made it onto the short list of schools that my colleagues would visit and vet for the award.

Brimley is a small rural school located in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula that is 53 percent American Indian and 59 percent low-income. And, until this month, to me the school was just numbers in an Excel file.

But as Brimley leaders stood on stage and accepted their Dispelling the Myth Award at our national conference, I finally connected the data I spent so much time with to the individuals and the practices that fueled Brimley’s improvement and success.

Talking with Pete Routhier, Brimley Elementary’s principal, and his staff was the highlight of my time at conference. I found their excitement contagious and was grateful to be a small part of their experience. Although humble and quick to remind me that they still had a lot of work to do, they expressed their appreciation of the opportunity to share their practices and to celebrate with staff back home. Routhier was surprised that his little school could be spotted from so far away. Looking at the row of posters celebrating current and past award-winners, he admitted he was a little embarrassed to see his words emblazoned in large print: We just do our thing — but it’s always research-based. He thought maybe he should have said something better, but his work has never been about the desire for outside recognition. Now outside of his school building, he realized that his mindset isn’t true of all educators, that his way of thinking is perhaps rarer than he thought, and that Brimley is something special.

Routhier and I snapped a photo together and parted ways, but meeting him and connecting a face with the data made my work and its importance come alive. My time with numbers and spreadsheets materialized into recognition for a school in a place that most probably wouldn’t go looking for success. Stories and lessons, like those from Brimley — a school which just does its thing, are what we hope to magnify and share with both educators and the public. They rightly signal that there are many ways to dispel myths and do well by all students.

For me, our conference was an opportunity to recognize the work and individuals beyond the numbers. Data are important, for sure — the data led us to Brimley and other successful schools worth learning from — but numbers can only tell us so much. It’s the educators and the students that make the work real, valuable, and rewarding. I was glad to be reminded of that.

Thank you, Brimley, for sharing your story, and I’m looking forward to cashing in that invitation to the U.P.!

Is Tufts’ Lack of Diversity Undermining Its Civic Mission?

The White House recently hosted a summit on civic engagement at one of the nation’s most elite and least diverse institutions of higher learning, Tufts University. This venue was most likely selected because of Tufts extensive, and rather unique, curricular and co-curricular emphasis on civic education and engagement. However, we couldn’t help but wonder if Tufts’ lack of diversity made the university a poor choice as the venue for the White House summit.

Despite being just a 15-minute drive from downtown Boston, Tufts has fewer than 11 percent of first-year students receiving Pell Grants and fewer than 11 percent of black (4.4 percent) or Latino (6.4 percent) students. Among colleges with similar admissions standards, only William and Mary has a lower percentage of Pell Grant recipients among freshmen, and only Brandeis and the University of Rochester have lower percentages of underrepresented minority students. Worse still, while many of its peers have made progress over the last few years in increasing socioeconomic diversity by enrolling more Pell Grant students, Tufts has barely budged.

So what does diversity have to do with civic engagement? Well, as you probably know, civic engagement involves individual and collective action (e.g., voting, holding office, etc.) designed to identify and address issues of public concern. This is the bedrock of a healthy and functional democratic society, but civic engagement can’t just be about “how many participate.” We can’t forget that “who participates” is equally as important.

When “who participates” is overlooked, you end up with a system where the rich and money-backed interest groups mostly shape policy — much like the one we have now. Under the excuse of being selective and elite, Tufts is complicit in this trend, housing a student body that perpetuates the separation of the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Thus, even with its emphasis on civic education and engagement, without the will to serve more students of color and low-income students, the university’s commitment to serving the public good is, at best, incomplete or — worse yet — simply rhetoric. Is that the best place for a White House summit on civic engagement?

An ideal choice would be an institution with a curricular focus on civic engagement and a student body more representative of all Americans, which could add a diverse perspectives to the classroom and engage in the curriculum in a critical way. Imagine the good that Tufts, and other universities of its ilk, could do for the nation if they opened up their ivory towers to individuals and communities that have always been largely excluded. Instead, these institutions sit quietly and continue admissions processes that reward privilege and further aggravate growing inequality and skewed power structures that exclude and largely ignore the poor and people of color.

Tufts (and others) should learn that “who participates” matters!

Why I Teach Where I Teach: Collaboration With My Colleagues Keeps Me Going

WhyITeachWhereITeach_1-05This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.

Katherine McClafferty is a second-grade teacher at Graham Road Elementary School in Virginia, which is 90 percent students of color. She is in her sixth year of teaching, and she writes the second entry in this series. Continue reading

#EdTrust2014 Conference — Day Two

If you’re looking for information from Day One, click here.

FINAL UPDATE 2:10 p.m.

Heard Around Conference

Degrees of Preparation: Ensuring students have the classroom-ready teachers they need

In Tennessee and Delaware, state departments of education are working toward stronger accountability systems for their teacher preparation programs. This includes rating training programs on outcomes, like graduation, Praxis pass rates, job placement, and retention.

A conference attendee asked, What have you seen are the critical parts of these programs that are making a difference for teachers and students?

Delaware hasn’t been collecting data long enough to say, but Tennessee has been collecting data for six years — including the academic performance of students who are taught by graduates of teacher prep programs. Through that, they have found a couple of common themes among their most successful training programs: a very engaged clinical experience, high standards, and mentor teachers who have strong education background. But Victoria Harpool, First to the Top program coordinator at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, warned that there is no single answer or solution. Different strategies have worked for different programs.

“My answer is very frustrating,” Harpool admitted. “There are no silver bullets … because, boy, we’d have loved to find that.” Continue reading

#EdTrust2014 Conference — Day One

If you’re looking for information from Day Two, click here.

FINAL UPDATE 6:20 p.m.

Heard Around Conference

Project-Based Learning: It’s not about dioramas

Leaders from Charles R. Drew Public Charter School, one of the winners of this year’s Dispelling the Myth Award, explained how they are using project-based learning to accelerate learning and achievement in their classrooms.

First, it’s important to remember that project-based learning goes beyond student projects; students should be engaged in in-depth inquiry and then authentically applying that learning, said leaders from Drew Charter. Student projects there have ranged from making African masks to building remote-controlled lawnmowers, and each one has been pegged to rigorous standards.

“Critical thinking takes students from simply succeeding to exceeding expectations,” said a third-grade teacher at Drew Charter.

- Hilary Tackie Continue reading

Bringing Together Educators Who Are Figuring Out How to Make Schools Work for All Kids

This is an exciting week here at Ed Trust. We are holding our national conference, where I get to see some of the people I enjoy seeing the most — educators who are figuring out how to make schools work for all kids.

These are folks who know that just about all kids can achieve at high levels, and they have accepted the responsibility of figuring out how to teach them. Continue reading

Inspired by the Students: Teaneck High’s Cultural Transformation

TeaneckSchool climate was on the top of Dennis Heck’s list of things to change when he started as principal of Teaneck High School in 2011. From the start, he aimed to develop a welcoming student-focused culture and so has spent the last three years making small changes that have transformed the school into one that makes students and staff feel supported and proud.

And it all started by knocking down a wall. Continue reading

The Stories Behind the Dropout Data

Each year in America, roughly half a million students drop out of high school.

Their individual stories are reduced to statistics and the carbon copy dropout forms they leave behind.

And in their absence, a story gets told that, too often, and in too many places, goes more or less like this: “Well, what do you expect?”

We’ve come to think of these statistics — and the student trajectories that end tragically there — as inevitable. More product of circumstance than schooling.

The numbers can’t talk back to correct us. Can’t sound the million echoes behind them. The stories of students lost in those numbers and an educational system that lost sight of its role in creating them.

But what if they could talk back? Continue reading