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Will New Teaching Standards Lift Achievement Levels for Minorities?

New America Media, Question & Answer By George White

Ed. Note: To date,  45 states this year are beginning to implement the new Common Core States Standards for instruction of English-language arts and math. The new standards are designed to revamp the way schools instruct and assess their students, placing greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving. Many wonder if school districts and teachers are prepared to create lesson plans for these more rigorous standards. There is also a debate over whether the new teaching standards will lift or lower achievement levels at schools in low-income communities of color. Teacher preparedness and black student achievement were subjects that Lisa Delpit, a professor at Southern University and A&M College, explored in her best-selling 2006 book Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. In her 2013 book “Multiplication is for White People,” a title based on a comment by a black child, Delpit discusses the need for instruction that engages students and promotes critical thinking and high expectations – curricula with more studies related to Africa and African Americans among them. Delpit says that objective can be reached under Common Core and that the new standards can benefit black students – but only if teachers are given the training and freedom to address the needs of underperforming students. Delpit, who has helped organize independent assessments of education needs in New Orleans, spoke with NAM’s George White.

You’ve talked about the need for better professional development for public school teachers. Generally speaking, why is there a need for training?

Everyone needs better professional development. In schools, training is often hit and run. Someone gives a presentation and there’s no follow-up.

Please comment on the teacher preparedness requirements necessary to address the needs of students in schools in poorer black communities in New Orleans and nationwide.

Teachers in low-income communities of color need to learn to recognize that these students are inherently brilliant. They need to learn how to build relationships with these students and they need to know the local culture – particularly in New Orleans.

Also, teachers in New Orleans need to understand the lingering effects of trauma from Hurricane Katrina. If a student doesn’t suffer trauma, the parents may be traumatized or some of the student’s classmates may have trauma.

In addition, some teachers need to learn how to improve their reading instruction. Generally, teachers are prepared to teach reading in the lower grades but many teachers need to be more prepared to teach reading in the higher grades because many students are behind and need additional instruction.

The Louisiana Department of Education decided not to create a centralized Common Core curriculum for the state’s school districts. This means that school districts and/or teachers will have to create their own Common Core lesson plans. What are the ramifications, opportunities and/or dangers as it relates to teacher preparedness under these circumstances?

Teachers don’t have enough time prepare curricula for the new standards. To prepare for this, teachers should have been paid to work summer [2013] months to learn how to unpack and present each standard in the classroom. That hasn’t been done in Louisiana.

Initially, there were expectations that, under Common Core, teachers would develop approaches to teaching the new standards and post that information on websites and share best practices. That hasn’t happened because everything has been rushed. There was a potential benefit of teacher collaboration; but that has not happened.

As you see them, what are some of the specific examples of the challenges facing teachers regarding the implementation of Common Core – nationally and locally?

The student assessment tests [based on Common Core] haven’t been created yet and those test scores will determine whether teachers will keep their jobs locally and nationally. Without information on testing, teachers don’t know how they will be evaluated – and that’s a problem.

Under initial proposals for Common Core, the new standards were to be introduced only to Kindergarten and First Grade students and the standards would have continued to apply only to those students. However, the decision was made to apply the standards in classrooms for all grades. Older students will have difficulty because they haven’t learned the new standard’s expectations. This will, for example, create a real challenge for those having difficulty with math. We need plans to help students who are behind academically.

Charter schools are a very large percentage of the New Orleans public school district. They have more freedom in staffing and curriculum development. What are your hopes and fears regarding charter school transition to Common Core?

I’m assuming they are taking a look at the new standards. The problem is that there is no central authority regulating charter schools. We don’t know how they will adapt generally because some charter organizations have one school and others operate a group of schools.

You’ve said new standards won’t matter unless teachers build relationships with students. Should there be training in culturally responsive teaching along with Common Core training?

Yes. However, the culturally sensitive training needs to be imbedded in the Common Core training. Under Common Core, teachers have more flexibility in what texts they use and what writing assignments they give. If teachers provide more culturally relevant instruction in the classroom, that will help them build closer relationships with students. That’s important because students don’t just learn from a teacher, they learn for a teacher.

You’ve been critical of the New Orleans’ school district’s heavy reliance on Teach for America (TFA), saying that the corps of teachers are young, inexperienced and that many don’t stay in the profession. TFA says it’s providing some Common Core training. Generally, do you think there will be any difference in how well TFA-placed teachers adapt to Common Core? 

My experience is that younger teachers will have an easier time adopting the new standards because they are not as wedded to previous standards or they do not have anything to compare to Common Core. They may understand it but I don’t know how well they will teach under the new standards.

The problem is that many don’t appreciate the teacher-student relationship component and many don’t understand the community engagement component. Some are successful and remain in teaching. However, many who are successful leave the profession and those who are not successful early on also leave. I’d like to see it reorganized so that applicants can’t into take part in TFA programs unless they make a commitment to stay in the profession.

Can Common Core help students of color from low-income communities close the achievement gap? If so, how can school districts prepare to make it so?

I think the new standards can be an improvement for low-income students because many have been given boring didactic instruction and have been asked to learn by rote. However, the problem is that many students are behind academically.

Many teachers complain they are having trouble getting some students to read one text. Under Common Core, teachers will be assigning more texts and some teachers fear students will give up. If you don’t use texts that are based on students’ academic levels, you can’t expand their capacity to learn and that means there will an increase in the achievement gap. If teachers, university professors and education researchers develop plans to help those who have fallen behind, they can help prepare more African-Americans for college-level studies. Standards are important but curriculum is the key.

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State Receives Millions to Close Achievement Gap

HARTFORD — The state is set to receive $25.7 million to close its achievement gap, the largest in the nation.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell  announced the news today in a press release. Rell stated that Connecticut will receive $25.7 million in federal stimulus funds aimed at closing the achievement gap by providing school districts with the resources to improve their lowest performing schools.

The state Department of Education will provide the School Improvement Grants (SIG) to eligible school districts in order for them to turn around their lowest achieving schools, particularly those who serve children living in poverty.

“Every Connecticut child should have the opportunity to excel in the classroom. We have some of the highest performing schools in the nation, and unfortunately, some of the lowest. These dollars will go a long way toward closing that achievement gap,”  Rell said.

The  grants will allow school districts to improve their curriculum, change administration and” in the most drastic cases, close down a school,” Rell said.

Earlier this year, the Rell adminisration created a committee to address the achievement gap and the state’s  education committee approve the Black and Latino Caucus proposal to help close the achievement gap. And a committee was also formed

The  $25.7 million, being distributed to states through the U.S. Department of Education, will be awarded to local school districts on a competitive basis. To apply, a school district must have a state-identified “persistently lowest achieving” school. Eligible districts are: Hartford, New Haven, New Britain, Bridgeport, Windham, Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) and Stamford Academy, a charter school. Districts may qualify for as much as $2 million per school and must apply for the funding by May 14.

State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan said that “the money will further previous efforts and assist with restructuring efforts ” that can accelerate improvements and expand services to students who really need them the most.”

Connecticut’s application, which includes its list of persistently lowest achieving schools, as defined by the state, can be found here.

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CT Graduation Rate for Minority Students Deemed Dismal

HARTFORD  — Connecticut Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan yesterday sounded the alarm after results of  the state’s wide education gap between whites and minorities.

According to a press release,  the state’s high school graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are alarmingly low, and he says urgent action is needed.

New figures for the class of 2009 show a 58 percent graduation rate for Hispanics, 66 percent for blacks and 87 percent for whites. Connecticut’s overall rate was 79 percent.

Officials say they began using a more accurate system of tracking graduate rates last year, and it showed the 2009 numbers were worst than those in previous years.

McQuillan is pushing several proposals, including offering student and family support programs and moving up to July 1, 2010, the effective date of a law change that will prohibit 16-year-olds from dropping out of school, even if they have parental permission.

An AP report is used in this article.

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Hartford Schools Grab National Spotlight

HARTFORD — The Hartford Board of Education’s efforts to reform its school system have caught national attention again. 

The board’s participation in Reform Governance in Action training was featured  in a report by the Wallace foundation and published as a supplement in Education Week earlier this month.  

On Thursday, Nov. 12, the district’s method of redesigning low-performing schools into high-achieving academies and learning centers with a focus on a career theme will be the subject of a major presentation at the annual Education Trust National Conference in Arlington, Va. Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski will lead the session, according to a press release yesterday.

Earlier this year, Hartford Public Schools were the focus of a special report on school reform that appeared on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited Hartford in a speech as one of six districts in the country that were doing the most to turn around low-performing schools. 

Reform Governance in Action is a two-year program run by the Houston-based Center for Reform of School Systems, in which a group of hand-picked school boards and superintendents develop the policy tools to run their districts effectively and close the achievement gap. 

Participation in the program is by invitation only and most of the costs are absorbed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. 

During their training, school boards and their superintendents meet every other month to develop a “theory of action” that determines the strategy that works best for them to improve learning. They then draft and approve policy changes that set the strategy in motion. 

The Education Week article noted that under Hartford’s theory of action, the district’s relationship with each school depends on the school’s performance. As the school meets targets, such as increasing its scores on standardized tests, their principals gain more autonomy over budget, personnel and curriculum. 

Ada Miranda, chair of the board of education, noted that the training has transformed the way the board does business. 

“We don’t want what has happened to be dropped,” she said. “So we are focused on sustainability.”

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