Friday, July 02, 2010

How Far To Go for Education?

Another interesting article in the NY Times, this one about a terrible high school in LA (shockingly bad) that got taken over by a large charter organization, Green Dot. The beatings, rapes, gangs, etc. have gone away and now the grounds are cleaner and the test scores have inched up a nudge. The biggest deal? Kids who previously would not go to school (fear of walking to the school, indifferent teachers, gangs, etc.) are now coming to school. It sounds like a great success story and a "mecca for reformers". But the pricetag?

But progress is coming at considerable cost: an estimated $15 million over the planned four-year turnaround, largely financed by private foundations. That is more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that the Department of Education has set as a cap for any single school. Skeptics say the Locke experience may be too costly to replicate.

Wow. And that's just one high school (albeit with, gulp, 3200 students).

So what did they do? Pretty much common sense stuff like:

He put together a new security force to expel the gangs. Green Dot fixed the lights and cameras, painted over graffiti, reorganized the parking, and hired bus companies to transport 500 students who previously walked dangerous streets to school.

Green Dot divided Locke into small academies. Several, modeled on the charters it operates elsewhere, opened in fall 2008 with freshman classes of 100 to 150 students and are to reach full enrollment of 500 to 600 students by fall 2011.

Other academies concentrate on remedial classes for older students, including some returning from jail. Another focuses on preparing students for careers in architecture.

The Obama administration is looking to makeover the nation's worst 1,000 schools with about $3.5B. But that is a lot less than Green Dot is spending via private foundations.

Senator Al Franken asked the big question at a Senate hearing:

“I’m thinking, how scalable is this?” Mr. Franken said.

Because the needs, and their costs, are staggering.

Over the four years, Green Dot is set to spend about $2 million on increased security and busing. It spent about $700,000 to create a classroom for a new architecture academy.

Green Dot has also spent several million dollars for additional classroom space because hundreds of students who had cut school or dropped out now show up for class, Mr. Petruzzi said.

Dividing Locke into academies resulted in extra personnel costs, Mr. Petruzzi said, because each academy has its own principal and other staff members.

Another cost: the salaries of two psychologists and two social workers who help students endure hardships like losing a sibling to gang warfare, or being evicted. They have helped prevent several suicides this year, said Zeus Cubias, an assistant principal.

So is it worth it?

Experts are debating whether Locke is a good model for other turnarounds.

Justin Cohen, a turnaround expert at MassInsight, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization, said most districts could expect to spend $2 million to $3 million over three years to overhaul a failing school. Costs often include teacher training and extending the school day, he said.

Another expert stated the obvious - pay now or pay for a lot of those students to be in prison.

It is grievous, though, that so much money has to go to save these schools because there are the next tier up of schools that really need help. How did we let so many schools slip away? Should the Obama administration be asking corporations to "adopt a school" in order to save more schools? And would that even be enough?

46 comments:

Spruce said...

This is one reason that charters should not be shunned and waived off so easily.

Turning this school around took money. A lot of money. Private money. And a charter. And it is working. The district certainly couldn't have spent $15 million on this school. What if LA didn't have charters? What was the alternative for this school....to continue business as usual with gangs, and rapes, and kids in fear of walking to school.

I'd take the charter any day.

FightingForKids said...

Amen to that! What it also shows is there is a willingness to make this work--even though it costs a lot of money.

We can't just throw kids away because they're born poor and live in tough neighborhoods. That's the message here.

Seattle isn't as bad (saftey wise) but we sure are closing in on matching this school academically (at least in the South End).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Did I not make the point? Is this sustainable? The figure to sustain this school - for 4 years - is double what the Obama money allotted. How many schools can find private sponsors and is it sustainable?

I'm not questioning that it's great there is a turnaround. But can it be done for all 1,000?

seattle citizen said...

Spruce, how do we know it was the "charter" part and not the "money" part that drove this wonderful turnaround? It sounds like a lot of the stuff they did was something any school could do if there was an extra four million dollars a year. Certainly it would take the combined efforts of all players, but I'm not so sure it was the charter element that was necessary.

seattle citizen said...

Stem is costing a similar or slightly less amount, and it's not a charter.

I wish all schools in Seattle could get four million apiece, but that's...about four hundred million.

I wonder who has a lot of money...or if a lot of people could pay just a little bit more...

Spruce said...

Yes, of course 15 million over 4 years is not sustainable. What is the charters responsibility after the initial 4 years? Will they still running the charter (Green Dot)? Will they continue with the same funding or reduce it?

Maybe that initial funding will be enough to turn the school around? Maybe with new staff and leadership (sounds like there was some turnover) and 4 years of accountability the school will learn to be self sufficient and be able to operate on a more realistic budget?

If not, and the school flops again when the funding runs out, that would be a tragedy, and a very expensive experiment. But 4 years is better than zero years. In four years that school graduates 3200 students, and that's alot of students that will be helped.

Spruce said...
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Spruce said...

" It sounds like a lot of the stuff they did was something any school could do if there was an extra four million dollars a year."

Well, yes, of course, SC. I totally agree. BUT the LA school district doesn't have 4 million a year to give the school, so you need the charter and their private funding to produce the results.

Spruce said...

"I'm not questioning that it's great there is a turnaround. But can it be done for all 1,000?"

No, probably not. But it worked for this one school. And I am very willing to celebrate this one schools success without diminishing it because all 1000 schools will not get the same thing.

Obama is proposing 7.5 million over 4 years to 1000 of our nations worst schools. That is a pretty decent start. I can't begin to imagine what my sons high school could do with 7.5 million dollars over 4 years.

FightingForKids said...

Most, if not all, of these school need two things: an entrepreneurial staff that is willing to do things differently as a unit and am infusion of cash.

Remember you're trying to rebuild with some haste so you don't let too many cohorts continue to get a sub par education. The slow turnaround where you're dragging along the unwilling just doesn't work.

seattle citizen said...

But haste also makes waste - solid planning, as long as it takes; marshalling the various community resources; discussions with all stakeholders to come to a determination of the best use of the donor's gracious gift (or taxdollars, either way)...

I know plenty of educators who routinely collaborate to effect changes big and small. It's done all the time.

The idea that this "turnaround" simply "must" be done right away, no time for planning with all relevant parties, is not realistic, necessary, or wise.

What exactly do we mean when we say "entrepreneurial"? When I hear the word, I think of an entrepreneur, one who makes money by being bold.
Does it hold the same meaning in public education?

seattle citizen said...

MOst teachers I know are willing to do anything that is helpful for their students.

But they are unwilling to be jerked around by whoever shows up at the classroom door with a wad of cash or a "great new plan!" Teachers have seen many "great new plans" come and go. Perhaps that's why some are unwilling to jump when someone outside the school district tells them to.

Spruce said...

Dictionary definition for entrepreneurial:

A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.

Not necessarily "one who makes money by being bold".

Spruce said...
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Spruce said...

"Teachers have seen many "great new plans" come and go.Perhaps that's why some are unwilling to jump when someone outside the school district tells them to."

Perhaps so, but this is a charter. They don't have to work with those teachers that are "unwilling to jump" or try something new. They can hire teachers that ARE willing to "jump".

This was no ordinary school, it was a horrid school. One of the worst in the nation. Not just failing academically, but violent and dangerous. It needed change. Those teachers that were "unwilling to jump", or help turn the school around should have been given their walking papers.

dan dempsey said...

How about we wait to see some actually significant academic achievement in CA API scores

In 2009 we see that Locke is API=1
ranking it in the bottom 10% of CA high schools academically.

The similar schools ranking API=2 means that when ranked with demographically similar schools Locke ranks in the bottom 20% of those schools.

FightingForKids said...

Sorry if my use of "haste" made you think lack of planning. Of course you must plan, but these schools are in a condition where you need to plan quickly--no lolligaging for years at a time--and turn the school around with precision.

Yes, there are many teachers out there willing to do the work and who do so in small groups among many teachers in a building. I'm talking about the entire set of adults in the school being on the same page, the school having a vision and positive culture, etc. When you're starting where these schools are, you need to get all that in place first before you will see improved test scores.

This work is going to take years, so I hope they have the patience enough to stick with it.

seattle citizen said...

Spruce, there are probably teachers in that school who do all sorts of miraculous things. Perhaps it isn't enough to "save" some of the students: Teachers can only do so much to teach when students and the community around them are "violent and dangerous."

I'm sure those same teachers very much appreciate the security cameras and all the other things that are making it a safer place.

Many of those teachers are great teachers, but maybe they're not "with the program." Should they then scrap the lesson plans they work with, tweak, hone, perfect over twenty years and "jump" into the new routine? If they don't, they should be fired?

Says who? The Board? The parents/guardians and other stakeholders?

Or this charter operator, Green Dot or whatever.

What backs up Green Dot's decisions to fire teachers who aren't jumping into their arms? Do they have research that shows their students, nationally, are well-rounded citizens with a variety of skills, both core and elective? Do they have charts and graphs that tell them that THEIR way is so much better than all these lousy independent teachers?

I'd like to see that research very much. I would hope that it includes more mere scores on the state test.

seattle citizen said...

Let's get back to Melissa's point: Where do we get the money to make this sustainable at this school and scalable to all schools?

How many schools in Seattle? 100 schools and programs? Times four million per year that's almost half a billion dollars. In Seattle. The rest of the state? The country?

Speaking of the rest of the state, how come charters are never in rural areas? Aren't there struggling students there, too? Aren't there poor students there?

Maybe it's because the whole house of cards is predicated on identifying "failing schools" rather than addressing individual needs. Note that in the story and in these comments we see nary a whit of comment about the individual students who success with these dastardly, no-good, non-jumping teachers.

hmmm....
Just my opinion. Debate me. Please.

seattle citizen said...

F4K,
"this work," education, has been going on for years, changing all the time, adapting, trying to deal with various changes in education and society. I don't think it needs the wholesale reconfiguration that you seem to favor. What needs to happen is similar to what happened in Everett: Identify struggling students and help them. Schools don't fail, individual students and teachers (and the community, and parents etc) fail.

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not wise. In my opinion. By changing things so radically, we risk destroying many positive things, negating the positive outcomes many students and educators experience. Aligned curriculum, for instance, where it demands "fidelity" to the instructional protocols, diminishes many rich activities and "teachable moments" that occur everyday. It limits the teacher's flexibility. So, to address the needs of some students who are struggling we are to diminish the education of others?

Hmmm, doesn't seem prudent at this juncture.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I was just trying to say, okay, how many schools do we save? Would it be better to spread the money out? Should school districts, charters allowed or not, go out and solicit this kind of money?

I'm looking at the big picture and not just this school. I am glad for these students and their families that this came about but if that money for security goes, will gangs come back?

Hard to know. Worth trying. But what school doesn't succeed because it didn't get the big infusion of cash?

seattle citizen said...

But I'm afraid I must leave for vacation and leave this discussion for a bit. I'll try to check in, just to keep people on their toes. If anyone misses my repetitive posts, my rhetoric, or my keen sense of humor, perhaps one of you might post a few like mine in imitation? "Seattle Citizen-like" could be your user name, and you could really chew things up.

Hope the sun shines on everybody this week!

dan dempsey said...
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dan dempsey said...

It takes more than money .. to improve academic performance. Money may buy more security officers but academic performance is another issue.

Locke charter high #3

Locke #2

Locke #1

The idea that you can fix an academic mess in grades 9-12 after a k-8 disaster is beyond naive.

The STEM idea as brought to us by MGJ and crew using NTN Sacramento as a model .... really strains what little credibility she and her favorite four directors might still have left.

New Tech Sacramento
After several years in operation here are 2009 test results:
Algebra II -- 50 students tested
0% Advanced
2% Proficient
4% Basic
36% Below Basic
58% Far Below Basic

I really do not wish to dump dollars into this folly. Last I checked the "M" in STEM stands for Mathematics.

To copy this "NTN" model several low income elementary schools are (effectively) being robbed and the money funneled to Cleveland.

This is yet another school board decision being appealed where the District has failed to provide a "Certified Correct" transcript of evidence.

Try this for wisdom....
Anna Maria de la Fuente recommends no high school math classes below Algebra I for all Seattle High Schools.....
Just like NT Sacramento (so how is that working out for NT Sac?)

Data and this District ... an ongoing reality check problem.

dan dempsey said...

We have around 800 ... 8th graders who were unable to score above far below basic .... and the plan for them is Algebra with extra support. Where is this working successfully for a major portion of such kids?

D44 & D45 require effective interventions ... So What!!! Neither Administration or the Board gives a rip about following board policy.

Note 47.5% of Black 8th grade students were unable to score above level 1 (far below basic) in Math.

Cleveland had 52.9% Black Students (Oct-2008) a school wide WASL Math pass rate of 21%. {Black pass rate = 12.7% (2009)}

58.9% of Cleveland students were unable to test above level 1 on the Math WASL

for Black Students make that 74.7%

----------
So Cleveland STEM is a turn around model for those kids ???? No way ... replace the student body and let those kids fend for themselves elsewhere.
===============
Remember the Southeast Education Initiative and NSF money pumped into Cleveland for Math.....

The Problem is Leadership and when it comes to math there is NO Effective leadership coming from TEAM MGJ or the Four Directors who dominate the School Board.

Spruce said...

""this work," education, has been going on for years, changing all the time, adapting, trying to deal with various changes in education and society. I don't think it needs the wholesale reconfiguration that you seem to favor."

Green Dot did. And it is working.

dan dempsey said...

Melissa said:
"But what school doesn't succeed because it didn't get the big infusion of cash?"

Excellent question ....
Especially when considering the schools MGJ planned to loot of carry over dollars to fund her crown jewel.

owlhouse said...

It seems like what we're talking about needs a different name. I find it a painfully short-sighted view to think that "turn around" schools are magically, with the aid of massive private investment, going to ensure different outcomes for the majority of their students. Seriously, 3200 students and 500 can't walk to school because the streets aren't safe?? It may or may not be the schools that are failing here- it is absolutely a societal failure.

I fear that by continuing to focus on the inequity of schools, the failings of students and teachers, we allow ourselves to opt out of responsibility for the health of our communities. Schools are a reflection of their communities, if they are sick/failing/unsafe, it's a pretty reasonable assumption that the community has similar struggles. So education trends will come and go- benefiting some small percentage of disadvantaged students along the way. But until we recognize that school is just one piece of the equality/ advancement/opportunity puzzle- I don't think we'll see the change we hope for.

One of my greatest frustrations with a majority of the current reform efforts (Harlem Children's Zone as an amazing exception) is that they offer more of the same- longer school days, more tutoring, extra evaluations/tests. And if more school helps these struggling kids, they'll show academic improvement and maybe make it to college, escape their communities. The gangs, the unemployment, diabetes and lack of grocery store will continue. Or maybe we expect these same kids to grow into adults who return to their communities, and fix them?

No doubt, we need schools to educate, support and nurture our children. But even with the tools better schooling provides, I think it's near criminal to expect today's children to shoulder the burden of correcting historic social and economic failures.

So, if 15 million is enough to turn around one giant high school, what's the cost of community turn around? How can we we better address all the needs? Where do we see community schools that might offer some lessons?

owlhouse said...
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owlhouse said...
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dan dempsey said...

Spruce said:
"Green Dot did. And it is working."

As measured by what criteria over how long a period of time and at what cost?

dan dempsey said...

Spruce,

I am not buying it.

If you are looking for academic advancement, then spending an inordinate amount on high school and neglecting k-8 just will not cut it. This is exactly what TEAM MGJ STEM has planned.

Try another Green Dot in a high poverty area.

Now try a 5-8 school that is not spending a ton and is in a very high poverty area. Stella

Note kids enter Stella in grade 5 and after coming from LAUSD for k-4 may need to spend two years in grade 5 as skills are required at Stella for promotion. Note the progression in test scores over grades 5, 6, 7, & 8.

Compare those 8th grade scores with Seattle's.

Note this academic improvement is very significant and did not require massive infusion of funds.

What it requires is a coherent administration with a plan and requiring students to work. Those who do not wish to work do not apply or leave PDQ.

So why does Seattle not have alternative schools seriously dedicated to learning academic content?

dan dempsey said...

Note at STELLA all 8th graders took Algebra but look at those 7th grade math scores. Ms. de la Fuente needs a serious reality check.....

Compare Seattle 8th grade scores with STELLA 7th grade scores.

California has the most rigorous math standards in the nation. Most 7th graders at Stella know significant math content.

Most Seattle 8th graders spent three years in Connected Math Project 2 ... Seattle kids will be using "Discovering Algebra".

Stella 8th graders are taking Algebra ... as in NMAP style authentic Algebra ... here is Stella's algebra book.

dan dempsey said...

All about Bright Star of which Stella is a part.

emeraldkity said...

I wonder who has a lot of money...or if a lot of people could pay just a little bit more...

You mean like private schools that give scholarships to low/middle income families?

:)

Eric M said...

The United States spends more money on defense spending than the next 18 countries put together. More than twice what the UK, France, China and Russia together spend.

Is it any wonder we can't afford ANYTHING? Not in education, not in health care, not in head start...

Brilliant to keep the national education focus on bad teachers and evil unions and away from defense spending.

Sahila said...

My point also, on another thread, Eric... thanks for posting it here...

emeraldkity said...

I think this is interesting and easy to understand
How countries spend their money

and how we spend our money.
no wonder we can't catch up

I am sure paying a lot more than that on college loans/tuition/housing.
Kids are expensive!
:)

Charlie Mas said...

seattle citizen wrote: "I wish all schools in Seattle could get four million apiece, but that's...about four hundred million."


$400 million would be less than 80% of the annual operating budget for the District. So it should be totally do-able.

Also, this school had 3,200 students, about twice as many as our largest schools and six times larger than our troubled schools.

MathTeacher42 said...

ummmm...

Figure out the details of an idea,

Figure out how much time it takes to implement each detail,

Figure out how much money it costs to pay for that time.

Here is an example:

There are 10 to 30? absences a day in my classes. Some think we teachers should call home for each absent student. Calls home can take from 2 to 15? minutes each, because even a missed call should be documented, because without documentation ... it didn't happen ;) ,

so if calls home average 7 minutes, I need 70 to 210 minutes for phone calling home -

and that is time I am NOT spending on the 140 or 120 who showed to school, and that is time I am NOT spending on the 90 or 120 who had done work and who might be ready for a new challenge ...

Figure out the details of an idea,

Figure out how much time it takes to implement each detail,

Figure out how much money it costs to pay for that time.

Spare me the anecdotes from Dead Poet's Society, your honors classes, Room 222, Welcome Back Kotter, Freedom Writers, and Stand and Deliver, back in my day, back in my school, the way it should be, the way it could be ...

BM

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ah, but Math Teacher what Everett did is hire people to follow up on the kids who were failing at least one class. It is amazing for how little they spent, how much they gained without putting the burden on teachers trying to teach.

I did mention this at one Board meeting but I'll bet nothing happens. (I think the Families in Education levy may have truancy officers but I don't know if they will do the same things as what happens in Everett. Of course, this is if voters are willing to vote in a third school levy in three years.)

wsnorth said...

emeraldkity, unless I'm reading the charts wrong, the US actually comes out well on education spending (not sure if I believe it). Did I miss something?

The US% is higher than any place in Europe and most places in Asia (many of which are much poorer, so even a high percent there is low in terms of $$$).

Patrick said...

MathTeacher42, I wonder if calling home could be automated. Are the attendance checks input into a computer already? When a parent calls the office to report a student sick, do those kids go on a list? It seems like it might be possible to cross-check and robocall the homes of kids with unexcused absences with little or no work to the teachers.

Spruce said...
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Spruce said...

At high school attendance calls are automated. So are tardies to any class.

I received a couple of automated calls at the beginning of the year (when my son was new to school and learning where his classes were) informing me that my son was tardy to period 2 today, etc.

Also when he was out sick I received an automated call letting me know that he was absent (even though I had called the school to let them know he'd be out).

No teacher or personal contact necessary.

Poor kids of today could never get away with skipping a day at school, or even a class!

dan dempsey said...

The problem is pathetic leadership (NOT so much as MONEY). There are known successful practices but teachers are directed to do something else.

I sure do appreciate EmeraldKity's link.

Note: If a country #1 spends 30% of GDP on government programs and 20% of that on Education....

Then nation #2 spending 50% on Government programs and 12% of that on Education is spending 6% of total GDP on Education ... exactly the same as #1 spending 20% of 30% of GDP.

For math an investigation of Singapore Math is warranted and for everything an investigation of NIFDI is in order.

It seems $$$ are spent on funding an inefficient bureaucratic super structure ... note the MGJ Admin Bloat plan.

Look at National Science Foundation/ Education and Human Resources Division expenditures ... talk about a miniscule "Return on Investments". Look to "Race to the Top" to be more flushing of dollars.