Chicago’s Ninth-Grade Focus Triggers Climb in High School Graduation Rates

From The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research
April 24, 2014unnamed
Efforts to improve the academic performance of ninth-graders drove large improvements in graduation rates three years later in a diverse set of 20 Chicago public high schools, according to a report released Thursday by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (UChicago CCSR). This suggests that the recent dramatic improvement in the percentage of Chicago ninth-graders who are “on track” to graduate should continue to propel system-wide graduation rates in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
A second report released today by UChicago CCSR helps explain why ninth grade is such a key leverage point for reducing dropouts.
In 2007, CPS launched a major effort, centered on keeping more ninth-graders on track to graduation. Freshmen are considered on track if they have enough credits to be promoted to tenth grade and have earned no more than one semester F in a core course. The effort was a response to research from UChicago CCSR showing that students who end their ninth-grade year on track are almost four times more likely to graduate from high school than those who are off track.
The district initiative promoted the use of data to monitor students’ level of dropout risk throughout the ninth-grade year, allowing teachers to intervene before students fell too far behind. The diversity of strategies was notable—from calls home when students missed a class to algebra tutoring to homework help. The goal was to match the intervention to the specific needs of the student and prevent the dramatic decline in grades and attendance that most CPS students experience when they transition to high school.  Since that time, the CPS on-track rate has risen 25 percentage points, from 57 to 82 percent.
The first report, Preventable Failure: Improvements in Long-Term Outcomes when High Schools Focused on the Ninth Grade Year, shows that improvements in ninth grade on-track rates were sustained in tenth and eleventh grade and followed by a large increase in graduation rates. This analysis was done on 20 “early mover schools” that showed large gains in on-track rates as early as the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, allowing for enough time to have elapsed to analyze how the increase in on-track rates affected graduation rates.
“On its face this did not seem like an initiative that would produce a system shift in performance, redefine approaches to school dropout, and call into question the conventional wisdom that urban neighborhood high schools could not make radical improvements.  And yet, CPS’s focus on on-track achieved all of this,” said report author Melissa Roderick, Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and a senior director at UChicago CCSR.
Other Key findings from Preventable Failure
Between 2007-08 and 2012-13, system-wide improvements in ninth-grade on-track rates were dramatic, sustained, and observed across a wide range of high schools and among critical subgroups—by race, by gender, and across achievement levels.  Although all students appeared to gain, the benefits of getting on track were greatest for students with the lowest incoming skills. Students with eighth-grade Explore scores less than 12—the bottom quartile of CPS students—had a 24.5 percentage point increase in their on-track rates.  On-track rates improved more among African American males than among any other racial/ethnic gender subgroup, rising from 43 percent in 2005 to 71 percent in 2013.
Improvements in on-track were accompanied by across-the-board improvements in grades. Grades improved at all ends of the achievement spectrum, with large increases both in the percentage of students getting Bs and the percentage of students receiving no Fs. Thus, evidence suggests that on-track improvement was driven by real improvement in achievement, not just a result of teachers giving students grades of “D” instead of “F.”
Increasing ninth-grade on-track rates did not negatively affect high schools’ average ACT scores—despite the fact that many more students with weaker incoming skills made it to junior year to take the test. ACT scores remained very close to what they were before on-track rates improved, which means that the average growth from Explore to ACT remained the same or increased, even though more students—including many students with weaker incoming skills—were taking the ACT.
Key Findings on how to support students during the ninth-grade year from Free to Fail or On-Track to College
Free to Fail or On-Track to College, the second report released by UChicago CCSR, details the dramatic drop in grades, attendance, and academic behavior that occurs between eighth and ninth grade and demonstrates how intense monitoring and support can help schools keep more ninth-graders on track to graduation.
Both high- and low-achieving students struggle when they enter high school.
Between eighth and ninth grade, average grades drop by more than half a letter grade (0.6 points on a 4-point scale). This decline happens across all performance levels. Even among students with very high GPAs in eighth grade, only about one-third maintain a high GPA in ninth grade.
Grades decline because students’ attendance and study habits plummet across the transition to high school—not because the work is harder.
Students miss almost three times as many days of school in ninth grade as in eighth grade, and this increase is primarily driven by a significant increase in unexcused absences. Freshmen also report putting in less effort than they had in seventh and eighth grade. Furthermore, students do not perceive ninth-grade classes as more difficult than their eighth-grade classes.
Adult monitoring and support can prevent the declines that typically happen across the transition from high school.
Interviews with students revealed a significant shift in adult supervision between eighth and ninth grade, which makes it easier for students to skip class and stop doing work. But school and teacher practices can make a difference in the course grades ninth-graders receive, even among students with similar prior performance.
“Taken together, these two studies show that ninth grade is a pivotal year that provides a unique intervention point for reducing high school dropout,” said Elaine Allensworth, Lewis-Sebring Director of UChicago CCSR. “Schools truly can prevent course failure and high school dropout, particularly if they provide students with the rights supports at the right time.”
Both the Preventable Failure and the Free to Fail reports can be found on the UChicago CCSR website.

Keeping ninth-graders ‘on track’ raises graduation rate: University of Chicago study

BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK, Education Reporter
April 23, 2014 10:02PM

Less than half of students at Benito Juarez Community Academy High School graduated in 2008 when Juan Carlos Ocon took over as principal, but by 2013, he said, the rate rose to about 69 percent.

The secret of Juarez’s success — and the success of 19 other neighborhood high schools in Chicago in getting more students to graduation day — started with the school’s ninth-graders and keeping them “on track,” according to new research to be released Thursday by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School research.

Shepherding ninth-graders through their first year of high school — focusing on helping them to show up to class and complete their work so they pass their courses — leads to jumps in graduation rates, even at high schools once thought of as “dropout factories,” according to the study.

“Attention to those very small things has a big payoff,” said Elaine Allensworth, who directs the Consortium, adding that schools need to intervene as soon as freshmen show a dip in attendance or decline in effort.

The interventions that have worked so far are less expensive and dramatic than a schoolwide turnaround or conversion to a charter school, she said. The gains spanned gender and race but were highest for African-American males.

And outside factors beyond a school’s control — gangs, family, academic weakness of incoming freshmen — affect graduation in a common way by preventing students from showing up and doing their work, she said.

“Schools don’t have to change everything in kids lives — what they have to do is make sure all those other factors don’t interfere with kids coming to class and getting their work done,” Allensworth said.

The authors tracked efforts across 20 Chicago Public Schools that boosted “on-track” rates for ninth-graders over three years by poring over real-time data on a regular basis and then looked at who graduated. According to their findings, those “on track” increases — to 82 percent in 2013 from 57 percent in 2007 — translated into big jumps in graduation rates, up to 20 percentage points.

“On track” means a student has enough credits at the end of the year to go on to the next grade and has earned no more than one semester F in a core class.

The 20 schools adopted a variety of practices, including block scheduling to minimize the effects of tardiness; hiring an “on-track coordinator” to reach out with solutions when students started to fall off; and running a summer program for incoming freshmen.

How the schools specifically chose to keep tabs on their ninth-graders mattered less than how well they kept them on track, said Thomas Kelley-Kemple, a Consortium author.

Juarez, with 96 percent low-income students, leaned on its lead teachers and changed its curriculum to one that focuses on standards instead of specific content.

“It automatically made what was being taught in the classroom more relevant to the students,” Ocon said. That pushed attendance up, too, he said.

“What’s in the classroom now is much more relevant and that’s bringing them back every day,” he said. “Because the curriculum has shifted, it’s not what teachers are interested in, it’s what students need.”

Juarez also opened a “benchmark achievement center” in the library, where students can bolster skills after school, Ocon said.

Juarez still has work to do, with ACT scores barely above a 16 average — below the CPS average of 17.6 and far below 21, considered to be “college ready.” The school also is in its last year of a $6 million state improvement grant that Ocon said bolstered its efforts.

Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say

By 
Published: February 9, 2012

WASHINGTON — Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession’s full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.

“With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there’s a good chance the recession may have widened the gap,” Professor Reardon said. In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007. He compared children from families in the 90th percentile of income — the equivalent of around $160,000 in 2008, when the study was conducted — and children from the 10th percentile, $17,500 in 2008. By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.

Both studies were first published last fall in a book of research, “Whither Opportunity?”compiled by the Russell Sage Foundation, a research center for social sciences, and the Spencer Foundation, which focuses on education. Their conclusions, while familiar to a small core of social sciences scholars, are now catching the attention of a broader audience, in part because income inequality has been a central theme this election season.

The connection between income inequality among parents and the social mobility of their children has been a focus of President Obama as well as some of the Republican presidential candidates.

One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources. This has been particularly true as more parents try to position their children for college, which has become ever more essential for success in today’s economy.

A study by Sabino Kornrich, a researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, and Frank F. Furstenberg, scheduled to appear in the journal Demography this year, found that in 1972, Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum were spending five times as much per child as low-income families. By 2007 that gap had grown to nine to one; spending by upper-income families more than doubled, while spending by low-income families grew by 20 percent.

“The pattern of privileged families today is intensive cultivation,” said Dr. Furstenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The gap is also growing in college. The University of Michigan study, by Susan M. Dynarski and Martha J. Bailey, looked at two generations of students, those born from 1961 to 1964 and those born from 1979 to 1982. By 1989, about one-third of the high-income students in the first generation had finished college; by 2007, more than half of the second generation had done so. By contrast, only 9 percent of the low-income students in the second generation had completed college by 2007, up only slightly from a 5 percent college completion rate by the first generation in 1989.

James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, argues that parenting matters as much as, if not more than, income in forming a child’s cognitive ability and personality, particularly in the years before children start school.

“Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role,” he said. “The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it’s a mistake.”

Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, used survey data to show that affluent children spend 1,300 more hours than low-income children before age 6 in places other than their homes, their day care centers, or schools (anywhere from museums to shopping malls). By the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities, she found.

Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” was published Jan. 31, described income inequality as “more of a symptom than a cause.”

The growing gap between the better educated and the less educated, he argued, has formed a kind of cultural divide that has its roots in natural social forces, like the tendency of educated people to marry other educated people, as well as in the social policies of the 1960s, like welfare and other government programs, which he contended provided incentives for staying single.

“When the economy recovers, you’ll still see all these problems persisting for reasons that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with culture,” he said.

There are no easy answers, in part because the problem is so complex, said Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. Blaming the problem on the richest of the rich ignores an equally important driver, he said: two-earner household wealth, which has lifted the upper middle class ever further from less educated Americans, who tend to be single parents.

The problem is a puzzle, he said. “No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare.”

As some schools plunge into technology, poor schools are left behind

JANUARY 24, 2012 (on the Hechinger Report)                                                                  By Nick Pandolfo

 

CHICAGO – On a recent Friday morning, 15-year-old Jerod Franklin stared at his hands as he labored to type up memories of the first time he grilled steak. Next to him, classmate Brittany Levy tackled a piece about a trip to the hospital.

The Bronzeville Scholastic Institute ninth-graders were working on writing assignments in the school’s homework lab, whose 24 computers are shared by nearly a thousand students from the three schools that occupy DuSable High School’s campus on the South Side.

“The ratio of computers to students is absurd,” said English teacher Andrew Flaherty, a veteran educator who reports that many of his students cannot afford computers at home and don’t get enough time to use them at school. As a result, Bronzeville Scholastic students born into a digital era struggle with basic skills, such as saving work to a flash drive and setting margins in Microsoft Word.

At a time when awareness of technology and its potential uses in school is growing nationally, this public high school of 550 often feels like a poster child for the so-called digital divide.

The term “digital divide” used to refer to whether classrooms had computers connected to the Internet. Now, the bar has been raised, as newer software programs require high-speed connections and as WiFi-dependent devices such as iPads make their way into classrooms.

Even though Chicago Public Schools reports spending about $40 million a year on technology, Bronzeville Scholastic lags behind its peers and exemplifies a dangerous disparity that exists in the United States, according to Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

“Chicago in particular probably highlights the digital divide that’s across the country,” Patrick said. “Some schools may have access to one-to-one pilots, and other schools have old infrastructure that is barely functional, so that kids don’t have access to the computers.”

As a result, Patrick said, students are “not building their technology skills, (and) they’re not able to access some of the courses and supplemental materials that would help them ramp up and be successful.”

Technology spending in schools varies widely across the country, as some districts reap the benefits of grants and parental donations, while others tap local, state and federal funding.

The Bronzeville school has fallen behind at a time when CPS is trying to get out front. In December, the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school-district technology leaders, selected Chicago as one of 13 districts in the country to develop best practices on the innovative use of digital media in education — and technology use is flourishing in some Chicago-area schools.

In September, the Chicago Quest Charter School opened its doors on the Near North Side with a collaborative learning curriculum that encourages middle school students to embrace the wired world by building video games and websites. Recently, students were taking notes on iPads and developing ideas for a game they would create over the course of the semester in teams.

Deerfield Public Schools District 109 provides about 2,000 computer workstations for 3,100 students, and students can log in to district computers from home to continue work they started at school.

That access to technology helps students to become better 21st-century learners, said Greg Himebaugh, assistant superintendent for finance and operations for the district.

“The technology allows students to do research and to develop critical thinking,” he said.

Wilmette Public Schools District 39, which serves more than 3,500 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has at least one lab with desktop computers in each of its schools, as well as laptops and some iPads for classroom use.

“We definitely view technology as a learning tool, using online resources to gather information,” said Adam Denenberg, the district’s director of technology and media services.

Nearly every U.S. school has at least one instructional computer with Internet access, according to a 2010 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, which also found a ratio of 3.1 students for every computer connected to the Internet. On almost every measure, though, ratios were worse in high-poverty schools such as Bronzeville Scholastic, where 93 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said that the $40 million spent annually by the city on technology is distributed equitably and that all city schools receive additional funds that they can choose to spend on technology. Schools can receive additional assistance from three support centers across the city, which provide help with budgeting, security and the maintenance of facilities, including technology.

Bronzeville got a boost this year when Best Practice High School, which is closing, donated a roomful of the West Side school’s computers. But Bronzeville Scholastic’s principal, Latunja Williams, says it will take at least $3,000 to update the hard drives, which are too slow to run many current programs.

Two years ago, school librarian Sara Sayigh received a $15,000 grant that paid for many of the computers in the shared homework lab. The rest, however, can be unreliable and can’t be easily fixed when something goes wrong.

“We do not have a designated tech person in this building,” said Sayigh. Instead, an “audio-visual” person who Sayigh says is not qualified to perform maintenance on computers is responsible.

Flaherty says the computer in his classroom takes more than 20 minutes to boot up. The slower hard drives make it difficult to run newer software programs. Ninth-grade English teacher Tijwana Witt said computers break down frequently.

Nationally, schools that provide laptops and tablets to students often grab the headlines, worrying educators at less tech-savvy schools that their students are being left behind their wired peers.

“I’ve seen huge disparities, where I’ve gone into classrooms in urban districts and the paint is peeling and there’s not a computer in sight, to very high-end districts where every kid has an iPad they can bring home,” said Lisa Gillis, president of Integrated Educational Strategies, a national nonprofit based in California that helps schools implement digital curricula. “We have a long way to go.”

A version of this story appeared in The Chicago Tribune on January 25, 2012. Tribune freelance reporter Jessica Tobacman contributed.

52 years after integration, former Charlotte-Mecklenburg school superintendent admits racial achievement gap persists

Charlotte Leaders Address Student Achievement

By Bill Dries (Memphis Daily News / VOL. 126 | NO. 243 | Wednesday, December 14, 2011)

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system was consolidated in 1960, years before the schools in the North Carolina system were racially integrated.

And the school system’s former superintendent, who resigned earlier this year, told those involved in the Shelby County schools consolidation process that Charlotte-Mecklenburg still has an achievement gap.

“Progress has been painfully slow and, at the rate we are moving in Charlotte, it will still be 15 years before those achievement gaps are completely closed,” Peter Gorman told members of the consolidation planning commission, the countywide school board and leaders of both local public school systems. “You are talking about children who are not even yet in preschool if we continue at that pace. And we are the national leader.”

Gorman and several Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board members were part of a panel discussion Monday, Dec. 12, moderated by The Hyde Foundation.

Gorman and the others advised those combining the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools to expect the work to be hard and the process of improving education for students in both school systems to be ongoing.

They all also used the word “context” to define how standards for education reform will change over the years it will take to first merge schools and then improve the performance of students in the combined system.

“The route to accomplish that and do that doesn’t have to be just one path to get there,” Gorman said.

The result in Charlotte was a reform plan that rewarded schools showing improvement in performance with more flexibility to make changes to further improve performance from where it had been.

“We found some people that we thought that were doing really good work weren’t,” he said, adding some students who did well in reaching a certain level of achievement weren’t necessarily showing growth. “They were still so far above the bar, we thought they were superstars.”

Meanwhile, other students remained “below the bar” but showed more growth or improvement.

“The work to move from there to there was heroic and phenomenal,” Gorman said, holding one hand a good distance above the other.

Gorman’s point is central to local discussions by both school systems about state education reform efforts.

Leaders of Memphis City Schools, in particular, have been vocal in their concern that standards for student effectiveness don’t give schools enough credit for the improvement students show in national and state testing compared with where they were previously – even if those students remain below state and national benchmarks.

Eric Davis, chairman of the CMS board, said a milestone in education reform in Charlotte was a “fundamental shift” in philosophy just before Gorman was hired in 2006.

“It was a shift from not just providing an opportunity for an education … but to actually teaching and learning – not asking ourselves does the same child get the same lesson in every school every day, but how well are students learning,” Davis said. “It’s a shift from compliance to performance.”

Davis said the specific concept of performance did not resonate well with parents once it was better defined. He was surprised.

“When you really start pushing on what it’s going to take to raise the performance of the system, you find a lot of resistance,” Davis said. “I think it’s because we have different definitions of success in Charlotte of what the school system needs to do for us.”

‘Alarming’ new test-score gap discovered in Seattle schools

For the first time, Seattle Public Schools officials have broken down test scores by specific home language. The recently announced results revealed a surprising trend that may have implications for policy around the district.

By Brian M. Rosenthal, Seattle Times education reporter

African-American students whose primary language is English perform significantly worse in math and reading than black students who speak another language at home — typically immigrants or refugees — according to new numbers released by Seattle Public Schools.

District officials, who presented the finding at a recent community meeting at Rainier Beach High School, noted the results come with caveats, but called the potential trend troubling and pledged to study what might be causing it.

Michael Tolley, an executive director overseeing Southeast Seattle schools, said at the meeting that the data exposed a new achievement gap that is “extremely, extremely alarming.”

The administration has for years analyzed test scores by race. It has never before broken down student-achievement data by specific home language or country of origin — it is rare for school districts to examine test scores at that level — but it is unlikely that the phenomenon the data suggest is actually new.

In fact, some national experts said the trend represented by the Seattle data is not surprising. They pointed to some studies about college attendance and achievement indicating that immigrant families from all backgrounds tend to put a larger emphasis on education than those families that have been in the country longer.

Traditional factors in low performance, such as poverty and single-parent homes, are generally shared by black immigrants and nonimmigrants alike.

The new finding may help Seattle educators more accurately pinpoint students who are struggling and figure out how to help them, School Board members said.

However, district officials said they need to study the new data further before speculating about the reasons for it or making policy changes in response.

Some community members said the administration doesn’t appear to be taking the results seriously enough.

“I saw that and I was shocked,” Rainier Beach PTSA President Carlina Brown said about the presentation. “I was shocked, and we’re not getting a sense of urgency from the district. We need a timeline. Not another committee. We need to know what they’re doing and when.”

Fresh look at data

Mark Teoh, the district’s data manager, said he has been wanting to break down student-achievement data this way for years.

His team finally started the project two months ago. First, the number-crunchers got all of last year’s state test scores in reading and math. Then they compared the scores against information provided by students each year about the languages they speak at home.

The results, although preliminary, were eye-opening:

• Only 36 percent of black students who speak English at home passed their grade’s math test, while 47 percent of Somali-speaking students passed. Other black ethnic groups did even better, although still lower than the district average of 70 percent.

• In reading, 56 percent of black students who speak English passed, while 67 percent of Somali-speaking students passed. Again, other black ethnic groups did better, though still lower than the district average of 78 percent.

The numbers do have significant limitations, Teoh said. That’s because they are based on home-language information that is entirely self-reported, and the data exclude English Language Learners — an optional program for students who score poorly on an English proficiency test.

Most of all, Teoh said, because the English-speaking category includes students of many black ethnic groups, it’s impossible to compare specific ethnic groups.

At the recent community meeting, much of that distinction was lost on the parents in the audience.

“It’s very alarming that students that were born right here are at the bottom of the barrel,” said Vallerie Fisher, whose daughter is a senior at Rainier Beach. “How is that possible?”

Immigrant experience

The answer to that question may lie in the culture of immigrant families, national education experts said.

Many of those families, who often were relatively wealthy and well-educated in their home countries, have strong social-support systems that emphasize education, said Mike Petrilli, the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Pamela Bennett, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, agreed. She conducted a study in 2009 that found that immigrant black high-school graduates attend college at a much higher rate than black or white students born in the U.S. The reason was that the immigrants had a higher socioeconomic background, she said.

But that explanation may falter when Seattle’s Somali population is considered.

Many of the Somalis, after all, did not follow a normal pattern of immigration. Their families came to the U.S. to escape their war-torn country, many by way of refugee camps. But they still did better than English-speaking African Americans on the tests.

Veronica Gallardo, the director of international programs for Seattle Public Schools, speculated that the trauma experienced by Somali families causes them to value the opportunity education provides. In addition, Somali community groups tend to prioritize education, said Alexandra Blum, who works with the Somali Community Services Coalition, a nonprofit that works to empower families in King County.

Seattle School Board member Betty Patu, who has worked for decades with community groups serving students of color, said she has noticed that all immigrant families, regardless of socioeconomic status, place high value on education.

“Their motivation is different,” she said. “When you leave your country, you come here to do something. You don’t come here just to sit around and do nothing.”

But fellow board member Harium Martin-Morris cautioned against drawing conclusions, based on such limited results, about the value specific communities place on education.

“I would be careful of over-interpreting what this data is actually saying,” he said. “It is interesting, but I hope people don’t draw the wrong conclusions.”

Racial expectations?

Another board member, Marty McLaren, has a different theory.

McLaren, a former teacher, believes that black students whose families have been in the U.S. for generations often perform poorly because schools and general societal structures have imposed a culture of low expectations on them dating back to the days of slavery.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said of the trend, which she classified as institutionalized racism. “I’ve had many of those students. They’re bright and they’re wonderful. And they’re discouraged.”

Rita Green, vice president of the Rainier Beach PTSA, said teachers don’t push black students as hard as immigrant students.

Several studies have shown that teachers’ feelings about how students will perform impact how the students actually perform.

School Board Vice President Kay Smith-Blum said the newly identified gap should serve as an argument for the importance of motivating all children, but also teaching in different ways to reach different students.

“It goes back to, how do we create a set of materials and tool kits for our teachers that will allow them to be successful with any person in any student population?” she said.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

Military Children Stay a Step Ahead of Public School Students

Published by the New York Times

By                                                                                                                                                               Published: December 11, 2011

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The results are now public from the 2011 federal testing program known as NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And once again, schools on the nation’s military bases have outperformed public schools on both reading and math tests for fourth and eighth graders.

At the military base schools, 39 percent of fourth graders were scored as proficient in reading, compared with 32 percent of all public school students.

Even more impressive, the achievement gap between black and white students continues to be much smaller at military base schools and is shrinking faster than at public schools.

On the NAEP reading test, black fourth graders in public schools scored an average of 205 out of 500, compared with a 231 score for white public school students, a 26-point gap. Black fourth graders at the military base schools averaged 222 in reading, compared with 233 for whites, an 11-point gap.

In fact, the black fourth graders at the military base schools scored better in reading than public school students as a whole, whose average score was 221.

How to explain the difference?

It has become fashionable for American educators to fly off to Helsinki to investigate how schools there produce such high-achieving Finns. But for just $69.95 a night, they can stay at the Days Inn in Jacksonville, N.C., and investigate how the schools here on the Camp Lejeune Marine base produce such high-achieving Americans — both black and white.

They would find that the schools on base are not subject to former President George W. Bush’s signature education program, No Child Left Behind, or to President Obama’s Race to the Top. They would find that standardized tests do not dominate and are not used to rate teachers, principals or schools.

They would find Leigh Anne Kapiko, the principal at Tarawa Terrace Elementary, one of seven schools here.

Test preparation? “No,” Ms. Kapiko said. “That’s not done in Department of Defense schools. We don’t even have test prep materials.”

At schools here, standardized tests are used as originally intended, to identify a child’s academic weaknesses and assess the effectiveness of the curriculum.

Ms. Kapiko has been a principal both inside and outside the gates and believes that military base schools are more nurturing than public schools. “We don’t have to be so regimented, since we’re not worried about a child’s ability to bubble on a test,” she said.

Military children are not put through test prep drills. “For us,” Ms. Kapiko said, “children are children; they’re not little Marines.”

Under Mr. Obama’s education agenda, state governments can now dictate to principals how to run their schools. In Tennessee — which is ranked 41st in NAEP scores and has made no significant progress in closing the black-white achievement gap on those tests in 20 years — the state now requires four formal observations a year for all teachers, regardless of whether the principal thinks they are excellent or weak. The state has declared that half of a teacher’s rating must be based on student test scores.

Ms. Kapiko, on the other hand, has discretion in how to evaluate her teachers. For the most effective, she does one observation a year. That gives her and her assistant principal time for walk-through visits in every classroom every day.

“We don’t micromanage,” said Marilee Fitzgerald, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, the agency that supervises the military base schools and their 87,000 students. “Individual schools decide what to focus on.”

The average class in New York City in kindergarten through the third grade has 24 students. At military base schools, the average is 18, which is almost as good as it is in the private schools where leaders of the education reform movement — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York; the former education chancellor in New York City, Joel I. Klein; and Bill Gates of Microsoft — have sent their children.

2001 study on the success of the military base schools by researchers at Vanderbilt University cites the importance of the smooth relations between the teachers’ union and management, and Ms. Fitzgerald said that continued to be true.

Helping children succeed academically is about a lot more than what goes on inside the schools. Military parents do not have to worry about securing health care coverage for their children or adequate housing. At least one parent in the family has a job.

The military command also puts a priority on education. Bryant Anderson, a petty officer who is stationed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., is given time off from work to serve as president of the base’s school board and coach middle school basketball and track teams.

Parents with children at the civilian schools where Ms. Kapiko has been the principal have not received that kind of support from their employers. “If Dad works in a factory, he gets three absences and he’s fired,” she said.

A family’s economic well-being has considerable impact on how students score on standardized tests, and it is hard to make exact comparisons between military and public school families. But by one indicator, families at military base schools and public schools have similar earnings: the percentage of students who qualify for federally subsidized lunches is virtually identical at both, about 46 percent.

What is clear is that the base schools have made impressive progress in narrowing the achievement gap.

In the last decade, the gap in reading between black and white fourth graders at base schools has decreased to 11 points this year (233 compared with 222), down from a 16-point difference in 2003 (230 compared with 214), a 31 percent reduction. In public schools, there has been a much smaller decrease, to a 26-point gap this year (231 compared with 205) from 30 points in 2002 (227 compared with 197), a 13 percent reduction.

The military has a far better record of integration than most institutions. Almost all of the 69 base schools are in the South. They were opened in the 1950s and ’60s because the military was racially integrated and did not want the children of black soldiers to attend racially segregated schools off base.

Nevin Joplin, a sergeant in the Air Force, has a son in the sixth grade at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Sergeant Joplin, who is black and a single father, said both he and his son, Quinn, had been given ample opportunities to succeed. Quinn has been placed in a gifted program, and Sergeant Joplin said he had been treated fairly in the military promotion system. “My records go to the board, my name is blacked out, anything that would identify me is blacked out; they only see what I’ve done and decide on the merits,” he said.

Capt. Derrick Bennett Jr. of the Army is also black and has a 7-year-old son attending school at Fort Benning, Ga. He says race rarely, if ever, comes into play on the post. But when he visits family in Birmingham, it is not the same. There is still a tendency in Alabama to look at a black man differently, he said.