Lessons from Abroad: Singapore’s secrets to training world-class teachers

Singapore has been a hot topic in education circles ever since it began to appear near the top of the pack of international assessments in math and science in the mid-90s. The country has been held up as an example of a place where education is being done right: Singapore’s standards were higher and better than ours. Its commitment to education stronger. Its teacher training more rigorous.

This month, I visited the tiny nation to see firsthand just what it’s doing and whether lessons from Singapore are really something the U.S. can replicate. During a week touring schools and talking to students and educators, I had a chance to spend several hours at the National Institute of Education (NIE), the school responsible for training all the country’s teachers. It’s a selective school regarded highly by many in the international education community. But I learned a few things that surprised me:

– The school averages 16,000 applicants for 2,000 slots annually, without bothering to do any outreach to high school students.

Teaching is a sought-after profession in Singapore, so the NIE doesn’t need to send brochures to top students or advertise in schools. It is guaranteed an abundance of good candidates because becoming a teacher is highly prestigious. Admissions staff only look seriously at those in the top third of their class, though, and a competitive interview process weeds out those who might just be interested in the salary the Ministry of Education pays students during their training to become a teacher.

– In 2010, the NIE started a pilot e-portfolio program, which quickly expanded to the entire school. All teacher trainees must collect a sampling of projects and main assignments from each of their classes and write about their philosophy of teaching – and document how that changes as their training goes on. Originally intended as an assessment, the portfolio now has no grades or consequences attached to it. Students must present it to faculty prior to graduating, but NIE administration decided that it was better used as a resource and opportunity for reflection, rather than a high-stakes assessment.

– Once students graduate, they must serve in the classroom for at least three years. In that time, though, they have a lighter workload – about three quarters of what a regular teacher has – and a mentor to help them. They’re also not done with the NIE.

The school offers ongoing training for all teachers and has some courses specifically geared towards beginner teachers. A few are even required by the Ministry of Education for recent grads.

Singapore, of course, is a small, centralized country and not everything that they do can apply to the United States. But there were some marked contrasts—such as the popularity of the teaching profession and the continued relationship between teacher and training program even after they’re in the classroom—that the U.S. could learn from. I’ll be checking in again later this week with more of my observations.

So how are college graduates really doing? A few schools are willing to tell us

A word rarely uttered on college tours sits atop the website of St. Olaf, a small liberal-arts college south of Minneapolis with an annual estimated cost of $51,860.

Next to clickable categories about arts and athletics appears the unlikely word “outcomes.’’

And if you click on the word, a headline materializes promising The Return on Investing in a St. Olaf Education.’’

A few more clicks and you can learn what becomes of graduates after four years on its sylvan campus along the Cannon River.  For example: Where will a St. Olaf education lead? Then there is “What Happens After Graduation: Recent Alumni Data,’’ along with retention and graduation rates, and “evidence of learning.”

This new level of candor sounds like an answer to growing concerns of parents, politicians, and foundations concerned about the value for money of a higher education—and of students worried about finding jobs and repaying college loans.

And it’s part of a new wave in higher education.

Concerns that the rising costs are leaving too many behind are increasingly accompanied by fears that today’s college graduates lack sufficient workforce skills—or that they aren’t learning enough.

That contention is backed up by separate survey of employers, more than 40 percent of whom don’t think colleges are teaching students what they need to know to succeed.  One third said graduates aren’t qualified for even entry-level work, as we reported in September.

Concerns about the economy, employment, and the role of liberal-arts colleges fueled St. Olaf’s decision to publish detailed employment and salary data beginning in 2012—to the applause of applicants and alumni—says its president, David Anderson.

“Parents love it,’’ says Anderson, who makes the case in a video posted on the site.

What St. Olaf shares “goes way beyond other colleges,’’ Anderson says, adding that he hopes more “will be equally transparent.”

St. Olaf’s move comes at a time when higher education is increasingly on the defensive, and as President Barack Obama is pushing to increase the college-going rates of low-income students in particular, who can’t even consider schools with price tags like St. Olaf’s without major discounts.

The question of what students of all kinds are learning from their college experience—and earning once they get out—is the one Anderson focused on at the annual meeting of the AAC&U, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, where tensions facing higher education were clear in session titles. One on the future of liberal arts carried an ominous question: “Preparing for the Apocalypse?”

“We go to meetings, read articles and books, and listen to talks all dedicated to the assumption that higher education, as we know it, and particularly the liberal arts, is doomed,’’ wrote Jim Salvucci,  dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Stevenson University in Maryland, in a blog published after the meeting. “One could hear solution-rich pragmatism amid the zeitgeist of sinking anxiety in many panels and presentations.’’

Colleges like St. Olaf are trying to get out ahead, as is the AAC&U through initiatives that champion the value of the liberal arts.

Bucknell University in Pennsylvania now publishes “learning outcomes’’ for every major. Wake Forest College in North Carolina promises “a standardized assessment of learning outcomes’’ for Chinese majors, among others, and has boosted its focus on preparing students for careers.

Increasingly, as The Hechinger Report reported this week, college students are being asked to take exit tests to determine what they learned—something many colleges and universities have resisted.

That’s one reason why Massachusetts is also trying to get out ahead of the trend. State Education Commissioner Richard M. Freeland will lead a group of nine states in developing a way to measure and compare what students learn in college without standardized tests, using class work, labs, and other measures.

“There is tremendous interest in this nationally, because everybody in higher education knows, if this doesn’t work, the next answer is a standardized test probably imposed by the federal government or by states,” Freeland said during a meeting of the state’s higher education board, according to the Boston Globe.

Freeland told The Globe that the project addresses a concern he had as President of Northeastern University from 1996 to 2006, where he would hand out thousands of degrees each spring.

“I’d be thinking to myself, ‘So what do they really know? What do I know about what they know?’ I always had to be honest and say to myself,  ‘I don’t really know, and nobody else does either,’ ” he said.

Anderson, of St. Olaf, disagrees, and says his college’s new approach, which also includes far more robust career counseling, is an answer to skeptics.

“A liberal-arts degree gives you the knowledge base, skills, competencies and habits of mind that will enable you to flourish,’’ he says. “College can’t be a black box.”

A mayor’s case to support the awkward years

New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, wants to offer after-school programs to all 200,000-plus middle school kids here. To that, you might ask, why middle school? Why not elementary or high?

Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Kevin Case)

Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Kevin Case)

In an ideal world, of course, every child of every age would have a constructive way to spend the time between class dismissal and dinner, and money would be no object. But this is New York, where de Blasio faces a political fight just to get funding for one age group. Even if the mayor succeeds in getting state lawmakers to approve a tax hike on the rich, propelling his plan into action, he’s banking on a projection that only half of middle schoolers will show up after school. Otherwise, there won’t be enough money. (See Sarah Butrymowicz’s story today for more details.)

Take prioritization as a given, then. At a press conference this month at the Bronx School of Young Leaders, de Blasio offered insight into his logic for prioritizing grades six through eight. It’s simple: As anyone who’s ever been through middle school remembers (and I’ve tried hard to forget), it is an awkward and vulnerable period socially, emotionally and physically –– “a truly challenging transitional moment,” as the mayor called it. Kids need support to emerge unscathed.

Calling himself “a recovering middle school parent,” de Blasio said after-school programs can help students find something they love to do, whether dance, theater or sports, providing motivation that extends to the regular academic day.

“This is exactly the age when a lot of kids are trying to sort out which path to take. It’s our responsibility to give them those good options,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“New York City kids in particular, they grow up fast, and they need positive outlets,” he said, flanked by new Chancellor Carmen Fariña, with whom he said he first connected over a desire to reform middle schools back when he was on the school board in Brooklyn’s District 15 and she was hired as the local superintendent.

“There’s plenty of temptation of the wrong kind around,” de Blasio continued. “There’s plenty of problems around. We’re all aware of that fact. We have to be clear as the adults in the equation that if we don’t want kids going down the wrong path, we have to give them positive options. This is exactly the age when a lot of kids are trying to sort out which path to take. It’s our responsibility to give them those good options.”

Are state legislators willing to put that responsibility on taxpayers earning more than $500,000? The middle school plan has only gotten as far as it has because it’s piggybacking on de Blasio’s higher-profile campaign for universal pre-kindergarten. Let’s face it: Cuddly 4-year-olds are cuter than pubescent 13-year-olds, and an easier public appeal. You don’t see Gov. Andrew Cuomo coming up with a counter-proposal for universal statewide after-school middle school programming as he’s doing on the pre-K front in attempt to avoid a tax hike(Cuomo has proposed spending $720 million over five years on after-school programs across the state, but not starting until the 2015-2016 academic year, and not with de Blasio’s guarantee of a place for any middle school student who wants one.)

Research is also crystal clear about the benefits of early intervention. By middle school, a child from a poor family has spent an estimated 6,000 fewer hours learning than a child from a rich family –– and half of that gap stems from rich kids having more intellectually stimulating ways to pass the hours after school. And we know it’s easier and far more cost-effective to stop a gap from starting than to close one already wide open.

So that’s why after-school programming for elementary kids is important, and advocates hope de Blasio won’t stop with his current plan. But there are ample studies to back the mayor about the importance in middle school, too. (Thanks to The After-School Corporation for compiling this research for me.) Consider:

A Johns Hopkins study tracking nearly 13,000 urban middle school students over eight years found their sixth-grade attendance, misbehavior and course failures could predict the majority of high school dropouts. But dropout rates improved with efforts to engage the students in middle school and provide them with extra help. More research out of Philadelphia, Baltimore and, yes, New York City had similar findings.

Click to read the entire series

Click to read the entire series

— According to statistics compiled by the Children’s Defense Fund, 31 percent of black boys reported having sex by age 13 –– four times the rate of white boys. Twenty percent reported smoking marijuana by 13, compared with 8 percent of their white peers. If school isn’t engaging children, something else will, and minorities are particularly at risk.

A report published in the journal American Psychologist found that middle schools often don’t meet young adolescents’ developmental needs to participate in decisions, form relationships with teachers and build independence. After-school programs tend to provide settings more conducive to self-expression.

“The after school grounds them,” de Blasio said. “While they’re going through everything they’re going through in their lives, the after school is a great outlet.”

If the mayor bows to political pressure and accepts Cuomo’s pre-kindergarten offer, his tax hike on the rich would not happen –– and presumably neither would the middle school after-school programs. For now at least, de Blasio is standing firm, making the case for middle schoolers.

A shorter school year and mandatory homework: What Mississippi’s lawmakers are proposing for education this year

JACKSON, Miss.—Lawmakers in Mississippi have proposed more than 200 education laws for the 2014 session, in what is poised to be the second consecutive legislative session with a heavy focus on schools.

As expected, many of the bills touch on the most contentious national and statewide issues in education, like grade-level standards, teacher pay and school funding.

Click to read the series

Click to read the series

Some issues, like raising teacher salaries, already have signs of bipartisan support from both lawmakers and community members. Others, like mandatory homework and kindergarten attendance, do not necessarily align with previously expressed priorities of lawmakers, and are less likely to make it out of committee.

The proposals come at a time when Mississippi students have shown stagnant growth on national standardized tests. A recent report from Education Week ranked Mississippi’s student achievement at the bottom of all states and the District of Columbia, lower than the previous year. The state has underfunded its schools by more than $1 billion over the past six years, and has one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country.

In her short tenure in Mississippi, new state superintendent Carey Wright has emphasized a need to focus on funding preschool and improving literacy instruction. Prekindergarten and literacy coaches were two of the reforms passed during last year’s session, but limited funding has led to a stunted roll out of both programs.

This year, there are several bills that would provide teacher pay supplements or raises. One proposal would raise the starting teacher salary for Mississippi teachers with a Bachelor’s degree from less than $31,000 to $37,000.

Lawmakers have also proposed revisions to the state’s school funding formula to determine funding based on student enrollment, or “membership.” The Mississippi Adequate Education Plan (MAEP) has only been fully funded twice since 1997. The formula currently calculates funding based on average daily attendance, which some say is inadequate because districts hire teachers and buy supplies based on the number of students enrolled, or the “average daily membership.”

Last year, a bill to appoint superintendents passed the Senate but was ultimately rejected by House members. Lawmakers will revisit the topic this year. One bill calls for elected school boards, which would then appoint superintendents. Mississippi is one of a handful of states that has both elected and appointed school boards and superintendents. Advocates of appointed superintendents say that it could increase the candidate pool and the likelihood of obtaining a highly qualified candidate.

The debate over new Common Core State Standards, which Mississippi adopted in 2010 to replace its relatively weak previous standards, could also continue during the session. At least two bills call for the state to declare a moratorium on the standards, which are already widely taught in classrooms across Mississippi. A separate bill implores the state to pull out of an 18-state consortium that designed the new, computer-based Common Core-aligned assessments, set to debut in 2015. Instead, it proposes that the state replace current high school subject area tests and the upcoming Common Core-aligned assessment with the ACT test.

Several pieces of legislation could bring big changes to the amount of time students spend in school. House education committee chair John Moore proposed to shorten the school year from the national average of 180 days, to 175 days.  Other lawmakers are seeking to change the compulsory attendance age from 17 to 18, make kindergarten attendance mandatory, and increase the penalty for parents whose children accumulate absences. Under a new proposal, each day that a child has an unexcused absence could count as a separate criminal violation for the parent or guardian.

Also included in the proposed legislation are several bills that seem to counter recent education concerns in the state. Some critics of reforms like Common Core worry that teachers are losing autonomy in their classrooms. But a few proposed bills could potentially impact that autonomy, by requiring such things as mandatory daily homework, or a required curriculum for certain topics.

Here’s a look at topics of additional proposed legislation:

  • Prekindergarten and charter schools: Several bills revisit some of the biggest reforms passed last year. One House bill would establish a state lottery system, with 18 percent of monthly proceeds devoted to a state prekindergarten program.  A Senate bill would allow the new Charter School Authorizer Board to approve charter schools for special education students, without the approval of local school boards. (Nationwide, charter schools tend to enroll fewer special education students than other public schools.)
  • A new statewide school district: One Senate bill and a separate House bill seek to establish an “Achievement School District,” which would consist of various state schools that have been rated as failing for three consecutive years. The district would be managed by the state’s Department of Education, and is similar in theory to Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which is made up of the state’s bottom five percent of schools.
  • Daily and weekly homework: House Bill 152 seeks to require public school teachers to incorporate daily and weekly homework assignments for reading and writing. As part of the weekly assignments, “students would have to complete vocabulary and spelling homework lessons.” Currently, Mississippi teachers largely have the autonomy to make homework decisions for their students.
  • Mandatory curriculum: One bill would require school districts to teach “home economics” and “family dynamics” to seventh, eighth, and ninth graders. (Topics of instruction include financial management, abstinence, and early child development.) Several bills would mandate instruction in cursive writing, while another seeks to add at least a half-hour of instruction within a school’s United States Government class to address voter registration and the voting process.
  • School board experience: On a similar note, a Senate bill would require school board members have at least two years of postsecondary education from an accredited college or university. (According to census data, more than 50 percent of Mississippi residents have no more than a high school diploma and would be ineligible. Another 22 percent have “some college but no degree.”)
  • The pledge of allegiance: One bill by Representative Mark Formby seeks to withhold state funds from school districts that fail to “properly display the national and state flags or lead students in the pledge of allegiance.” A recent report by the Center for Education Innovation found that in districts across the state, a lack of state funding has already forced schools to eliminate teaching positions, raise class sizes, and cut teacher aides.

Could New York’s Pre-k plan pit politics and posturing above kids?

A quick glance at New York headlines this week reveals a somewhat ironic fight about pre-kindergarten, a topic of huge importance to educators and families that under normal circumstances gets little press coverage.

Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Kevin Case)

Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Kevin Case)

But take distinct and dueling plans from two powerful New York Democrats — the city’s liberal, let’s-tax-the-wealthy Mayor Bill de Blasio vs. a more centrist but not to be outdone Governor Andrew Cuomo — and you can guarantee macho posturing and headlines to match. Most of it is over which politician has the better or more promising plan, instead of the merits of high-quality early childhood education.

The front page of Wednesday’s New York Daily News shows New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in full cowboy gear, with the headline: “Duel at pre-k corral.’’ “The Duel for Pre-kindergarten Goes Public,’’ proclaimed New York Magazine. Pre-k is also the lead story in the New York Times, with a headline noting that the new plan Cuomo unveiled in his budget address Tuesday includes $1.5 billion over five years for a statewide program.

The different plans have consequences that  “could reach far beyond the issue of childhood education,’’ the Times notes. It’s easy to forget that funding high quality pre-k is really about what should be best for children, not politicians. And yet here are two Democrats agreeing on the need for early childhood education – an issue that has divided state after state.

The irony is not lost on W. Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey, or NIEER.

“It is heartening to see two such high-profile elected leaders competing over who has the “best“ pre-K plan,’’ Barnett noted. “As an economist, I see competition as a good thing…It is easy to see these proposals as an either/or proposition, but the best route for New York’s educational and economic prosperity is both.’’

Children at a child care center in Mississippi. (Photo by Kim Palmer)

Children at a child care center in Mississippi. (Photo by Kim Palmer)

Even at a time when President Barack Obama is pushing national pre-k expansion and calling it “good bang for the buck,’’ financial hardships have left many states without enough advocates in either party who will push hard for sufficient pre-k funding.

In recent years, NIEER found that funding for state pre-K programs plummeted by more than $700 per child nationwide, even as enrollment grew. In some states, the fight gets pretty ugly.

In Mississippi, until recently the only state in the south without publicly funded pre-kindergarten, one can still hear echoes of 1950s America in the debate: those who argue against it insist that churches and families can do a better job of educating children than professionals.

No matter who pays for the program, any debate over pre-k eventually will turn to quality. A well-equipped and well-run pre-school should be run by trained teachers, in clean, well-equipped classrooms displaying examples of children’s work with their names on it at their eye level. There should be plenty of books, blocks, toys, and supplies and well-organized stations with lots of letters, numbers and other learning materials. Everything should be labeled and easy for kids to reach – and that’s just a start.

Over the years of covering pre-kindergarten, I’ve seen a handful of high-quality programs, but many others that truly are little more than babysitting, something Cuomo expressed concern about in his speech this week.  (Not all babysitting, of course, is created equal: but I visited a pre-k once where the littlest learners sat watching the evening news with inattentive grown-ups)

Andrew Cuomo by Pat Arnow

Andrew Cuomo by Pat Arnow

No matter who ends up paying for universal pre-k program in New York, it seems that both Cuomo and de Blasio have a lot of work ahead. There hasn’t been enough room or enough money or enough support for such programs in years. Apparently, they can also learn a lot from state-funded programs in neighboring New Jersey.

The Garden State offers some real lessons, according to a Slate article by Sara Mead, a principal at the non-profit Bellwether Partners.

“…The reality is that de Blasio and his critics need only look across the river to see evidence of the tremendous potential of universal pre-K—and the challenges involved in realizing that potential,’’ Mead wrote, citing research that shows “large, significant impacts on children’s language, literacy, and math skills at kindergarten entry.”

As the two New York politicians tout the merits of their differing plans, there appears to be plenty of enthusiasm for both plans, and it will be interesting to see if the fight can move away from their own agendas.

“It is our sincere hope that Cuomo and de Blasio can work together on both state- and city-level initiatives to create a quality, stable program and ensure that all of New York’s children are off to the bright start they deserve,’’ said Barnett of NIEER.

Learning future

Our education system is like “a giant canoe with 50 million students,” says Brian Greenberg of Silicon Schools Fund, which funds blended-learning schools. “We talk about what the canoe is made of and where the teachers should sit, but we don’t give the kids a paddle.”

We should be skeptics about blended learning, he said at the Blended Learning in K-12 conference at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. But “this is different from other reforms.” Blended learning puts students to work, learning at their own pace with digital content at their own level.

In schools that use blended learning, “a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path or pace,” according to the Christensen Institute’s definition.

Summit Public Schools, a growing charter network, students choose how to learn from a “playlist” of programs. “We’re unbundling school not just to the course level but to the concept level, said Summit CEO Diane Tavenner. Students and teachers get immediate, actionable feedback on each student’s progress or problems. “It’s actionable. They have control over it.”

Blended learning could be “transformative,” several panelists said. But it happen quickly or easily. Educators have been talking for decades about teachers becoming “the guide on the side” instead of “the sage on the stage.” But actually doing it . . . ?

Blended learning will require  a new kind of teacher, said Tom Loveless, senior fellow at Brookings’ Brown Center on Education Policy. “But we don’t know how to make this new-fangled teacher.”

Eton — yes, that Eton — is working with educational technology start-ups and piloting digital technology in its ultra-elite classes, reports The Atlantic.  “Nobody knows for sure where this business is going to be in five to ten years’ time. It would be very foolish of us to bury our heads in the sand and assume that education in schools will carry on in the traditional way,” says Percy Harrison, head of information technology at Eton and executive director of the newly-formed Eton Online.

Blend, flip, disrupt

When she introduced Khan Academy videos and quizzes to her sixth-grade math students, Suney Park had to “give up control,” she said at a Blended Learning in K-12 conference at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. “That’s hard.”

But the software lets her students work at their own level and their own pace, moving on only when they’ve mastered a lesson. More are reaching proficiency, says Park, who teaches at Eastside College Prep, a tuition-free private school in all-minority, low-income East Palo Alto, California.

“I’ll never go back,” Park said.

Before she tried blended learning, she struggled to “differentiate” instruction for students at very different levels. “You can try it, but you can’t sustain it,” she said. “Teaching to the middle is the only way to survive.” Now, her advanced students aren’t working on a task devised to “keep them out of the way.” They’re moving ahead.

Blended learning is taking off, said Michael Horn, co-founder of the Christensen Institute. It has the potential to “disrupt” the “factory model” of education. If students are practicing skills on their tablets, the teacher can be a small group discussion leader, coach, project organizer, counselor, curriculum planner or . . . who knows? If students are learning at their own pace, should they be organized into “grades” based on age?

However, he warned, “Just because a school is doing blended learning doesn’t mean it’s any good.”

In San Diego, students juxtapose art and science to learn about the deadliest cancer

Imagine understanding how doctors diagnose melanoma by looking at a painting of ugly ducklings.

That’s just one example of the 22 paintings a class of 11th-graders in San Diego have created in their art class in order to educate themselves and others about melanoma, a type of skin cancer.

Students at San Diego’s High Tech High charter school independently research and learn certain concepts by doing projects rather than listening to the teacher lecture. This teaching method is known as project-based learning.

Students at San Diego’s High Tech High charter school independently research and learn certain concepts by doing projects rather than listening to the teacher lecture.<

Art teacher and founding faculty member of the school Jeff Robin has collaborated with fellow teachers of different subject areas in the past to have his students create works of arts explaining Newtonian physics and economics.

As part of a partnership with a biology teacher this year, Robin’s retired-pathologist father suggested he work DermTech, a biotechnology start-up in La Jolla, Calif. The company has developed an innovative way to diagnose melanoma by sticking a tape-like adhesive onto a suspicious mole on a person’s skin and then analyzing the tape for signs of mutated RNA, or the building blocks the body needs to produce proteins for healthy skin in this case. This eliminates the need for a biopsy.

Working with the community to come up with solutions to real world problems, students partnered with DermTech to create melanoma awareness by decking the company’s halls with colorful artwork explaining various concepts of biology including DNA replication, cell mutation and the techniques through which scientists study tumors to make skin cancer easier to understand for the average person.

Students talked to scientists from DermTech, pathologists like Robin’s father, and even observed tumor-removing surgeries as part of their research into melanoma. “They need to really know what they’re talking about or they’re going to do art that doesn’t make sense,” said Robin, who took mini lessons on biology himself for the project. Along with biology, students also learned art history and took inspiration from painters like Francisco Goya and Diego Rivera.

“The purpose of art is to describe things, to tell the story of things. If you study melanoma you’ll learn everything you need to know about biology. So it just seemed like it was a really great combination,” Robin said.

Below is a slide show of the paintings along with a description for each.


How to stop the revolving door of teachers, principals at charter schools

Nationally, many charter school networks have higher rates of teacher and administrator turnover than their traditional school counterparts. In New Orleans, where nearly 90 percent of the public school children attend charters, the problem is particularly acute as young schools struggle to keep their teachers and leaders for the long-haul.

Administrators who don’t achieve test score gains are speedily replaced, young teachers expected to work 60 to 90 hour work weeks often burn out or move away, and entire staffs can be fired when a floundering school is taken over by a new operator.

Hechinger’s partner site The Lens reported this month that four charter networks have announced school leadership changes since November. Teacher and school leader turnover is a complex issue across school types: Few would advocate for leaving in place administrators and teachers who consistently fail to help students learn. But there’s considerable controversy over how, or whether, that learning should be defined and measured. Moreover, students and families need educators they can bond with for the long-term, and communities need stable institutions they can come to know and trust.

Sarah Carr, a senior editor at Hechinger, talked this week with New Orleans public radio news director, Eve Troeh, about the challenges of building sustainable schools.

You can listen to the conversation (the latest in a regular dialogue on timely New Orleans education issues) here.

Letting cities lead the way to more college graduates

Want more college graduates in the U.S.? One place to start is close to home.

Foundations and community groups are partnering with twenty American cities as part of a new effort aimed at increasing the number of residents with postsecondary credentials.

Foundations and community groups are partnering with twenty American cities as part of a new effort aimed at increasing the number of residents with postsecondary credentials.

Everything from technical and planning assistance to data tools and access to a network of education leaders and support groups will be made available free of cost, thanks to an investment from The Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials.

(Lumina is among the various funders of The Hechinger Report)

Lumina is also partnering with the Brookings Institution, American Chamber of Commerce Executives, Strive Together and other organizations to provide technical, planning and data collection support to the 20 cities.

For example, Lumina will be working with Pittsburgh Promise, a local community group in Pittsburgh that offers resources to adult learners. It will also cooperate with The Say Yes To Education Foundation in Syracuse, N.Y. which provides eligible students with guaranteed tuition assistance.

“I think that’s the cool thing about this program is that it’s respecting the cities’ ownership of all of this,” said Haley Glover, Lumina’s director of convening strategy, during a conference call on Wednesday. Glover emphasized that cities had different goals for their communities and that the foundation was open to helping them achieve.

“They are the ones doing the work. They are the ones leading the way. So, we want to be as supportive as we can.’’ Glover said.

Cities include Albuquerque, N.M.; Boston, Mass.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Columbus, Ind.; Dayton, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Greensboro, N.C.; Houston, Texas; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Louisville, Ky.; Memphis, Tenn.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Providence, R.I.; Quad Cities, Iowa/Ill.; San Antonio, Texas; Santa Ana, Calif.; South Seattle/South King County, Wash. and Syracuse, N.Y.

Lumina President and CEO Jamie Merisotis said the new initiative arose from a belief the national debate around higher education comes from a “top-bottom perspective,’’ set by  government sectors, education groups and foundations.

Yet local communities are the ones most affected economically by whether or not their residents have college credentials.

“So our intent is that if we work with employers and city leaders community based organizations, K- 12 schools, colleges universities and others is to provide resources, knowledge, expertise as well as financial support, and most importantly the ability to build relationships with other communities through creation of a network,” Merisotis said.

The cities chosen are the first cohort of a total of 75 cities Lumina hopes to add to next year. They were chosen based on three criteria: if they had set clear college goals, showed evidence of using practical methods to achieve these goals and had a focused population to work with.

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