Beating the Odds

26test_CA0-articleLarge After reading tons of articles and reports about the successes in charter schools, I was pleased to read about a regular public school in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn that seems to be beating the odds.

A good friend of mine recently left her Wall Street job to teach math in a charter school in Newark. She's working her butt off. It's a seven day per week job. She's fueled by the commitment of the newly initiated and a devoted stay at home husband. There's no question that her school is making a difference in a poor neighborhood, but I always worry that her school could never be replicated beyond the walls of her school. It's not easy to find people who are willing to work eighty hours a week for teacher pay and with the zealotry of crusader.

The New York Times points to a school in Brooklyn that is making a difference within the bounds of a normal public school. Despite high poverty levels and high rates of learning disabilities, the kids are out performing middle class kids in nearby schools.

What is it doing differently? Well, reading between the lines in the article, the school benefits from having a smart principal who has a consistent philosophy about education. The kids are drilled on taking standardized tests. The teachers identify problems quickly and offer after school help. The got rid of ESL classes and immediately plopped non-English speakers in regular classrooms. 

These "best practices" could be replicated everywhere.


4 thoughts on “Beating the Odds

  1. A good principal makes a huge difference. About 6 years ago, the elementary school we (my workplace) partner with got a new principal, and she was amazing. So amazing that once she fixed our school they transferred her to another failing school. The new principal, I’ve heard, is not as good and can’t really continue the progress she has made.
    I don’t know how she’s doing at her new school.

  2. The only best practice that could easily be replicated elsewhere is plopping ESL students in regular classes. And, that one probably only works because the teachers are working 80 hour weeks.
    I think many schools could do better if good teachers & principals were willing to put in 80 hour weeks. I don’t think they should be required to do so for teacher pay. I am willing to consider whether we should offer a subgroup of teachers (teaching high risk children) lawyer pay (think $160K for 1st year associates in Big Law), require them to be on call all the time (like associates) and see what they can do. That might be replicable. But, 1) it wouldn’t be for my kids, who can do perfectly fine with good teachers working a livable schedule and getting paid a livable wage and 2) is a political mess.
    There’s a school in our neck of the woods that seems to be trying something like this, with the assistance of a private foundation. It creates a huge amount of resentment.

  3. “Well, reading between the lines in the article…”
    Ain’t that the truth. Media stories on education are so generally uninformed that if you’re really interested in the issue, you come away from the average article with more questions than answers. So much for the idea that writing news is just a matter of jumping in and asking questions. If you aren’t well-informed to begin with, you won’t know what questions to ask, and if you don’t know what standard practices are, you won’t be able to quickly identify what a successful school does differently.

  4. Yup, so long as progress is measured by standardized tests, teaching to the test will be productive. (Whether that’s the way kids should be taught? Well, that’s a different issue.)
    Particularly giving tricks to the test would help. It seems to me that some kids are bright and pick these things up on their own–however, even in the college level, I’ve found that telling students the information behind the test or assignment (what the professor is looking for, tricky words) helps brings grades up very quickly.

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