Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conservative policies pay off for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina took home the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education this year, and with it $550,000 in scholarship money for high school seniors.

In winning this year’s award, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, or CMS, beat out 74 other eligible districts and three other finalists: the Broward County and Miami-Dade school systems in Florida and the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, Texas. All four districts have been finalists before.

"Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a model for innovation in urban education," said US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who announced the winner at a ceremony Tuesday in Washington. "It has taken on the tough work of turning around low-performing schools, created a culture of using data to improve classroom instruction, and put a laserlike focus preparing students for college and careers."

The CMS district serves about 135,000 students, 53 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches. About 67 percent of its students are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian. Among the achievements that the prize panelists highlighted, Charlotte-Mecklenburg:

* Narrowed the achievement gap between its African-American students and both district and state white students at all levels in reading and math. It also narrowed the gap between Hispanic and white students at all levels in math and for middle and high school students in reading.

* Had the highest SAT participation rate for African-American seniors (62 percent) of all 75 districts who qualified for the Broad Prize.

* Was more successful than at least 70 percent of other North Carolina districts at increasing the percentage of low-income middle and high school students who performed at the highest achievement level in reading and math.

The panelists also highlighted a number of the district’s practices, including a lauded strategic staffing initiative put in place by former superintendent Peter Gorman, who left the district in June. The initiative moves the most effective principals into chronically failing schools and allows them to bring with them top teachers, who are given financial incentives. The panelists also noted changes Mr. Gorman made to how layoffs are conducted – now based on performance as well as seniority – and how teachers are compensated, as well as the district’s openness to alternative sources for teachers and principals, including Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools.

At the ceremony Tuesday, musician John Legend delivered the keynote address, calling education reform the “civil rights issue of our generation.” A number of members of Congress, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) of California, the House minority leader, emphasized both the importance of what the Broad Prize recognizes as well as the bipartisan support for many education reforms.

“We can help create a better environment for schools, but we can’t make them better from here,” said Senator Alexander in his remarks. “That’s why the spotlight Broad places on these four outstanding districts ... is so important.”

The Broad Prize, which is sponsored by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, is the largest award of its type. It was started in hopes of rewarding districts that make big improvements in student achievement, promoting best practices that other districts can follow, and spurring competition and creating incentives for districts to improve. Last year’s winner was the Gwinnett County Public Schools outside Atlanta.

It awards $1 million a year in total scholarship money (reduced from $2 million in the past few years to make the award more sustainable). In addition to the money CMS receives, each of the other three finalists will get $150,000 in scholarship money. The money is designed to go not to top students who probably have other scholarships available to them, but to those students with financial need who have made big improvements over their high school career.

“We started the [Broad Prize] because the public is down on urban education, and we said we’ll find districts that are doing great work and get them to share their best practices with other districts,” said Eli Broad, in an interview after the winner was announced. Still, he says, “there’s a long way to go” in education reform. “We’ve made progress, but we have to make a lot more progress, faster than we’ve done in the last 10 years.”


If it's good enough for Eton: State comprehensive sees grades rocket after headmaster cuts class sizes to 15 pupils

These relatively small gains are entirely consistent with a placebo ("Hawthorne") effect rather than any effect due to class size itself

A comprehensive has seen its pupils’ grades rocket after cutting class sizes in English and maths to levels normally found in private schools. Headmaster Adam Dare slashed the number of 11-year-olds in these lessons from 26 to 15. Pupils studying English GCSEs have equally small classes.

As a result, the number of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C – including English and maths – has risen from 35 per cent to 43 per cent this year. The A* to C pass rate for English has increased from 41 per cent to 59 per cent.

Mr Dare has employed extra teachers at King Richard School in Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, to enable him to honour the class size pledge.

The secondary school used money it received from government funds for specialist status, deprivation and free school meals.

The head said: ‘If you were at Eton like our Prime Minister you wouldn’t expect to be in a class of 30. If small class sizes are good enough for Mr Cameron, they’re good enough for our kids.’

He added: ‘I am in no doubt that our class size guarantee has contributed to an improvement in grades. ‘The core of good progress is good teaching but it’s hard to provide good teaching in a big class. ‘Children need individual support and to have their voices heard in the classroom. If all you are expecting from students is a C grade, you can afford to have class sizes of 30-odd. ‘But if you want them to achieve their full potential and aim for the As and A*s, less is more.’

This year King Richard School, which has 760 pupils, recorded 120 A* and A grades at GCSE, with 14 students achieving five or more A* and As. Just seven students achieved five or more A*s and As last year.

Mr Dare said that in a perfect world he would apply the small class guarantee to all subjects. He has applied it to Year Seven to give pupils ‘the best possible start’ in the basics and to Year Eleven because of the importance of their exams.

Year Eleven pupil Lily-May McQuilken, 15, said: ‘Last year there were 26 of us in an English lesson and our teacher didn’t have time to come round to everybody. Now that has changed and it feels much more personal. It has also given me extra confidence to speak out in class.’

Figures from the Department for Education show the average class size in state secondary schools is 20.4.

Schools are often criticised for focusing on lifting the D students to a C to improve league table ratings. But Mr Dare said he is aiming for the top grades so his school-leavers can aspire to the best universities. 'We want more of our kids thinking "when I leave here I'm going to go to University College London or Cambridge".'


Lord's Prayer rejected by Australian Grade-School

A WEST Australian government school has banned students from reciting the Lord's Prayer before assembly in response to complaints from parents.

Edgewater Primary School, in Perth's north, ended the 25-year practice after some parents said it contravened the WA Education Act, which stipulates schools cannot favour one religion over another.

Edgewater principal Julie Tombs sent a letter to parents yesterday saying the prayer would no longer be recited before each fortnightly assembly.

She said although most students' parents favoured the tradition, only 36 per cent responded to a survey asking for their views. "We acknowledge that of the parents who did respond to the survey, many wanted to retain the Lord's Prayer and it is right that we continue to recite it at culturally appropriate times such as Christmas and Easter, as part of our educational program," Ms Tombs said in a statement.

"However, at this school we have students from a range of backgrounds and it is important to consider all views and not promote one set of religious beliefs and practices over another."

Ms Tombs said students would continue to recite the school creed, which includes a reference to God.

WA Premier Colin Barnett said although it was "desirable" for students to recite the prayer at assembly, it was ultimately the school's decision. "My own view is that WA is basically a Christian-based community and I think its desirable to have the Lord's Prayer said," Mr Barnett said today.

"(But) that decision rests at the school level. Certainly schools can, and I would encourage them to, have the Lord's Prayer. "I don't think it offends anyone; it just simply reflects the values and backbone of our society."

Mr Barnett said it was part of Australia's "culture, our history and it's reflected in our institutions and laws".

Anglican Dean of Perth John Shepherd said although religious demographics had changed in recent years, there was still a place for the Lord's Prayer to be recited at government schools. "I think there is a place, just as there is a place for exposing children to the full knowledge of other faiths," Dr Shepherd said.

"I do acknowledge that it's not simple, (but) it does embody values to which we all ascribe. "I think it is a valuable addition to the educative process."


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