What Works (Charlie is Right)

The NY Times had this article yesterday about a school in Brooklyn, where 80% of their students are free/reduced lunch, nearly a quarter receive special education services and many of its population come from a home where English isn't the first language.

From the article (bold mine):

In 2009, the 580-student primary school, tucked between fast-food restaurants and gas stations in a semi-industrial strip of Fourth Avenue, topped the city with its fourth-grade math scores, with all students passing, all but one with a mark of “advanced,” or Level 4. In English, all but one of 75 fourth graders passed, earning a Level 3 or 4, placing it among the city’s top dozen schools.

On average, at schools with the same poverty rate, only 66 percent of the students pass the English test, and 29 percent score at an advanced level in math, according to a New York Times analysis of Department of Education statistics. And though it is less well known, P.S. 172 regularly outperforms its neighbors in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, where parents raise hundreds of thousands a year for extra aides and enrichment.

"While about one-third of the students are still learning English, there are no bilingual classes. They were eliminated years ago at the request of parents, who noticed that children placed directly in English-only classes, with extra help from teachers of English as a Second Language, were scoring higher"

What do they have these kids on, Adderall? (Just kidding.)

Nope, here's what the principal says:

“Teach, assess, teach, assess,” said Jack Spatola, its principal since 1984.

Mr. Spatola attributed the coaches and other extra help to careful budgeting and fighting for every dollar from the Department of Education; the school’s cost per pupil, in fact, is lower than the city’s average.

The article notes it is harder at the top to raise scores and that the students will have a more comprehensive test than in past years to contend with next time.

But here's where Charlie is right (because he says this all the time):

"At P.S. 172, the focus on test material began in February. By mid-April, nearly every moment in class seemed to touch on the effort to help the children pass. Up to five special coaches and teachers were providing help to small groups of students."

"Students at P.S. 172 who need more help stay in their classrooms until 4:45 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, after a short snack break at the regular 3:05 quitting time."

The point is to help every. single. student. Find out what each student needs help with and help them. Charlie says all the time, it is not failing schools but students who need help. This school seems to have figured that out even with children in poverty and with some parents who don't speak English at home.

Now I might point to the longevity of this principal and the apparent magic he does with a budget. It seems they must have very dedicated teachers who are willing to work longer hours for better results for students. They probably have parents who are willing to help. (The elimination of the bilingual classes probably frees up money that they can then use for bilingual tutors. Again, individual attention.)

Read the last part of the article about a little boy who is struggling. But what does he say? He says (about the math test), "I want to get a hundred." It's the support, the belief in the child and the follow-thru that wins the day and makes that child believe he can do it.

How do we duplicate this result?


Sahila said…
"At P.S. 172, the focus on test material began in February. ...

Isnt this teach to the test, teach to the test, teach to the test, and by golly, after six months of that intense focus on the test, why wouldnt kids pass?

But can they think for themselves outside the parameters of what the tests want for them... and what else are they learning????

Education - even for kids in poverty - is more than about learning to pass the test...
seattle said…
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Josh Hayes said…
Both Sahila and Sully are on the same track - but this is not the track that our current federal department of education envisions. They DO see testing as not just useful, but an absolute cornerstone. Otherwise, how could we import the corporatist mind-set?

I hope nobody is surprised that kids in a struggling school start to do a lot better with intensive instruction, with coaching, with extra time added to the school day (with a snack break - is that provided by parent volunteers, as it ALWAYS is at our school?). The point is, for the first time, people in that school environment cared enough, were empowered enough, had MONEY enough, to be there for the kid. Bravo for them.

But there's a missing middle here: we're not told that it's great that these kids are getting all that effort, but that it results in high test scores. You can't turn schools to a corporate model without the same kind of instant measurement: is this department making money? No? Fire them. Are these kids learning? What? We don't know? Well, then, we need to change education to provide that same kind of feedback, and we don't care if that makes sense or not.

As you can see, I have mixed feelings about this!
Lori said…
From the story: "To practice converting decimals to fractions, a common point of weakness on the exam, children in another fourth grade class were playing a modified version of the card game “War,” the larger decimals and fractions trouncing the smaller."

That doesn't sound like "teaching to the test." It sounds like practicing and repeating a mathematical concept that the tests demonstrated were not well understood.

And there's more: "As it neared 4 p.m., Henry perched on a yellow exercise ball instead of a desk chair, an adjustment that teachers found increased his focus. He clipped his paper to a “slant board” that props up his work at an angle, helping him see and write...When he was halfway through, one of his teachers, walked over and let out an excited yelp. He used to write in solid blocks of text without proper punctuation... It was a clear improvement over the simple, repetitive sentences he managed at the start of the year..."

Perhaps I'm not as cynical as others, and even though a lot of details are lacking, I'd say it sounds like this school is doing something right and children are learning useful information, not just how to take a test.
seattle said…
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seattle said…
Yes indeed Lori, it appears that this school is doing many things right. They spend extra time with kids that need it, they utilized speech therapists, hired coaches, and a psychologist! They even opened a dental center inside of the school! This type of built in support system must foster learning!

However, I was struck that there was no mention at all in the article of music, art or drama. Nor was there mention of PE, recess, or field trips. Only academics.

And in the same article we hear: "At P.S. 172, the focus on test material began in February. By mid-April, nearly every moment in class seemed to touch on the effort to help the children pass."

Like I said, I don't know anything about this school, so I hesitate to pass any judgement.

This sort of reminds me of youth sports in an odd way. I've seen coaches of two different mindsets. The first being the coach who coaches to win. Period. Win. The second being the coach who works hard to develp each player and build a strong team, with the end result being a team that wins.

Not sure which category this school falls into? Do they develop the children in a holistic, well rounded way, and the end result is that these kids are able to pass the test. Or do they just teach kids to pass the test, with the coaches and psychologists being a few tools they use to meet that end?

Not sure?
Sahila said…
Zero Tolerance, High-Stakes Testing, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline - See this powerpoint(!) for what doesnt work:


and check here:

for the audio...
Sahila said…
"Over 815 four-year colleges and universities across the U.S., acting on the belief that "test scores do not equal merit," do not use the SAT or ACT to make admissions decisions about a substantial number of their incoming freshmen classes."

full report at:

So tell me again, why are we putting our kids through this?
dan dempsey said…

We are putting our kids through this because the results are not what we would like them to be.

The fact that this proposed change is NOT a solution is NOT important, as it is all a racket coming from 6 figured salaried administrators carrying out the wishes of the Billionaire Boys Club Oligarchy. Invest now in publishing companies with a testing section (if the stock price run up has not already occurred).

"Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket."
— Eric Hoffer (The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements)

My oldest went to Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma.... they gave a Standardized nationally normed test about once every three years. He had teachers with sufficient planning time teaching small class sizes and received a very good 7 through 12 education. More testing would have been a waste of time and resources.

{He hated the discovery science used in Middle School}
Sahila said…
Dan - I guess I have to remember that irony/rhetorical questions dont translate into print very well - they need the appropriate tone of voice/inflection...
ARB said…
I'm sorry folks, I would give my left arm to have my--and our--children provided with the level of support described in the article. If it is testing that prompted this school to provide students with what they really need to progress in school, so be it. The point is that more can be done IN CLASSROOMS with the limited dollars schools get and that SPS isn't using funds efficiently.
Sahila said…
I'd love each and every child to get this kind of personalised attention, with IEPs... and it can be done as per this example and it doesnt have to cost any more than we spend already...BUT I dont want the focus on testing and pushing...I dont want my child to be programmed to accept that that kind of performance expectation and stress is normal, something necessary for success in education as well as in work and life...

Its not normal - its 'producing' a result, a kind of forced growth... rapid prototyping product development using the Stage Gate method, basically, and our kids are human beings first and foremost...

What does this model do with the ones who will never follow the 'normal' developmental pathway... push, push, push until they 'get it' or leave them by the wayside?

So yes - give our kids the resources and the one-on-one support and leave the testing out of it... let them grow and develop at their own speed and depth, however long that takes...
I, too, realized they didn't mention arts.

But my point was just that this school, with so many challenges, was able to do well academically (or at least as measured by their assessments). They were helping the kids believe they can achieve in the classroom. For me, that's a big deal.
Thanks Dan for those links to the school. Their survey shows some very happy parents. And yes, the school has arts (music and dance) in the school day and either before or after school.

I know schools in Seattle that would love the kind of numbers in that school survey.
Anonymous said…
This sounds like a wonderful school on multiple levels. First, and most important is the caring attitude of everyone from the principal down, the we will not accept "I can't do it" from any kid. Their final level of achievement is not even the most critical piece, it's that they are all advancing, and more importantly, wanting to achieve.

So I have a couple thoughts to bring up.

1) Testing is not a bad thing. If it's managed properly it just becomes part of the kids' routines, and basically a non-issue for most kids. In fact, like any skill, the more testing that kids do when they're young, the more skilled they become, the more successful they become, and the more motivated they become. Guess what? When they become more motivated, the feedback loop is complete and you have a strong, proud, achieving child. Great stuff.

"High stakes" tests should be few and far between (not necessarily zero), but don't muddy the conversation by labeling all assessments as "high stakes", pressure cooker testing. It doesn't have to be that way.

This is about affording kids the support and structure that gives them a sense of achievement, which is critical! It's what's missing in most of the very low performing schools. Kids who don't experience this never get a chance to internalize the warm, satisfied feelings inside one gets when you are successful - at anything, but in this case in the classroom. Instilling that confidence is an important part of parenthood, and "good" parents do it in different ways. But kids who don't have active, involved parents, may never get this at all. This school knows how to do it for these kids.

2) Has anyone considered that because this school has been functioning successfully for a long time it may be drawing a self-selected population from the area? Yes, they are high FRL, but I suspect that the school is a draw for families who are more motivated to have successful students. That alone would bias the results upward.
Snoop said…
100% passing? Maybe they cheated.
dan dempsey said…

I am with you. This sounds like one awesome school in comparison with much of what passes for schools locally.

I looked at a bunch of links to get a more complete picture of what is happening at PS 172. Am I 100% happy with everything? Of course not.... but I am very impressed.

In comparison with MGJ's products.... well there is no comparison.
dan dempsey said…
"but I suspect that the school is a draw for families who are more motivated to have successful students. That alone would bias the results upward."

No doubt as 50 parents from Staten Island are dropping off their kids at PS 172 in Brooklyn. Those kids only get the seats that are not filled by kids from the area served.

This certainly looks like a measure of success.

In the SPS we are entering into the Separate and Unequal schools era of more ethnically segregated schools based on the premise that every school will be a quality school.

Quality school is undefined and title one monies are pocketed by Central Administration (for special projects like Cleveland NTN option STEM) and not available to many of the schools that deserve those increased resources.

Read article IX of WA Constitution and then scratch your head on the absolute failure of the legal system to deliver decisions on appeals of school closures and discriminatory new student assignment plan in a timely fashion.

Justice delayed is justice denied. At least this racket is run under the guise of legal acceptability .... don't ya just feel betta knowin' that fact.
Legally Acceptable.... ????

I just watched a most interesting documentary thx to netflix.....

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe done by his two daughters from marriage number 2.

well done.... interesting .... and disturbing.... (says me)
.... to newcomers google William Kunstler.

Then find his the client list. Amazing and publicity hungry.

"For over four decades (granted, with rests) Kunstler seemed to be in the thick of nearly every significant criminal controversy in the United States. He rode along with the vanguard of civil rights protesters in the early '60s."
—Andy Smetanka, The Missoula Independent

"Disturbing the Universe is a well-edited biographical collage in the concrete style of Emily and Sarah Kunstler’s earlier documentary work including Tulia, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War."
—Soozy Duncan, The Indypendent

"The documentary is expertly put together and never less than compelling. It's a labor of love that helps restore the reputation of a significant player on the American stage in the last half of the 20th century."
—James Greenberg, The Hollywood Reporter
Michael said…
How do we duplicate the results? Duplicate the methods (if they are allowed in this state).
Unknown said…
Perhaps the key is that the coaches coach the students rather than the teachers?
Charlie Mas said…
I think Jamie has it.

At P.S. 172 they saw that the STUDENTS were struggling, not the school, so they gave the help to the STUDENTS.

Here in Seattle, the district leadership doesn't see students, they only see schools. So they think that the SCHOOLS are struggling, so they send help to the SCHOOLS.

This is the result of mistaking statistics for reality. It happens when you manage numbers instead of managing people.

It bears repeating.

I don't think we have struggling schools. We may, but we don't really assess for that.

We do have some schools that have a lot of struggling students. We need to provide support for those students. That support should go to those students - not to every student in the school, not to the teachers (who may well be doing excellent work), not to the principal. The support should go to the students. The students should get the coaching. The students should be taught additional skills. The students should get the direct benefit of what those highly skilled coaching teachers can do by being taught by those highly skilled coaching teachers.
Sahila said…
Nowhere else to put this:
Oakland teachers to strike today:


From the article:
As a special education teacher, I was particularly alarmed at the fact finder's proposal on special ed class sizes. At this point we do not have any class-size maximums. The proposal would have included maximums, but at a 20 percent increase on a calculated "average" special ed class size. We want limits--but limits that guarantee small classes, not intentionally expand them.

There was some movement in our direction on salary. However, the main proposal was that teachers would receive a 2 percent raise--in 2012.

While some teachers, including myself, felt that the fact finder's report was generally in the district's favor, we assumed that it would be the starting point to resume negotiations. So it was a surprise when the district refused to accept the report, and called off negotiations on April 16.

Even worse, on April 21 the school board to voted actually impose their "last, best and final" offer.

So why are we striking? We have protested, picketed, written letters and e-mails, and made phone calls. We have packed school board meetings, and held community meetings with parents. We have argued persistently and eloquently that there is money to settle the contract: that the district must shift its priorities from highly paid private consultants to teacher salaries.

There is money for standardized testing. There is money for more administrators than state law allows. There is money for a 6 percent raise for Superintendent Tony Smith, making his yearly salary nearly $300,000.

In spite of all of this, the district has foregone any negotiated solution and imposed their will onto the union. We have no choice at this point but to strike.

Sound familiar?

Capistrano teachers are also on strike...

Where will Seattle be in a few weeks time?
Lori said…
Fascinating study that compares gains in reading among identical twins who have different teachers, in an attempt to identify the effect of the teacher on reading, given that genes and home environment are identical for these children.


The study is published in Science, but you need a subscription to read it. You can read the abstract if you goodgle the DOI: 10.1126/science.1186149

This is the kind of research that I have been waiting to see as we move into evaluating teacher effectiveness, whatever that means. Notably, the authors of the study say that genetics are the strongest predictor of reading ability; they conclude from their data that an effective teacher can help children reach their genetically determined potential, but an ineffective teacher prevents children from reaching that potential. Very interesting stuff.
dan dempsey said…
First of all Charlie definitely has this one spot on. If the district cared about struggling students then the actual students struggling at Cleveland would have a program that realistically addresses their needs. The OSPI approved SPS nonsense for Cleveland actually has the "Calculus" baloney statement in there.

Clearly with the great UW's NSF funded three year math debacle that had only 1 in 4 Black 10th graders able to score above level 1 in math in a school with 52% Black student population....... I really must wonder what the gurus at OSPI are thinking in approving a plan for more Project Based Learning.

Think of Hattie's Visible Learning as the Consumer's Report guide to instruction. (There is an annual auto issue each April). OSPI just funded buying a super BLACK DOT no red anywhere NTN LEMON..... clearly there is no LEMON law when it comes to purchases made by the SPS.
dan dempsey said…
"an ineffective teacher prevents children from reaching that potential. Very interesting stuff."

Now what about instructional materials and practices????

Wh have seen an expanding achievement gaps in grade 4 math for a decade ,,,, while reading gaps shrank.

The same teachers were teaching both math and reading....... Do we fire the math portion on the teacher as ineffective and laud the reading part of the teacher?

Let us read that performance management policy again.

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