Mississippi ranked 48th — ahead of only Idaho, Nevada, and South Dakota — in an annual ranking of states’ educational performance and policy.
Quality Counts 2013, released by the weekly newspaper Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, grades states on a variety of indicators, including school spending, overall student performance, and college readiness.
It didn’t come as a surprise to most policy makers and educators that Mississippi posted one of the nation’s lowest overall scores, a C-minus, or 71 on a 100-point scale. As the Hechinger Report has reported this school year, Mississippi routinely rates low when it comes to child welfare and education indicators, despite some promising programs and pockets of success.
Mississippi fared particularly poorly in three categories: K-12 achievement, support capacity for teachers, and education spending. However, the state earned an A for its standards and accountability structures, which include issuing annual letter grades to school districts. Districts that repeatedly perform poorly can be taken over by the state.
Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York were the top three rated states in the annual survey.
The real-life version of “Won’t Back Down” — the recent movie that promoted the controversial “parent trigger” law — appears to finally be getting a happier ending than the box office flop.
Parent union members at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., have become the first in the nation to convert their struggling neighborhood school into a charter school.
On a 4-0 vote Tuesday night, the Adelanto School District board approved the charter school operator selected by the Desert Trails Kids First parent union, LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy. It took the parent union nearly two years and a bitter legal battle to get there.
“I’m excited. I’m happy. I’m in tears — I’m holding them back,” parent union leader Cynthia Ramirez said shortly after the vote. “I can finally sleep at night.”
California’s Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, known as the parent trigger law, enables parents representing more than 50 percent of students to sign a petition to force major reforms on a low-performing school, from firing the principal and half the staff to a charter conversion. At least seven states have versions of parent trigger laws on the books, and parent trigger bills have been considered in some 20 others.
“The idea behind this movement is not simply to find and save every single failing school in the country through community organizing,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based advocacy group that trained and bankrolled the Adelanto parents. “The idea is shifting the paradigm and giving parents the power to do what’s in the best interest of their kids.”
Tuesday’s vote was quick and unanimous, and followed by a brief recess to let the parent trigger supporters celebrate. Members of the parent union and Parent Revolution exchanged hugs with each other, board members and district officials.
“When the cameras are gone and the newspapers are gone, we’re still here and we’re going to work this out,” said Board President Christine Turner.
It was a drastically different scene than so many of the heated school board meetings last spring, when the board twice rejected the parent trigger petition amid a counter-campaign to get parents to withdraw their signatures. The smaller, more loosely organized group of parents opposing the parent trigger argued that some parents had been misled when they signed the initial petition.
Both sides accused the other of harassment and intimidation. The parent union argued the opposition was fueled by teachers’ union members.
The board’s rejection prompted the parent union to sue the district. In July, a Victorville Superior Court judge ruled in the parent union’s favor and said that parents couldn’t withdraw their signatures.
In the fall, the district tried to implement curriculum changes and an alternative governance committee comprised of parents in place of a charter conversion. But in October, another judge ruled the district must let the charter conversion press on.
“We do know what we want for our children,” said Doreen Diaz, who spearheaded the formation of the parent union. She’s since pulled her daughter, who is about to go into middle school, out of Desert Trails and stepped down from the union. “We proved that parents can make a difference.”
The opposing parents didn’t show up to speak at Tuesday’s meeting. One of the opposition leaders, Maggie Flamenco, said she pulled her children out of Desert Trails on Monday. She and fellow skeptics questioned the politics behind the trigger push, and the motives of Parent Revolution, which is backed by major funders like the Gates and Walton Family foundations.
The new Desert Trails Preparatory Academy charter school will be run by LaVerne Preparatory Academy, which runs a K-8 school with similar demographics in the nearby city of Hesperia. In October, the parent union held a vote open only to the parents who signed the petition to select from two charter operators. Fifty of the 53 parents who turned out chose LaVerne.
Parent union leaders said they have high hopes for LaVerne, which scored a 911 on California’s 1,000-point Academic Performance Index last year, compared to Desert Trails’ score of 699. Based on test scores, Desert Trails ranks in the bottom 10 percent in the state and has been stuck on the federal watch list for failing schools for more than six years.
The board trustees, including two newly elected members, told the meeting’s audience that they were impressed with the levels of student engagement they saw while visiting LaVerne’s Hesperia campus. The school emphasizes classical literature, Latin and music classes, and it partners with the University of LaVerne to help train new teachers.
“We’ve gone back to the basics, and we’ve raised the bar,” said LaVerne Elementary Principal Debbie Tarver.
All students and their siblings will be guaranteed spots at the school, but every teacher and staff member will have to file new applications if they want to keep working there.
Tarver said she plans to start distributing fliers to parents about the charter conversion and will be holding informational meetings as soon as next week.
The school board did place a few conditions on the approval. By March 1, the operator must send proof of the new charter academy’s registered nonprofit status, along with revised budget plans in case the academy doesn’t get the state grant funds it’s counting on.
Tuesday’s victory could be a boon for other budding parent trigger attempts throughout California and other states, with several new bills up for discussion in state legislatures in coming months.
The number of states embracing contentious education reforms meant to increase teacher accountability rose rapidly last year. In 2009, no states tied tenure to a teacher’s performance in the classroom as measured by student achievement on standardized tests. Now, 15 states have policies that base teacher tenure partly on student test scores, up from eight just a year earlier, according to a report released Monday by the advocacy group StudentsFirst.
The tenure reforms have drawn heavy criticism from educators who worry about the reliability and fairness of using students’ standardized test scores to judge teachers. Yet even as many states have made sweeping changes, which also include increasing the number of charter schools and rewarding teachers based on student achievement, most are not doing enough to implement education policies that will better serve students and schools, according to StudentsFirst, which was founded by former District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
The group gave each state a rating of A through F based on the number and success of policies that align with StudentsFirst’s priorities such as charter schools and more rigorous teacher-evaluation systems. Only two states received a rating of “B-,” which was the highest score awarded. The report highlights which policies individual states have adopted in the past few years, providing an update on state-by-state changes to education laws following a similar report by another pro-reform group, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), in 2011.
States like Hawaii and Louisiana, which NCTQ identified two years ago as mediocre, have since made changes that earned them relatively high ratings in the StudentsFirst report. While the Hawaii State Teachers Union has been locked in a battle with the state over a new contract that would link student test scores to teacher ratings and pay, education reformers have praised the state for creating a merit pay pilot program and funding charter schools.
And Louisiana implemented sweeping changes to its teacher-evaluation system in 2012, linking hiring, layoffs and tenure to performance. Louisiana State Superintendent John White said the report validates the “courage and boldness” of Louisiana policymakers, voters and educators. “Our schools are improving as a result,” White said. “But we still have a lot of work left to do.”
The number of states requiring districts to use a merit pay system has also increased, from three in 2011, according to the NCTQ report, to seven as of December 2012, according to StudentsFirst. More than 20 states have passed or are considering laws that would allow parents to take over failing schools.
Several states have resisted the wave of changes prompted partly by the Obama administration, which offered states and districts hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid in exchange for overhauling their education policies through its Race to the Top program. California was ranked 51st by NCTQ in 2011 and 41st by StudentsFirst. Although a few California districts are adopting new teacher-evaluation systems and embracing controversial “parent trigger” laws, Richard Zeiger, California’s chief deputy superintendent, told The New York Times that the state disagrees with StudentsFirst’s “extremely narrow, unproven method that they think will improve teaching.”
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) compared the StudentsFirst scores with state results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and state grades compiled by Education Week. While NAEP scores and Education Week rankings generally correlated, the StudentsFirst rankings were dramatically different for many states. For instance, Massachusetts, which was ranked 14th by StudentsFirst and given a D+, received a B+ from Education Week and ranked first on fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math NAEP tests in 2011.
“The StudentsFirst report cards are merely political scorecards designed to push the organization’s state legislative agenda,” wrote Carolyn Fiddler of the AFT in a statement released Monday. Fiddler added that the report cards only measure “whether states are buying into the StudentsFirst agenda.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has vowed to focus on education when this year’s legislative session convenes next week, with literacy and school choice at the forefront of his agenda. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Bryant said that his goal is to get “something transformational” passed during the three-month session this year.
But several education advocates are skeptical that change is really coming in a state that has long posted some of the worst school performance and child welfare results in the nation.
In November, Bryant released his nearly $3 billion proposed education budget, which included $2 million in funding for a teacher merit pay pilot program and $15 million for literacy initiatives. The budget was a disappointment to those who hoped that the state would finally fund pre-kindergarten. Mississippi remains the only state in the south, and one of 11 in the nation, which does not provide state-funded pre-kindergarten.
Instead, Bryant is focusing on charter schools and an initiative called “third-gate,” which would prevent most students from moving to fourth-grade until they are reading on grade level. “Theoretically, it is a good idea,” said David Morgan, coordinator of a family literacy program for the Mississippi Humanities Council, which tries to improve adult and child literacy in the state. But “logistically and financially, it’s going to be quite a burden.”
Democrats responsible for passing the state’s most sweeping education reform act more than 30 years ago have also voiced doubts, calling Bryant’s agenda items “small-scale.” The Education Reform Act of 1982 made school attendance compulsory and created a public kindergarten system in Mississippi.
Former Gov. William Winter, who persuaded legislators to pass the 1982 law, says that Mississippi has lost momentum to improve its schools. “We’ve lost that political will to do the hard things that must be done,” he said in remarks during a forum at Millsaps College. Dick Molpus, who served as Winter’s staffer and a former Mississippi secretary of state, added that the ideas being presented this year are artificial solutions that will reach only a small minority of Mississippi students.
“The fact is that we’re not funding our basic education formula,” Molpus said in an interview with The Hechinger Report. The Mississippi Adequate Education Plan (MAEP), a formula that determines how much money the state must provide to individual school districts, has only been fully funded twice in the last decade, according to a recent report in the The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
Molpus has cited charter school and private school scholarship proposals as distractions from the state’s true educational needs. Last spring, a contentious charter school proposal failed by one committee vote although many officials believe this year’s measure will pass.
In an opinion piece written for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, interim state superintendent Lynn House said that while the state’s board of education supports full funding of MAEP, they are “mindful of the current economic times and the difficult decisions our lawmakers face in funding all state services.” House highlighted what she called “sweeping reforms” that are on the agenda, such as a $2.5 million early childhood pilot program and a $1.5 million investment in drop-out prevention.
But Molpus said legislators need to move past smaller issues promoted by lobbyists and special interest groups and instead take “giant steps” in education reform. “I don’t see sweeping improvements to lift the literacy level and academic attainment of citizens of our state,” he said. “What we’re doing here…it’s infinitesimal in terms of education reform.”
The benefits children reap from Head Start, the preschool program for low-income families, disappear almost completely by third grade. While social support for children in the program is high, academic supports are low. Nearly all of children in the program live near the poverty line, more than half do not live with their fathers, and a third have a parent who is unemployed. These are the findings from two separate reports released Friday by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the federal agency that oversees the Head Start program.
On their face, the pair of reports seem to paint a depressing portrait of a program meant to help the most vulnerable children in the country. But amid the bad news, the researchers who compiled the reports – independent contractors commissioned by ACF – also found a few glimmers of hope.
One of the studies, by the nonprofit Mathematica Policy Research, found that parents of children enrolled in Head Start became more engaged in teaching their children at home: They increased (slightly) the frequency that they told their children stories, played games, did arts and crafts and went to the library. The report also found that children in Head Start made significant academic progress during the year on skills like identifying numbers and shapes.
The second of the studies, known as the Head Start Impact Study, is the latest in a series of reports that has looked at the academic, social-emotional and health outcomes for Head Start students over time. Previously, the study had found that gains made in preschool for children enrolled in Head Start tapered off in first grade. The latest report shows that nearly all the health benefits and academic and social emotional gains were gone by third grade. There were also some negative outcomes, including a greater likelihood of being held back.
But parenting skills continued to be better for Head Start families, and in some cases social skills and reading ability were somewhat higher for Head Start children in third grade.
“One of the strengths of the Head Start program is the parent involvement and parent engagement,” said Linda Smith, ACF deputy assistant secretary for early childhood development, in a phone interview. “And it is borne out in the study.”
Yasmina Vinci, the director of the National Head Start Association, a nonprofit advocacy group, said in a statement that the Impact study showed that “Head Start does its job – it gets at-risk children ready for kindergarten in every aspect that the study measured.” She sought to place some of the blame for Head Start’s diminishing returns on K-12 schools, rather than the preschool program. “Their circumstances continue to hinder their success; circumstances including, but not limited to, the quality of their primary and secondary education,” she said.
The Mathematic study reported that the vast majority Head Start teachers in the sample received low ratings on instructional support based on a new classroom evaluation system that is launching in Head Start centers nationally this year, known as CLASS, even as they scored well on measures of emotional support and classroom organization.
Smith said Head Start’s low scores on instruction were not an anomaly – most preschools don’t do well in the academic domain, she said. But, she added, “We are looking at these scores very closely.”
“It’s an area we are looking at very seriously here in terms of how we are training our teachers and the curriculum they select and use,” Smith said.
The CLASS evaluations are part of a major effort by the Obama administration to improve the quality of Head Start. Among other changes, the administration is requiring programs that don’t meet certain standards to “re-compete” for their federal grants. The hope is that the competition will force improvements.
“The reforms of the last four years will ensure Head Start is doing more, so the benefits will be greater and last longer,” said Head Start Director Yvette Sanchez-Fuentes in a press release announcing the reports’ findings.
This year, 132 programs had to compete for their funding, including some of the biggest agencies in the country. The Head Start office previously said it would announce the winners this month, but officials said Friday that the results of the competition will not be released until the spring for legal reasons.
CLASS and another measure of academic quality were not used to evaluate programs during the first round. But for the next round, Head Start agencies must meet new academic standards to avoid losing their federal support. Smith, of ACF, said the agency would release a list of the next round of agencies that must compete in January.
School districts around the country are worrying over stalled negotiations to avert the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the month, which could result in the loss of more than 8 percent of their federal funding. Education advocates and lobbyists, including for the two national teachers unions, are clamoring for a deal – specifically one that leaves the federal education budget intact.
Talks continued on Monday, and both sides seemed closer to an agreement. President Obama proposed a new counter offer to House Republicans, while Politico reported that House Speaker John Boehner was developing a Plan B that would raise taxes for some Americans. If the two parties are unable to come to an agreement by Jan. 1, though, a series of cuts will be triggered that include significant reductions to education spending. (The cuts wouldn’t have a large impact on many school districts until the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, however.)
The Hechinger Report reached out to districts around the country to find out what would happen to them if the cuts were to kick in. Here are some of their responses:
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, Texas (31,633 students, 88.96 percent of students economically disadvantaged):
Our budget process for the 2012-13 school year begins in January. No decisions have been made yet on how we would adjust if the federal cutbacks occur. We have been assured that we will not be impacted until Sept. 1, 2013. Definitely, we would experience major cutbacks in staff and services. Many teacher aide and teacher positions would be lost. Class size would increase. Tutoring and other supplemental services would be impacted. Services for special needs students would be impacted as well as other federal programs. We will begin formulating our plan in January. It will be a several month process to develop our budgetary response to the cut backs.
-Superintendent Daniel King
Flint Community Schools, Michigan (9,606 students, about 85 percent of students economically disadvantaged):
Flint Community Schools could lose about 8 percent of our federal grants, which total approximately $25 million annually. That would mean a loss of about $2 million. As a result, the district’s Office of State and Federal Grants has been instructed to budget accordingly, until the federal budget impasse is resolved. Program coordinators are to work as if their budgets were 8 percent smaller. There are no plans to cut any programs at this point.
-spokesperson Robert Campbell
Northshore School District, Washington (19,818 students, 17.6 percent of students economically disadvantaged):
Given Northshore’s demographics, we don’t rely as much on federal funding as many other districts. That said, our calculations are that sequestration would result in a loss of $500,000 in federal funding, with most of that impacting our Title and IDEA programs [which are federal programs for, respectively, low-income and special-needs students]. With respect to Title [dollars] this would mean reduced reading and math intervention services and reduced funding for professional development. Our Title I funding is a major source of our intervention dollars, primarily aimed at closing achievement gaps. As we work towards implementation of the Common Core Standards, the loss of staff [professional development] support will be a real challenge. As for IDEA, we are still legally required to provide the appropriate services to students with special needs. Consequently, our ability to reduce programs or services in that area are more restricted. The result could be losses/reductions in other areas to offset the IDEA funding losses.
- Superintendent Larry Francois
(Statements have been edited for length and clarity.)
Schools are supposed to be sanctuaries. That refrain has been echoing around the country following Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman shot his way into the building and murdered 20 children and six adults before taking his own life.
“I live between the Sandy Hook Elementary School and the house of the shooter, Adam Lanza. I seriously thought I lived in the safest place in America,” Newtown resident Addie Sandler wrote in USA Today. Sandler added that her children had attended Sandy Hook Elementary when they were younger. “The elementary school was a place of learning and laughter.”
For Carolyn Mears, a professor of education at the University of Denver whose son is a Columbine survivor, the fact that the shooting took place at a school – an elementary school, at that – is an attack on our sense of innocence.
“Schools are symbolic to our country, to our society,” she said. “Schools are the future. Schools are a place of hope of betterment.”
Many students across the country may balk at going to their own schools as a result of Friday’s events, predicted Marie Gray, a psychologist that specializes in child and adolescent developmental psychology and traumatic stress.
“It’s almost like everything we teach them goes out the window because of this heinous act,” she said. “How do we emphasis safety to them and let them know they’re going to be safe when something like this happens?”
It’s important to regain that sense of safety now, though, said Robert Klitzman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, adding children should be told that they are free from harm now and this is a “freak event.”
Although violence is rare, dozens of people are killed in schools each year. Other schools and their surrounding communities have been hit hard or destroyed by natural disasters.
After the shooting at Columbine, where 13 individuals were shot and killed and another 24 were injured, Mears set about learning what schools could do following such tragedies. In her book, Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma, she urges schools to think about the unthinkable and have plans in place, from what the chain of command will look like to how to teach children who have been traumatized.
Some students from Sandy Hook may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They may regress, have reoccurring nightmares, or withdraw, experts said.
The entire community will need to work together to “build a new normal,” Mears said. Some students may never be able to step foot in the school again, but those who can return should do so when they are ready with parent and teacher support. “That can actually be very helpful,” she said, recalling her own experience.
Officials have not said if the school will reopen for classes; for now Sandy Hook students will be sent to a school in the nearby town of Monroe.
A pair of Newtown High School alumni have started a movement to knock down Sandy Hook and build a new school in a new location, underscoring the deep connection between students and their schools. “We cannot send the survivors to walk the halls of the school that were once covered in blood from their fallen classmates and faculty,” they wrote on Newtown’s Patch.com site. “Rebuilding Sandy Hook Elementary would give the survivors a new place to call home.”
But Gray suggested that doing so might reinforce victimhood and that returning to the scene may help some regain a sense of power. “The building is just a building,” she said. “The building didn’t do anything bad.”
The boards of trustees and directors who oversee America’s colleges and universities think higher education has gotten too expensive—just not at their own institutions.
In a finding that suggests there’s little sense of urgency among governing boards to rein in the cost of college, more than half of 2,500 board members surveyed said higher education is too pricey. But nearly two-thirds contended that their own schools charge just about the right amount.
Nearly half said their institutions are already doing everything they can to stay affordable.
College costs have jumped 440 percent in the last 25 years, or three times the rate of inflation, outpacing even the spiraling cost of health care. Household income during that period rose only about 150 percent. At many universities, the increases have accelerated since the 2008 economic downturn.
Yet there is “a major gap” between how board members view the problem and how the public sees it, says Susan Whealler Johnston, chief operating officer of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, or AGB, which conducted the survey.
The disconnect comes at a time when governing boards appear to be asserting greater authority over the university administrations they oversee.
The board of visitors at the University of Virginia, for example, ignited a firestorm this year when it tried to remove the president for not moving fast enough in some areas. And while the decision was reversed, it was the latest battle between university administrators and boards of directors and trustees, who have also clashed in Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and elsewhere.
The governing panels of private universities are elected by alumni or self-perpetuating, while those of public institutions are generally appointed by governors and legislatures.
Half are businesspeople, 25 percent are professionals and 16 percent are working or retired educators, according to a separate survey that the AGB released last year.
Nearly a third receive no financial training, and more than a quarter admit that they do not undertake much budgetary or financial oversight, the earlier survey found.
Americans are again mourning and grappling with the question, ‘Why?’ after a gunman shot and killed multiple children at an elementary school in Connecticut on Friday. Twenty-eight were killed–20 of them children–at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., according to law enforcement officials.
It will likely rank as the nation’s second deadliest shooting at a school, following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, in which 32 people were killed. In 1999, two students killed 13 people and themselves at Columbine High School in Colorado, an incident that shocked the nation and prompted many schools to adopt new safety protocols.
The shooter was identified as Adam Lanza, 20, according to CBS News. Lanza apparently walked into the school carrying multiple weapons, and shot 20 children in two classrooms. He then fired at several other adults in the school, including the principal, who was killed. The shooter reportedly shot and killed himself inside the school. Police found the body of his mother at a house in town, and attributed her death to Lanza as well, according to news reports.
“It was horrendous,” parent Brenda Lebinski, who rushed to the school where her daughter is in the third grade, told Reuters. “Everyone was in hysterics – parents, students. There were kids coming out of the school bloodied. I don’t know if they were shot, but they were bloodied.”
Governor Bob McDonnell, of Virginia, was among many public officials expressing their condolences yesterday. “Unfortunately, Virginia has our own painful memories of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. Those memories will never fade, and we continue to grieve for all those lost on that April day,” he said. “We are all too aware of the impact that events like this can have on a community.”
The president was preparing to address the nation this afternoon. The Hechinger Report will publish reactions and updates as the day goes on.
The president gave an emotional speech in reaction to the shooting—pausing to gather himself and wipe tears from his eyes before saying that most of the dead were between the ages of five and 10.
“I know there’s not a parent in American who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do…Our hearts are broken today,” he said. “This evening we’ll do what every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter.”
He also said that “as a country we have been through this too many times,” and suggested lawmakers would have to come together to come up with policy to prevent future shootings.
The shooting is likely to revive a debate about gun control. The president has largely avoided the topic during his tenure as president. During the presidential campaign, a voter confronted the president and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, during a town hall debate about whether they support renewing a ban on assault weapons.
At the time, the president said he supports a ban—although he wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about it. “Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced,” he said. “But part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence, because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there’s an awful lot of violence, and they’re not using AK-47s, they’re using cheap handguns.”
Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut addressed reporters this afternoon in an outdoor news conference. “You can never be prepared for this kind of incident,” he said during his brief remarks. “What has transpired in that school building will leave a mark on this community.”
Paul Vance, of the Connecticut State Police, said that in addition to the 18 children who were pronounced dead at the school, two others died on the way to local hospitals. Another adult was found dead elsewhere, not in the school, but was believed to be a victim of the same shooter, bringing the total number of victims to 28. Vance said the shooting had been confined to two rooms in the school. ”It’s a tragic scene,” he said.
The police said they were still reconstructing what happened, and did not offer many details, but an eye witness, who was allowed to enter the area because she’s a nurse, described the scene at Sandy Hook this morning to CBS News.
“When I got there, there was a lot of parents pulling in at the same time. I just ran up and the police where already there. They let me go because I told them I was a nurse. At the time, we thought we might have some victims that needed to be worked on and resuscitated.
“The people that were shot that were able to get help were taken out immediately so before I got there. I didn’t see anyone taken out in an ambulance. And then there was just a long wait. I don’t know, I kind of lost track of time but maybe like a two hour wait. We just saw SWAT teams go in and the canine unit go in and police surrounding the place and going into the woods, but nobody coming out.
“They wouldn’t even let us in the building. All I can say is, one of the cops said it was the worst thing he had seen in his entire career. But it was when they told the parents. All these parents were waiting for their children to come out, they thought that they were still alive. There was 20 parents that were just told their children were dead. It was awful.”
Children who survived the shooting have appeared on several television stations describing what they saw. One boy spoke to a CBS reporter about hearing bullets before a teacher grabbed him and pulled him into a classroom. But some experts and journalists are questioning whether interviewing children in this kind of traumatic scenario is necessary and ethical. “What little bit of detail these ‘witnesses’ have to offer doesn’t seem to be worth the insensitive nature of the questioning,” writes Rebecca Greenfield on the Atlantic‘s website.
An unidentified nine-year-old told the New York Times: “We were in the gym, and I heard really loud bangs,” he said. “We thought that someone was knocking something over. And we heard yelling, and we heard gunshots. We heard lots of gunshots. We heard someone say, ‘Put your hands up.’ I heard, ‘Don’t shoot.’
(This story has been updated to reflect new information as of Monday, December 17.)
Six low-performing Boston schools participating in a pilot program that gives teachers more training, support, and leadership roles are showing higher growth on state tests than other low-performing city schools according to a report released Monday by the non-profit Teach Plus.
The T3 Initiative program, a collaboration between Boston Public Schools and Teach Plus, began training and placing groups of experienced teachers with track records of raising student test scores in a set of three failing schools in 2010, after a dozen city schools were deemed underperforming by the state in 2010 for chronically low test scores. The pilot expanded to three more schools the following year.
The report, an evaluation by Teach Plus of its own program, shows that at the first three schools to use the program, the percentage of students earning advanced or proficient scores on their state tests increased by nearly 13 percentage points in English language arts on average over the course of two years, and 16.5 percentage points in math on average. The second group of schools saw similar growth at the middle school level over the course of one year.
In addition to training and hiring new teachers, the six schools in the T3 Initiative, provided health and wellness services for students, and intensive teacher professional development over the summer. Teach Plus teachers make up 25 percent of the school faculty at T3 schools, and serve in leadership roles to help other teachers improve.
Six other Boston turnaround schools did not participate in the T3 pilot, but did experiment with longer school days and staffing changes. A report by The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education found that state-wide, less successful turnaround schools, including those not part of the T3 program, tended to provide more generic professional development, infrequent coaching and teacher support, and struggled to create a safe school environments. Test scores at those turnaround schools have remained relatively stagnant.
Among the T3 schools, the biggest gains were in the middle grades at Orchard Gardens K-8, which doubled the number of seventh graders scoring proficient in English and math over the course of one year. At the elementary schools participating in the program, growth has been high in math, but more moderate in English language arts. There was only a 0.3 percentage point increase on average in English language arts scores during the first year of the pilot. The elementary school that joined the program during the 2011-12 school year saw only 4 percentage points of growth, although math scores jumped by 18 percentage points.
The Teach Plus program is among several types of reforms that Boston has tried since the 12 city schools began receiving federal funding to undergo a turnaround process. Principals were replaced in five of the 12 failing schools, and staff members at six of the schools were asked to reapply for their positions, including three schools that participated in the T3 project. One school closed in 2011 as part of a massive school closure and consolidation plan intended to save the district more than $36 million. Nine of the remaining 11 schools extended their school day by an hour, and two added two hours.
Research suggests that school turnarounds are extremely difficult. Most schools in the federal School Improvement Program, which the Boston schools were a part of, made gains on test scores in the first year, but more than a third did worse after receiving federal funding to make improvements.
“If we’re going to make lasting change in our schools, we need to look to teachers to lead that change,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. “We’re thrilled with the progress these schools are making.”
Research has shown that teachers are the most important in-school factor that influences student achievement, yet inexperienced teachers are more common in urban and low-income schools. A 2010 study commissioned by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education found that during the course of two school years, half of Boston’s public-school teachers were never evaluated, and a quarter of the city’s schools didn’t turn in teacher evaluations to the district.
Districts in Massachusetts have three years to turn around failing schools before they could face a state takeover.