With both high retirement and high attrition rates among K-12 teachers and a burgeoning student population nationwide, more teachers are needed. Yet if we are to turn around schools in need of improvement, help all students meet rigorous academic standards, and close the achievement gap, simply getting more teachers into the profession will not suffice. As reflected in the No Child Left Behind requirement that all teachers of the academic subjects be highly qualified, new teachers must be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to teach to high standards and to be effective with the increasingly diverse array of students in today's classrooms. Moreover, a good number of these newcomers must commit and be able to teach in hard-to-staff content areas and in our most challenging schools. In short, the challenge to the profession is to prepare and retain greater numbers of high-quality teachers.
Expanding the education workforce at the necessary pace while also ensuring that teachers are effective and motivated to stay on the job requires new ways of recruiting, training, and supporting teacher candidates. We cannot rely exclusively on traditional teacher preparation programs to ratchet up their efforts. We need to develop new routes to teacher certification, giving more candidates more access through high-quality alternative teacher preparation programs designed to meet local needs.
"Alternative" in what ways? Instead of drawing primarily from the traditional pool of teacher preparation candidates which consists mainly of college students and recent graduates, alternative route programs cast a broader net, making efforts to attract older, non-traditional candidates who come to the program already well-versed in the content they want to teach.
This category includes midcareer individuals and middle-aged retirees from other professions. Instead of requiring participants to follow the traditional teacher preparation pattern of academic course work and supervised student teaching before taking over a classroom, alternative programs move candidates into their own classrooms after a short period of training. Candidates continue their studies at night and on weekends and receive structured mentoring and support while they teach.
Because novice educators in these programs can begin teaching-and drawing a salary and benefits-so quickly, the programs are able to attract candidates whose financial obligations might rule out the slower traditional route to teaching. For similar reasons they can appeal to classroom paraprofessionals with degrees who, in addition to needing a salary, may want to teach in the school where they now work, something alternative programs are more likely to facilitate.1 In fact, most alternative route teacher preparation programs are location-specific. Unlike traditional university-based programs, alternative programs tend to be created by a local partnership for the express purpose of preparing teachers to meet the needs of the local school district(s).
This guide looks at these new routes to teacher certification as they play out in six programs in different states, examining how these initiatives go about recruiting strong candidates and ensuring that their teachers are well-equipped to serve today's students. (Basic statistics about these sites appear in figure 1.)
The Movement Toward Alternatives
One impetus for alternative preparation programs has been the teacher shortage experienced in many locales. Along with teacher retirements, high attrition among novice educators, and student enrollment growth, other contributing factors include class-size-reduction policies and a salary schedule that does not provide incentives to teach in hard-to-staff subjects or schools. Shortages are especially acute in urban areas, special education, and in certain content areas such as mathematics and science. And among those candidates who do take teaching jobs, many don't stay long. About 9 percent of new teachers (those in their first three years on the job) left teaching at the end of the 2000-01 school year, a percentage that has been increasing over the last decade.2
Figure 1. Six Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification
Given this situation, many school districts have turned to bringing in uncredentialed teachers on emergency permits. Such individuals may have the potential to be good teachers, but too often they have been left to "sink or swim," with support that is insufficient, inconsistent, or nonexistent. And these least-prepared teachers are most likely to be in schools with concentrations of low-performing students-—the very students most in need of effective teaching.3
Quality concerns have also driven the alternative route movement. States and schools have been frustrated as they watch talented individuals say yes to teaching in private schools and charter schools because of the high cost and other hurdles they would have to overcome to be certified to teach in a traditional public school.
In between traditional programs and emergency permits lies the diverse and growing world of alternative route programs. In 2004, 43 states plus the District of Columbia reported having some type of alternative route for certifying teachers, while only 8 states said they had such routes in 1983 when the National Center for Education Information began collecting such data. In states like California, New Jersey, and Texas that have been pursuing alternative routes since the mid-1980s, 20 percent or more of new teachers enter the profession through alternative routes; Texas offers 52 separate routes.4
The term "alternative route" has been used for everything from unstructured help for individuals on emergency permits to sophisticated, well-designed programs. The National Center for Alternative Certification posts state-by-state listings of alternative route programs and now has a typology of over 10 different kinds.5 Fortunately, the Center reports an emerging consensus on required features that closely resembles critical features identified by researchers 6:
- The program has been specifically designed to recruit, prepare, and license talented individuals who already have at least a bachelor's degree.
- Candidates pass a rigorous screening process.
- The program is field-based.
- The program includes course work or equivalent experiences while teaching.
- Candidates work closely with mentor teachers.
- Candidates must meet high performance standards for completion of the program.
This guide profiles what six established alternative programs look like, whom they attract, and how they put into practice features like those listed above. They model commitment, ingenuity, and a variety of practices from which others may learn.
Case Study Sites and Methodology
The six programs highlighted in this guide are: the Alternative Certification Program, Hillsborough County, Fla.; the Educator Certification Program, Region XIII, Austin, Tex.; the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program, Northwest Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) and Metro RESA, Ga.; the New York City Teaching Fellows program, New York, N.Y.; the Northeastern California Partnership for Special Education, Chico, Calif.; and the Wichita Area Transition to Teaching program, Wichita, Kans. For a narrative summary of each site's context and program, see Part II of this guide.
These programs were selected from a larger pool of possible programs through the benchmarking methodology that underlies this study. Adapted from the four-phase benchmarking process used by the American Productivity & Quality Center, as well as general case study methodology, the study proceeded through several phases.
A study scope or conceptual framework (see figure 2 ) was developed at the beginning of the project to guide program selection and analysis. Developed from an examination of relevant research literature, the framework was reviewed and refined by a panel of experts.
|Figure 2. Final Study Scope|
|What are the overall goals of the program and its major components?|
|What specific local needs does the program meet?|
|What are the process and requirements for certification?|
|What are the demographics of candidates and faculty in the program?|
|What are the funding sources for the program?|What criteria are used to identify and select candidates? How are the candidates recruited? Does the program control the placement of candidates? What are the elements that make the selection process rigorous? What are the program performance standards for teachers and candidates? What content-based and pedagogical course work is required and when? How are content and pedagogy integrated in the program delivery? What specific strategies are taught for working with targeted student populations? In what ways is the program field-based? How is the program designed to meet the individual needs of the candidate? By what methods do mentors support candidates? What are the criteria for mentor/supervisor selection? How are mentors/supervisors recruited and trained? How is teacher performance assessed? What program outcomes are monitored (e.g., retention rates)? How are program evaluation data and candidate feedback used to improve recruitment and program strategies?
Data collection took place through one-day on-site visits; interviews with program administrators, faculty, current candidates, and graduates; and review of documentation. This guide is synthesized from a more comprehensive research report that includes case descriptions and cross-site analysis of key findings.
This descriptive research process suggests promising practices—ways to do things that others have found helpful, or lessons they have learned about what not to do-and practical "how-to" guidance. This is not the kind of experimental research that can yield valid causal claims about what works, so readers should judge the merits of these suggestions according to their understanding of the reasoning behind them and fit them to their local circumstances.
PART I: ELEMENTS OF PROMISING ALTERNATIVE ROUTE PROGRAMS
A successful alternative teacher preparation program attracts and selects the right candidates. It offers a carefully thought-out, research-based curriculum that is coherent and flexible. It provides effective support to candidates. And it is committed to its own continuous reflection and improvement. This section explains how.
- Recruit Widely, Select Carefully
- The rationale driving alternative route programs is that many excellent teacher candidates have made other life or career choices but would be open to becoming teachers if presented with the right offer. Because these preparation programs are created to address the specific teacher shortage(s) experienced in the districts they serve, their challenge is to identify the types of potential candidates who would best meet district needs and, then, make them an offer they can't refuse. But first programs have to get their attention. Thus, the recommendation, gleaned from the successful programs profiled in this guide, is to recruit widely and select carefully.
In light of the great need for specific subject-area teachers (e.g., in science),7 the recruitment efforts of most programs target individuals who are already steeped in the relevant content because they have majored in it and have been working in that field. Included in this category are many midcareer professionals and early retirees. This targeted approach reflects the mission statements of many alternative programs. For example, the program in Hillsborough County, Florida, seeks to "expand the pool of educators to include non-education majors committed to making a positive impact on student achievement and providing quality educational opportunities." New York City's program rests on a similar assumption, that "there is a substantial pool of talented individuals who have chosen other career options and who are capable of and interested in becoming excellent teachers."
While trying to recruit widely, programs must also be selective in the candidates they admit, ensuring that those who enter an alternative route program have the necessary knowledge, skills, and personality to quickly become effective teachers. So how does a program target its recruitment efforts to ensure a strong applicant pool from which to select tomorrow's best teachers? Successful programs have found a variety of ways.
The six programs represented here report that word of mouth is by far their most effective recruitment tool, particularly because it typically yields candidates who are similar to previously successful candidates. Moreover, satisfied candidates and school systems are likely to spread the word without any special effort on the part of their program. Other, less personal advertising approaches, such as radio and television spots and local newspaper advertisments, have also proven fruitful, especially for newer programs. New York uses a print advertising campaign to inspire dissatisfied professionals to become teachers. Subway posters send provocative messages to burned-out or disillusioned professionals. "Tired of diminishing returns? Invest in NYC kids" was just one of many Madison Avenue-inspired invitations. News coverage has also proven to be a boon to alternative programs. When the New York Times, for example, ran a story about the district's alternative route program, 2,100 applications flooded in over the next six weeks.
Some programs target specific groups in their recruitment efforts. The Chico program, designed to increase the number of special education teachers in northeast California, deliberately targets groups that are underrepresented nationally among special education teachers (especially people with disabilities and men).
Information sessions and recruitment fairs are another way programs inform interested people about their alternative route processes. Such information sessions help potential applicants self-select, recognizing early whether the high demands of the alternative approach fit their skill and energy levels. The Hillsborough program hosts two large recruitment fairs each summer. Approximately 900 people attend these sessions. In New York, several information sessions prior to the application deadline provide those considering the program with the opportunity to speak with current candidates, a program recruiter, and other individuals involved in the alternative program. The sessions include a program overview, testimonials from current participants, and a question-and-answer period mediated by candidates and recruiters.
Once a highly motivated group of people has shown interest in becoming teachers, programs must decide how to manage the application and selection process to ensure that they get the best candidates in their programs. The first level of screening involves setting application requirements. All of the programs highlighted in this guide require applicants to have completed a bachelor's degree. Grade-point average (GPA) can also be used to set minimum standards; this requirement is typically set by university rather than other program partners. As the leaders of the New York program point out, GPA is not necessarily an indication of an applicant's ability to become an effective teacher. In general, traditional admissions criteria such as GPA and letters of recommendation are of little help when applicants are career changers or have been out of school for many years. (See figure 3 for program-by-program recruitment and selection criteria and steps.)
What may be most telling for alternative route program applicants are solid content knowledge and the ability, by virtue of life and work experience, to relate content to the real world. The rigorous nature and fast pace of these programs require that applicants have a high level of maturity and tenacity and a learning style that is a good fit with a "practice-to-theory" approach.
Successful programs have selection processes and tools to help them identify applicants who have what it takes to succeed in classrooms as well as in the program. Communication with hiring districts and applicant interviews are key elements in making these determinations.
Figure 3. Candidate Recruitment and Selection
Alternative Certification Program/ Hillsborough County, Florida Hold or be eligible for a temporary teaching certificate from the Florida Department of Education (requires a BA in the desired certific ation area) Paid instructional employee of Hillsborough County School Board or Board-approved charter school Be identified by district as a qualified HCPS employee Submit the program application with hiring principal's signature Educator Certification Program/Region XIII, Austin, Texas BA with a 2.5 GPA Required course work and semester hours in desired certification area Evidence of competency in reading, writing, and mathematics Daily access to a computer, printer, and Internet connection 3 letters of recommendation Gallup TeacherInsight ™ interview Satisfactory score on candidate selection matrix Input on application from Austin ISD (the region's largest employer) Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program (Northwest and Metro Regional Educational Service Agencies)/Georgia BA with a 2.5 GPA Major in desired certification area Employed by a public school system Criminal background clearance Pass or exempt from Praxis I No teacher education program completed No teaching certificate NW: Candidates are hired and screened by the school system Metro: Paper screening process (includes review of application, resume, 2 reference letters, transcripts, and "passing" a personality test) Interview Pass the Essentials of Effective Teaching course Secure a teaching position New York City Teaching Fellows/ New York BA with a 3.0 GPA U.S. citizen or permanent resident Speak English fluently No teacher education program completed No teaching certificate Submit transcripts, resume, and personal statement Attend the interview-interaction File review process Receive regional placement and university assignment Pass two state-required exams Northeastern California Partnership for Special Education/ Chico, California BA with a 2.67 GPA Demonstration of subject mater competency Pass CBEST Meet application requirements Haberman Star Teacher Selection Interview Satisfactory score on the interview rubric Wichita Area Transition to Teaching/Wichita, Kansas BA with a 2.5 GPA Major in desired certification area Same general education courses required of all other WSU teacher education students Minimum of two years' employment in a career related to their content specialty Admitted to the WSU graduate school Transcript analysis Interview with program director Pass Pre-Professional Skills Tests in reading, writing, and mathematics Secure a teaching position
- Each of the six alternative route programs in this guide has a different approach to placing candidates in the classroom. Some programs require that applicants have a job with one of their partner districts or a job offer contingent on their program participation. Other programs accept candidates whom they judge to be highly likely to find a placement on their own. Still other programs work directly with districts in making their selection decisions, with the goal being to fill chronic vacancies. No matter what approach is used, the program must have an excellent relationship with the school district(s) it serves. Program administrators must consistently place highly successful candidates; otherwise they cannot build the trust necessary to sustain the program. Successful placements are also key to building the kind of reputation that fuels highly desirable word-of-mouth recruitment.
The New York program's screening criteria narrow an annual pool of approximately 17,000 applicants down to around 1,900 candidates. Applicants who meet a first set of basic requirements are invited to sign up for a four-hour interview-interaction with trained selectors. During the interaction, applicants teach a five-minute sample lesson, produce a 20-minute writing sample, and participate in a 20-minute, one-on-one interview. The writing sample, a parent letter for example, is intended to reveal a candidate's critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as communication skills. The one-on-one interview is an opportunity for a selector to follow up on any aspect of the lesson or writing sample and to ask additional questions so that the selector can make a well-informed recommendation. Selectors write a summary and rate each candidate they interview. Of the applicants who reach the interaction screening, approximately 45 percent are recommended by the selectors. The final step in the application process involves additional review of files by program staff and experienced selectors. About 10 percent of the applicants who make it to this stage are eliminated in the file review process.
A multistage selection process is also used by the program in Texas Region XIII. An applicant who meets the baseline requirements for this program participates in a highly structured interview, the Gallup TeacherInsight™, completed online during the application process. A program leader in the candidate's credential specialization develops an overall score for a candidate, incorporating the Gallup interview results, overall GPA, course work GPA, information from the applicant's references, and other comments and observations. The final score, combined with input from Region XIII, determines which applicants are selected for each cohort of candidates.
The interview is perhaps the single most important aspect of the selection process for the special education program in Chico. Every candidate who has met state-required prescreening criteria goes through a structured interview conducted by a program team. The interview instrument is inspired by the Star Teacher Selection Interview developed by the Haberman Educational Foundation—a scenario-based instrument to predict how teacher candidates would deal with challenging and even stressful situations. The interview helps to gauge such qualities as whether a person is persistent, is a problem solver, is protective of learners and learning, can translate theory into practice, and can use successful approaches with students who have characteristics that put them at risk for school failure. For the Chico program, the interview is tailored to rural special education teaching. It seeks to evaluate, for example, a candidate's reasons for becoming a teacher and working with exceptional children, prior commitment to exceptional children, and skills in communication and collaboration. This interview process also requires applicants to produce an essay. Program team members use a rubric to score the applicants, and only those above a high cutoff point are admitted to the program. As a program adviser notes, "The interview process makes it clear to candidates that this is a rigorous program. Before we used it, candidates would get into the program and then say, 'I had no idea this would be so hard.'"
Interviews are also part of the application process in the smaller programs that recruit and screen to meet specific local needs. The Wichita program uses a structured interview (see figure 4) and scoring rubric and the regional program in Texas conducts an interview with each applicant.
- Design a Coherent, Flexible Program
- The key to developing and maintaining an effective program is having knowledgeable, committed leadership—people who are clear about a community's teaching needs and visionary about how to address them. These leaders also know what learning experiences make for coherent preparation as well as how to meet their candidates' individual needs. And since most programs are partnerships, leaders must be able to create a structure for shared and responsive decision-making.
Of the programs in this guide, only Hillsborough operates without partners. The other programs involve multiple school jurisdictions and often include universities or other entities in their leadership structure. For example, the programs in Texas and Georgia have regional service centers at their hubs. New York, Chico, and Wichita all have strong university partnerships. In each partnership program, policy is set jointly and each partner contributes to the program in specific ways. In Chico, for instance, the university provides televised or Web-based courses, regional supervision, and separate course sections for candidates. Participating local schools guarantee candidates 10 paid release days each year to attend classes. The state's Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services help underwrite candidates' tuition, the services of mentors and candidate adviser, and program coordination and evaluation. Chico program leaders routinely collect and analyze data and make recommendations for program fine-tuning to the broadly representative advisory board.
Such data collection and adaptability are seen by all the programs as crucial to their continuing effectiveness. Not only do these programs respond to changing local needs, but each program considers itself a work in progress, continuously reviewing how best to serve its candidates' and districts' needs. Alternative route program administrators aim to devise an artful combination of course work and support, a program that is coherent and flexible.
Figure 4. Wichita Structured Interview Form
Questions asked of all candidates
1 Why are you considering a career change to become a teacher? 2 What experiences have you had working with middle school or high school age students and diverse cultural groups? 3 What are the greatest challenges you expect to encounter as a new teacher? 4 Based on your past work experiences, what do you think past employers and co-workers would tell us about you as an employee? 5 If you were to teach for five years and leave teaching at that time, what is the single most important thing you would want your students to remember about you as their teacher? 6 Classroom discipline can be challenging to any teacher. What would you do in each of the following situations? Students failing to turn in assignments A student talking back A student caught cheating on an assignment or test A student constantly talking and not paying attention in class 7 If you were limited to three adjectives to describe yourself as a teacher what three would you choose and why? 8 If a student complained to you about another teacher not being fair, how would you handle this situation? 9 How important is it for a teacher to have a sense of humor? Explain your answer. 10 Have you ever had difficulty learning any subject material? If so what method did you use to overcome this difficulty? How would you help a student experiencing a similar difficulty in your class? 11 How will you go about making your subject relevant to your students? 12 I have asked you several questions about teaching and your desire to become a teacher. What questions would you like to ask me about the transition to teaching program?
- Traditional Standards
Like traditional preparation programs, alternative programs must be accredited and must ensure that candidates gain the competencies they need to teach their students and to meet state credentialing requirements. The design of the programs studied—from candidate advising through preservice, curriculum, and on-the-job practice—is driven by state requirements, including those for the credential itself, standards for the teaching profession, and standards that drive the academic content encountered by K-12 students. Region XIII in Texas took an especially thorough approach to building a program around standards. Early on, the program experienced considerable variability across different cohort groups and instructors in what was being covered. Not wanting to lose the supportive cohort structure, program staff created a more fully specified curriculum. Using the "backward-design" principles and tools of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, they completed an extensive redevelopment process. They started by determining what the candidates would need to know and be able to do based on the state standards. They then determined what evidence candidates would have to produce to demonstrate having met the standards. Finally, they developed the learning activities intended to enable candidates to generate that evidence. Figure 5 illustrates one piece of the backward mapping process, which has guided the program's unit development and assessment. In using this process, says the program director, program staff have gained a much stronger understanding of the state standards themselves and, as a result, have been more effective in working with candidates.
Program leaders in Chico describe standards as the common language spoken by everyone in the program. Each candidate's individualized plan specifies which standards are being met through which courses or activities. Similarly, candidates' lesson plans have to meet teaching standards and student standards. And their portfolios and reflective logs are organized around which standards are being addressed or illustrated. In each supervisor visit to a candidate's site, the conversation focuses on which teaching standards are observed in that day's lesson and which still need to be addressed.
In Hillsborough, the components of candidates' eight required courses are designed to help them gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully demonstrate competency in Florida's 12 Accomplished Practices for teaching.
While programs are traditional in their alignment with state standards, how their candidates meet those standards can vary widely. Programs studied range in length from one to three years. Each begins with a few days to several weeks of preservice training, after which candidates take on regular teaching positions. Candidates are bolstered by structured support and continue to take courses at night and on weekends. The goal at the end of each program is certification. In New York, candidates also earn a master's degree. Wichita candidates have an option to earn a master's degree.
Each program's preservice segment, regardless of duration, focuses on similar essentials. Typical is Georgia's 80-hour intensive course, which orients candidates to best practices in lesson planning, instruction, assessment, and classroom management, and provides them with field experiences and observations. Candidates also learn about teacher roles and responsibilities and the teaching code of ethics, as well as basics of parent communication and special education.
New York's seven-week summer preservice training involves both course work and student teaching to launch a master's degree program at any of the 11 partnering universities. During their preservice experience, candidates complete 90 hours of course work while simultaneously logging 80 hours of student teaching. At the end of each day, participants come together in groups of approximately 30 to meet with their fellow adviser; these meetings add up to about 75 hours of group support throughout the summer. In addition to being good teachers, fellow advisers are selected for their familiarity with alternative routes to certification and their skill in working with adults. These preservice advisers impart information and facilitate discussions intended to help program participants make sense of and mesh what they are learning in their course work and in their classroom teaching. To inform these sessions, the fellow advisers also observe candidates during their student teaching. Since the program's inception, participants have routinely identified these advisers as particularly helpful.
Figure 5. Region XIII Unit Planning Guide
Greater variation occurs in how and where candidates continue their course work once on the job, although nights and weekends are the norm. While Chico mixes in some release time, programs have run into the expense of hiring substitute teachers as well as candidates' objections to losing time with their students. In New York, in service schedules are created by each partnering university and courses typically are held in the evening or during the summer. In Hillsborough, district teachers teach courses in the evenings—an arrangement that fosters empathy since instructors and candidates alike have been teaching all day and experiencing common challenges. Hillsborough sets no order for taking the prescribed classes, which are offered at multiple evening and weekend times in multiple locations. In Texas, candidates receive 100 hours of in service training while they are on the job. The instruction is designed and delivered by the program's seven "education specialists," some of it via the Internet.
Online course delivery is a hallmark of Chico's two-year, special education-focused program, which serves an expansive rural area. Special education faculty, many of whom are classroom teachers, teach weekly evening courses, using real-time streaming video on the university's interactive distance education system. Despite drives as long as five hours, Chico candidates also come to the university and meet with their cohort for a full-day class each month using a release day. This face-to-face interaction on campus continues during the required summer school.
While all alternative route programs delineate course requirements and align their program with state standards, they also recognize the extra demands placed on their candidates. Unlike traditional teacher candidates, candidates are almost immediately on the job—with full responsibility for groups of students. Their course work sequence and the timing of support cannot be carved in stone. "They need everything at once," said one program coordinator, who—like leaders in all the programs studied—must balance that awareness against the reality that too much too soon is overwhelming.
Since most programs require that candidates demonstrate knowledge of subject matter to qualify for admission, the focus is typically not content knowledge but pedagogy—lessons and practice in how best to teach specific kinds of content to diverse groups of students. (Exceptions are New York's math immersion component, targeting non-math majors who will teach math, and the component of the Texas Region XIII program that helps candidates pass the state-required content knowledge examination.)
Each program offers candidates initial basic knowledge—say, in reading instruction or classroom management—and then follows up with more complex information and instruction at the moment the candidate needs it. The director of the alternative route program at Pace University—one of the partners in New York City—explains that alternative programs ground candidates' course work in their teaching and explore theory in practical terms. Similarly, an evaluator of the Chico program points out its pragmatic stance: "This approach is the reverse of traditional theory to practice," she says. "It's turned teaching upside down in university classrooms."
In Chico, the individualized approach begins with each candidate's Individualized Induction Program (IIP). Developed with a program supervisor, each IIP is a personal road map that documents a candidate's goals and tracks an action plan for achieving those goals. Candidates also sign a course contract that is forwarded to the university's credential analyst. To be sure candidates get the courses they need, and recognizing the stresses they are under, the program adviser monitors the candidates to make sure they sign up for the right classes—and to call them if they have not. "They get a lot of hand holding because they become so overwhelmed with teaching and taking course work," explains a Chico program adviser. Ongoing individual advisement addresses other university deadlines that Chico candidates have to meet, phone numbers they need, and general troubleshooting. "Tons of email," notes one program adviser, is the key to the ongoing personal support candidates receive from their instructors and advisers.
Other programs where candidates follow individualized programs include those in Hillsborough and Georgia. As in Chico, candidates' programs are tailored to their particular background and experience—and adjusted over time to address specific, individual needs.
Identification of individual needs in these alternative programs is made possible by the amount of ongoing assessment each candidate receives. This assessment approach models the kind of assessment candidates are learning to conduct with their own students. Generally, it includes formal and informal observations by program support providers and principals as well as the portfolios candidates develop over the course of the program. In Georgia, Hillsborough, and Chico, portfolios document candidates' growth in competencies aligned with state standards (see figure 6). Portfolios are also used as instruments for self-reflection and are tied to student learning. In Chico, for example, candidates' portfolios include samples of students' individualized lesson plans, plans that are driven by candidates' analyses of ongoing student assessment data and are then critiqued by supervisors, mentors, and the school that employs them. In Georgia, video clips document the candidate's classroom environment and instruction. Hillsborough has a particularly detailed structure for integrating assessment with support, as explained in the next section. Across the programs, a final sign-off on competencies generally involves support providers, the employer, and appropriate course instructors.
Michael McKibbin, consultant with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, who is in charge of California's alternative programs, points to a critical difference between the evaluation in traditional and alternative teacher preparation. In traditional programs, he notes, by the time a student teacher realizes he or she cannot perform a skill or task, it's too late. The benefit of alternative programs, he says, is that "performance assessment can be done over a long period of time, so that remediation and improvement can be applied and monitored."
- Provide Extensive Support
- The heart and soul of these high-quality alternative programs is the on-the-job supervision and support candidates receive as they face the daunting challenges of being a new teacher in what is often a very difficult classroom setting. In the programs studied, support is structured at three levels: (1) program-provided supervisors; (2) site-based mentors; and (3) peer cohort support. All six programs had some variation of these three, which interweave to form a new-teacher safety net. Rather than strand candidates to sink or swim, support structures ensure that candidates will fulfill their promise or, as McKibbin puts it, that "they will obtain the skills to succeed and the commitment to stay."
Figure 6. Georgia (RESA) Candidate Portfolio Contents
Domain and Areas Addressed
Examples of Documentation
Domain I (Planning and Preparation) Competencies 1-7, e.g. Demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy, Demonstrating knowledge of students, Selecting instructional goals, Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources, Designing Coherent Instruction, Assessing Student Learning Lesson plans with acquisition lessons and the components, extending and refining lessons, examples of differentiated strategies, graphic organizers, and authentic tasks and assessments Domain II (Classroom Environment) (Competencies 8-12) Include video clips documenting the candidate's classroom environment and culture of learning, a classroom floor plan and rationale, student rules, Glasser's Choice Theory Implementation, and a discipline plan Domain III (Managing Student Behavior) (Competencies 13-18) Include video clips documenting instruction, observation records documenting mentor and RESA observations, examples of student work from various levels of achievement, copies of candidate's written feedback to students, and examples of lesson modification Domain IV (Professional Responsibilities) (Competencies 19-24) Include copies of administrator's evaluations, documentation of participation in school and community activities
* Framework based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (ASCD, 1996)
- On-Site Supervision
All of these programs include direct and indirect support. Direct support comes in the form of classroom observations, done by the program (or university) supervisor, the mentor (who is often an experienced teacher at the candidate's site), or a school administrator, such as the principal, who has partnered with the program to provide such support.
In Georgia, mentors observe frequently, give candidates feedback, and act as role models by coaching and demonstrating lessons. They also arrange for candidates to visit and observe in other classrooms.
In Hillsborough, the coaching cycle is key to the program. Because candidates can enter at different times during the year, the program is organized into a series of observation-and-coaching "loops" within three cycles or phases, as depicted in figure 7. Within weeks 1-2, for example, the support provider—the candidate's program administrator—conducts a preobservation conference to schedule observation times and introduce the candidate to the Florida Performance Measurement System instrument. Observations will be based on Florida's Accomplished Practices for Educators, and the administrator will use this instrument in evaluating the candidate on those practices. The candidate will self-assesses on the same competencies. After the initial observation has taken place, the administrator and the candidate, together with a trained peer teacher, write an action plan to determine methods and time lines for addressing competencies that have not been successfully demonstrated. This plan guides subsequent observations and conferences and is updated at the end of each cycle.
Chico supervisors are also course instructors, ensuring that there is no disconnect between course work and classroom practice. As one Chico supervisor explains, "I know what's being taught in reading courses, and if I go out and see that it's not happening, I say, 'You just finished the course—where is it?'" On-site support is planned but also highly individualized—tailored according to Chico candidates' individualized plans and expressed needs. And the support team—supervisors, mentors, and school administrators—zeroes in on potential crises. "Need someone there next Tuesday?" queries another Chico supervisor. "We'll make that happen. We do visits on top of visits."
In all of the programs, support is carefully coordinated. In Georgia, supervisors facilitate regular reporting and communication. In Hillsborough, principals take that role. In Chico, it's the university supervisors, each regionally assigned and working with 10 to 15 mentors and roughly the same number of candidates. As they follow their candidates and link with mentors throughout the four semesters, Chico supervisors also communicate and develop rapport with school principals and other district or county education administrators.
Figure 7. Hillsborough Three-Cycle Observation Schedule
Weeks 1-2 Identify ACP support staff Weeks 19-28 Conduct 3 observations Week 29 Write Cycle III Action Plan Pre-observation conference Review Cycle II Alternative Certification Professional Development Plan (ACPDP) Weeks 30-37 Conduct 2 observations Complete screening instruments Final Summative Assessment Write Cycle I Action Plan Weeks 3-4 Conduct 2 observations Review Cycle I Alternative Certification Professional Development Plan (ACPDP) Weeks 5-17 Conduct 2 observations Review Cycle I Alternative Certification Professional Development Plan (ACPDP) Week 18 Hold Cycle I Final Conference Develop Cycle II Alternative Certification Professional Development Plan (ACPDP)
- All program leaders agree that the success of a support structure rests, fundamentally, on an environment of trust. Interns must continually give honest answers to the support providers' core question: "How are you doing?" Since candidates are simultaneously dealing with course work, teaching, supervision, and mentoring, everyone knows they are having a struggle. "In a traditional program, people expect your competencies to be there," says a graduate of Chico's program. "Here, supervisors know you will be floundering. I invited my supervisor to 'Come see my worst part of the day.' I was at four schools. She came to each one. She saw the diverse environments and knew my challenges. She understood. Then later, I said, 'Come again and see how much better I am doing.' There is no intimidation."
That sense of trust and bolstered confidence was echoed by a Georgia candidate: "From the beginning of the program, I felt I was set up to succeed."
While supervisors keep classroom practice grounded in course work, on-site mentors—"treasured advice givers," as one candidate called them—are critical to day-to-day survival. The programs pay strong attention to the selection and training of mentors, pay mentors a stipend, and are very clear about what is expected of them. (As an example, figure 8 is New York's mentor position description.) In Texas, mentors are selected by principals who receive guidance from Region XIII on what qualities to look for in a mentor. Mentors attend 15 hours of professional development provided by Region XIII. The mentor and each candidate must complete six observations during the school year—Region XIII suggests three times with the candidate observing the mentor and three with the mentor observing the candidate. In addition, the two also hold a minimum of four discussion meetings.
Georgia mentors—who are themselves classroom teachers—receive training on coaching and communication. They spend a minimum of 100 hours working with each candidate the first year and 50 hours the second year. One mentor responsibility is to support the candidate throughout all phases of the program by providing feedback based on the Danielson framework (see figure 6 on page 17).
Mentors in Hillsborough are former administrators. Not only do these individuals bring a wealth of expertise, but they have a vested interest in the district and can speak to principals and veteran teachers with the authority needed to make the candidates' lives easier. For example, candidates might be tempted to take on extra or peripheral responsibilities as good school citizens. Mentors would counsel principals to restrict such duties, to make candidates' experiences less taxing.
Besides this very direct support, successful alternative programs offer a more distanced yet crucial kind of support, in the form of seminars. Such seminars create a bridge—between theory and practice and also between the program's course work and its system of support. These sessions offer candidates the opportunity to share frustrations and engage in problem solving, not only with program faculty but with fellow candidates, whose insights come from being in the same boat. These kinds of discussions allow candidates to travel an arc: They take theory learned in course work, try it out with students, return to the group to analyze what succeeded or failed, get advice, and then go back and try again—each time growing in terms of teaching, reflection, and self-analysis.
Figure 8. New York City Mentor Position Description
New York Teaching Fellows Mentoring Program
POSITION: Teacher to serve as a Full Time Mentor Teacher—Elementary, IS/JHS/HS and Special Education for Teaching Fellows and other first year teachers with Transitional B Certification. The New York City Teaching Fellows Full Time Mentor Model is designed to support and guide new teachers by having experienced colleagues serve as their mentors. The supportive, productive rapport between mentor and intern is intended to increase the new teacher's effectiveness and job satisfaction. At the same time, the mentor/teacher's role will enhance his/her professionalism by providing an opportunity to share successful practices. LOCATION: Various locations throughout the City. ELIGIBILITY: NYC licensed, tenured classroom teacher. SELECTION CRITERIA: Minimum of five (5) years satisfactory teaching experience in the New York City Public Schools. Mastery of pedagogical and subject matter skills. Extensive knowledge of the new NYS and NYC performance standards and new assessments. Fluency in DOE regulations, policies and practices relative to content area. Demonstrated expertise in designing and implementing standards-based instruction. Exemplary knowledge about content, materials and methods that support high standards in various curriculum areas. Demonstrated capacity to serve as a catalyst for implementing instructional change in the classroom. Demonstrated understanding and experience in addressing the complexities of classroom life. Knowledge of staff development practices and in-service education. Record of engaging in cooperative and collaborative projects with staff/adults/administration. Evidence of excellent interpersonal relationship qualities. Demonstrated skill in team building and group dynamics. Experience in relating to adult learners. Evidence of excellent oral and written communication skills. Willingness to undergo additional training during the summer and throughout the year, as well as to travel among field locations. In certain collaborations, willingness to serve as adjunct faculty for collaborating college/university which may also require that candidates hold a Master's degree. DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITES: Establish and maintain a trustful, confidential and non-evaluative relationship with intern. Serve as a Peer "Coach," providing opportunities for intervisitation, demonstrating /modeling and conferring with the intern. Develop and conduct a daily in-school program that is tailored to the beginning teacher's professional interest and concerns. Assist teachers in using collected data to work on the design and implementation of a comprehensive educational plan that focuses on high standards and achievement for all students including those who are LEP and/or receive special education services. Model appropriate and innovative teaching methodologies through techniques such as team teaching, demonstrations, simulations and consultations. Act as a liaison between the intern, entire school staff and the administration to promote the positive aspects of mentoring. Meet periodically with university faculty representatives. Promote collegiality through fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and communication among school personnel. Maintain and submit required documentation (mentoring plan, monthly log of mentoring activities, etc.).
- Georgia offers an example of how such peer support operates. The RESA program makes available a series of professional, problem-based seminars. The seminars are facilitated by teachers with successful classroom experience, positive experience teaching adults, and expertise in particular specialty areas. Candidates are required to attend six seminars in the first year and four in the second year. If the support team determines that a candidate needs help with, say, behavior management, it recommends a classroom management seminar. The support comes in a form that is easy to digest, as well as relevant.
- Engage in Continuous Reflection
- All six of these programs are deeply attuned to outcomes. They take responsibility for preparing candidates to succeed in the classroom and to meet state certifi- cation or licensing requirements. They work with candidates, through training and support, to ensure that each candidate masters required skills and can demonstrate those skills on the job and in formal assessments. Moreover, the programs continually seek to improve outcomes, with a focus on how well they meet the needs of candidates and partner districts.
Assessing Candidate Performance
Alternative route programs focus squarely on candidates' on-the-job performance. "Traditional programs emphasize knowledge," says the coordinator of Hillsborough's program. "Our program is skill-based. During the whole year of the internship, we are seeing if the knowledge from course work is translating into a skill." This difference is evident across all six sites. Because candidates are classroom teachers fully in charge of groups of students, performance can be monitored over time, instruction is responsive to candidates' needs, and candidates have the opportunity to re-try strategies and re-teach material. As noted earlier, this kind of supportive assessment keeps candidates improving even as it keeps them afloat.
Programs vary in how they organize candidate assessment. Texas and Wichita incorporate performance tasks and work samples. New York's assessment mechanisms vary according to the university program in which candidates are placed. Virtually every program uses classroom observation to evaluate candidate performance. And three sites—Georgia, Hillsborough, and Chico—make extensive use of portfolios.
Ongoing formal observation in each program is accompanied by conferences with candidates and, often, written feedback as well. Programs like that in Texas' Region XIII deliberately emphasize formative observation, that is, classroom visits that are not used for evaluation. Most programs, however, include formal observation as part of the summative assessment required for teacher certification.
In Wichita, for example, mentor and administrator observations are required for certification. Mentors use an observation form adapted from the Professional Practice Scale published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Hillsborough's three-cycle observation and coaching system, described earlier, includes 10 observations, three of which are formal (see figure 7, page 19). For each cycle, the candidate and school-based mentor teacher develop a candidate action plan to address areas of nonmastery, and observations during that cycle focus on those targeted areas. For example, in speci- fied weeks of the first cycle, the school-based mentor needs to conduct at least 2 observations that address competencies the candidate has not yet successfully demonstrated, while also noting whether the candidate continues to improve in areas of proficiency.
Another key assessment strategy is the use of portfolios, which are used for both formative assessment, as noted earlier, and summative assessment. For Georgia's portfolio, candidates amass evidence that demonstrates proficiency in 24 competencies (see figure 6, page 17). To show capability in planning and preparation, for example, they include lesson plans and graphic organizers. Showing skill in creating an appropriate classroom environment calls for video clips and classroom floor plans. Candidates gather three to four samples for each competency.
Given the level of time and effort that goes into creating the portfolios, the Georgia programs take great care in evaluating them. The program employs a part-time supervisor for just that job. Using a rubric to rate each competency, the evaluator provides candidates with feedback and submits documentation to the program coordinator. When all members of the candidate support team agree that a candidate is proficient in all 24 competencies, they each sign a competency completion form and submit it along with a recommendation for clear, renewable certification.
In Hillsborough, site principals oversee portfolios. Staff from the district's Office of Training and Staff Development orient each principal to the portfolio creation process, including a checklist of required items. Annual portfolio auditing is handled by educators hired as consultants and trained by project staff.
Evaluating Program Effectiveness
Assessment of candidate performance is only one anchor point in continuous program improvement. Programs also must routinely monitor whether they are meeting critical needs—those of the candidates themselves as well as those of partner districts and multiple stakeholders.
To evaluate overall effectiveness, programs systematically gather and analyze data using a variety of tools, including questionnaires for candidate needs assessment; surveys and interviews of principals; course effectiveness ratings by candidates; support provider ratings of candidates; and follow-up surveys after graduation of former candidates and their employers.
Responding to Candidate Needs
To identify candidate needs, for example, survey information from candidates often is gathered as early as the beginning of their preservice experience. In New York, for instance, candidates complete a "temperature gauge," an online survey asking them to evaluate their first three weeks of preservice training, including course content and advisory time. The results allow staff to follow up with candidates as needed and to make adjustments that might improve their experiences for the remainder of preservice. A follow-up survey gauges how successful the adjustments have been.
Chico candidates fill out a pre-entry questionnaire to help staff accommodate their experience and characteristics. Instructors then conduct a candidate needs analysis at the beginning of each course to help them tailor instruction. At the end of each course, candidates let instructors know how well the course met their needs in terms of increased proficiency.
Region XIII in Texas, like several other programs, surveys its candidates at the end of the program on a wide range of issues. Questions cover the program's overall performance, the quality of the training, the caliber of support from mentors and supervisors, and candidates' expectations for the future. Texas and Chico survey candidates and their employers after graduation.
Data collected on the needs of candidates and local districts are used to continually improve every aspect of the programs. When candidates in Wichita, for example, reported strongly valuing the feedback on their teaching provided by their support providers and said they wanted more, the program increased the number of support-provider visits to classrooms. Most candidates now receive at least 10 visits in the school year and get written feedback from each. The program also accommodated candidates' logistical problems by purchasing new technology that allows candidates at remote sites to participate in classes via the Internet by streaming video rather than drive hundreds of miles.
One measure of success is the rate of program completion. Chico, for one, has seen its candidate retention rate rise from 86 percent of the cumulative pool of those who had completed the program in 1999-2000 to 91 percent in 2003-04. Program leaders credit their focus on gathering data and responding to them. It's important to note that the data are not just quantitative, says Chico's evaluator. "We try to collect candidates' voices. The survey at the end of each class is not just their rating but their words and their emotions connected to this course experience. Honesty is important. We break down the objectives of the courses and ask what students are not feeling satisfied with." Instructors see the exact words of the students at multiple points in the curriculum and use that feedback for tailoring. Coordinators, too, look at all the feedback and routinely revisit the question of curriculum sequence.
Responding to Regional Needs
Meanwhile, to stay on top of the changing needs of partner school districts and other local stakeholders, each program does yet another level of needs assessment. Chico, for example, regularly draws on information from a wide range of informants (see figure 9 for Chico's map of its multiple evaluation strands). One group is its advisory board, whose members-including local school officials, parents, and representatives from local special education support agencies -keep a finger on the region's pulse. Further information comes from supervisors. Because they are constantly in contact with school and county office administrators, their meetings frequently raise triggers for program change. Moreover, a number of part-time university faculty are also teachers in the public schools, affording yet another level of feedback. And because program leaders are almost constantly writing grants, formal surveys and interviews of local participants—including all 385 principals—provide further, up-to-date data.
Chico's regional needs assessment has led over time to shifts in the program's emphasis. For example, more attention has been paid to autism in recent years as that disability has become more prevalent. The program has shifted from an early focus on elementary, multiple-subject teaching to middle and high school teaching as the need for special education teachers at those levels has expanded. And the search for more candidates interested in serving students with moderate to severe disabilities remains a priority, in response to greater need.
Figure 9. Chico Continuous Improvement Cycle
CSU, Chico Special Education
Outcomes Evaluation and Curriculum Development
A Continuous Improvement Cycle
Entry Surveys Needs Analyses In-course Feedback Assessing prior knowledge and experience Immediate course adaptation to current learner needs Formative Effectiveness Ratings (Administered in every course and supervision) immediate revision of course or supervision for subsequent term data accumulated for annual analysis of program curriculum Annual Exit Survey Annual revision of curriculum and instruction, emphases, program services Candidate's dossiers/portfolios Advisory Board Annual Survey Graduate Follow-up Survey
(1-3 years after completion)
Employee Follow-up Survey
(Rates graduate on-the-job)
- Program leaders in Georgia see responsiveness to district needs as a way to model for candidates how good teachers assess and respond to student needs. They believe that one reason their program has enjoyed so much success is that the people involved, from the top down, truly value an open exchange of ideas. Program leaders know local school needs because they ask-and then they listen and act. For example, this process has led to adding strands in early childhood and special education.
Program Improvement Over Time
It's clear that continuous program improvement depends on committed, collaborative leadership and inclusive decision-making. In Texas's Region XIII program, analysis of all data collected is done at an annual retreat. Staff members get together for two days each year to analyze what is working well and what they want to improve. They pride themselves on being able to "turn on a dime" to make changes.
In New York, an advisory board consisting of program participants from each partner university works closely with the program directors and the chancellor. For the first couple of years, the focus was on the quality of what the university offered the candidates. Today the emphasis has shifted to encompass broader issues of the teaching experience in New York classrooms to continually address ways to support quality teaching.
Chico, at this point, is reaping the rewards of its years of careful development. It has enjoyed sustained leadership with its current director and other key leaders in place for more than a dozen years. During that time, the program has developed a deep base of expertise that constitutes its support network. Many of today's supervisors were once candidates themselves. Many returned to enroll in the university's master's program-for which 15 of their candidate credits applied. Often long-time residents, support providers understand the rural context and the needs of local schools.
A point of pride for all involved is that the Chico program has begun to have an effect beyond special education. "I see other teachers coming by when I come to a school," says one supervisor. "Staff in three or four other classes begin taking on the traits of the special education teacher who is doing a wonderful job-because of the supportive model." Seeing that the program's candidates bring cutting-edge skills to their sites, a number of administrators tap them to do consultations and modeling with other teachers, for example, or to present at board meetings.
The first part of this guide has presented some crosscutting design elements of a strong alternative teacher preparation program. The next part more fully describes each program, giving readers six variations of how these elements mesh to support the development of successful teachers.
PART II: PROGRAM PROFILES
Alternative Certification Program, Hillsborough County, Florida
|Partners||School District of|
|Total Program Graduates||530|
|2004 Candidate Cohort||Rolling |
|Candidate Demographics||59% Female|
18% Afr. Am.
3% Asian Am.
|Program Duration||1–2 years|
|Cost per Candidate/Who Pays||$1,600 |
District pays $800
Candidate pays $800
SDHC’s general hiring practice for a long time was to first seek experienced teachers from other districts, then experienced teachers from other states, followed by student teachers, and, finally, alternative route teachers. The director of training and staff development says this was a hold-over from the 1980s when alternative certification was seen as a place for "leftover hippies." In ACP’s early stages, she says, school administrators were poorly disposed to its graduate teachers, many of whom got the "cold shoulder." But as administrators saw classrooms that would be teacherless at the start of the school year, they accepted ACP teachers. Enough ACP teachers have since joined SDHC schools and been successful that administrators no longer shun alternative certification candidates.
ACP initially focused on math and science, and served "infield" candidates, which meant that if a candidate’s degree major was in chemistry, then that is what he or she taught. Candidates went through the ACP to gain pedagogical knowledge and relied upon their university experience for the content in the subject they would be teaching. Three years later, however, the program was expanded to serve charter school teachers and "out-of-field" candidates—those who wanted to teach a specific subject, such as math, but did not have the college course work to support that choice. Ultimately, out-of-field participants are responsible for gaining content-area knowledge for the field in which they want to teach by taking university courses, and the ACP is responsible for the pedagogy and teaching methods portion of the certification.
ACP candidates have two years to complete the program, but most need only one year. Those who take two years do so on the recommendation of their mentor or building principal, who feels that the added time with ACP support and supervision will benefit the candidate. To gain Florida certification, the candidates must complete the SDHC ACP, pass a state General Knowledge Exam, the Florida Educator Examination, and the Florida Subject Area Exam, and meet the requirements of state law.
Recruitment and Selection
The district runs 6 to 10 ACP evening informational meetings each year, and in the summer it hosts two large ACP recruitment fairs. Approximately 900 people attend these sessions. On occasion, the program will get news coverage, which frequently results in several calls to the office of Training and Staff Development the next day.
Since its inception in 1989, 1,327 candidates have been accepted into the SDHC ACP, and the program has grown over 300 percent in the past five years. Of the 530 teachers certified since 1998, 87 percent remain in the district. One ACP staff member says the program’s biggest appeal is its accessible nature and low cost. ACP candidates can enter the program at any time during the year, once they have been hired. This makes midyear candidates eligible for support and instruction once they enter the classroom, as opposed to waiting until the fall.
Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy
The ACP recommends a 180-day completion timeline for the program’s two components, course work and field work (the internship year), each completed in conjunction with the other. Eight required courses are based upon the 12 Accomplished Practices established by the Florida Department of Education:
- Teacher Induction/Classroom Management (18 hours)— based on Harry Wong’s The First Days of School.
- Professionalism Through Integrity: Code of Ethics (3 hours)—training component based on the Florida Department of Education’s Code of Ethics and Principles of Professional Conduct.
- Transition Into Teaching (24—30 hours)—examines the developmental needs of K-12 students and strategies to meet those needs.
- Effective Teaching Strategies (18—24 hours)—focuses on the six domains of the Florida Performance Measurement System (FPMS).
- Instructional Strategies Through Cooperative Learning (24 hours)—based upon the work of Johnson and Johnson and Spencer Kagan, and presents knowledge, skills, and strategies to implement cooperative learning.
- Integrating Technology in Education (15 hours)— emphasizes ways to use technology in the classroom.
- Crisis Intervention for Educators (3 hours)—video—based course designed to help educators recognize the signs of emotional distress, behavior indicators of physical and emotional abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and neglect.
- English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Independent Reading Course (3 hours)—provides ESOL awareness for educators.
Course work is completed in three places concurrently with field work. Teacher Induction and Professionalism Through Integrity are offered through the district’s New Teacher Orientation. Crisis Intervention for Educators and ESOL courses are offered through independent study on the participant’s campus. The remaining courses are completed through district-sponsored classes. There is no specific order in which classes must be completed, but there are obvious benefits to taking specific classes (e.g., Teacher Induction) early in the process.
Teachers employed by the district, trained in professional development, teach the ACP courses during evenings or on weekends. One trainer comments that being in the classroom all day helps her to bond with the ACP candidates because they are in the same boat as her students—"tired and exhausted from the day, but excited to be learning new things!"
Within the field work component of the program, a three-cycle observation process takes place over 36 weeks focusing on the instructional performance of the candidate (see figure 7). This includes a minimum of seven data collection observations, three "formal" observations, and work with a mentor to ensure the candidate is making progress. The observation cycle, which includes specific tasks that must be completed, is conducted by the ACP mentor in addition to the internal support staff observations.
Candidates are also required to develop a portfolio. The school administrator is in charge of the portfolio process and works closely with the candidate teacher and the ACP staff. The school administrator also works with the candidate teacher’s mentor to gather evidence, becomes knowledgeable about the guidelines and methods of documentation of accomplished practices, and distributes and collects the ESOL and CRISIS Intervention test. It is up to each administrator to work with each candidate individually to support the cycle of the program he or she is in. One principal commented, "It is a lot of work to plan it out for each teacher; it’s tough, but the benefits make it worth it."
Mentoring, Supervision, and Support
The mentoring component was added to the ACP in 2000 based on the Steve Barkley coaching and mentoring model. ACP mentors are intended to be friends, coaches, and support people who are nonjudgmental, understanding, and nonthreatening. These external mentors are experienced administrators formerly employed by SDHC. As former administrators, they come with training and experience in teacher support and evaluation. On occasion, university personnel have acted as ACP mentors, but with limited success. One ACP staff member hypothesizes that previous administrators possess a "commitment to the organization" that people outside the district may not have, and she screens for these characteristics in choosing mentors. Another bonus of using past administrators is that they have the respect and authority to speak to another principal "administrator to administrator" as they observe and advocate for the candidate teacher.
Mentors typically work with 12 to 15 candidate teachers at a time and are generally assigned to the same campuses or those close to each other to minimize travel in such a large county district. Their role is to act as a liaison between the teacher, the campus support team, and the Office of Training and Staff Development. They also fill in the information gaps for any course work that the candidate has yet to complete. Visits typically last an hour and mentors are paid $60 per visit and their travel costs. Mentors work approximately three days a week, meeting with four to five candidates a day.
Observations are based on the Florida Performance Measurement System, a screening and observation instrument tied to the 12 Accomplished Practices. Using the information gained from this instrument, mentors can recommend additional professional development, set up a model lesson, organize departmental support, and offer praise to candidate teachers. Mentors also review lesson plans, grade-book protocol, classroom management skills, and other district-based processes the candidate might be struggling with.
Mentors advocate for their candidate teachers in many ways. They review the candidates’ schedule to ensure that it is conducive to the needs of a new teacher, they keep an eye out for too many duties beyond the classroom, and they make sure that teachers are not "coerced" into accepting sponsorship positions such as cheerleading or other school clubs. Mentors frequently will go to the administrator and lobby to have changes made if they feel the candidate teacher is overloaded with a difficult schedule or too many duties.
The ACP program is funded mostly with State Categorical Teacher Training funds and a few grants. Title I funds can also be used. SDHC receives $2.5 million each year from the state to run the program. The program cost per candidate is $1,600, which includes materials. SDHC and the candidate each pay $800. An ACP manager estimates that while tuition will rise, the program will remain extremely competitive with university programs that charge about $3,000 for certification.
Between July 1998 and June 2004, 530 teachers have completed the ACP, with 87 percent remaining in the district. The overall completion rate of candidates is 98 percent and the retention rate is 85 percent.
Key Success Factors
SDHC ACP offers a flexible, low-cost method for non-education majors to enter the teaching field quickly. Based on lessons learned, program officers stress the following:
- Have "buy-in" from administrators, human resources, and district staff development teams before starting up. Building principals who will host the candidates need to believe in the program; the human resources department, which hires the teachers, needs to be kept in the loop, especially if it deals with certification issues; and district staff development teams need to know the weaknesses of the candidates and be prepared to offer assistance or additional professional development
- Be willing to make courses accessible and change them yearly to meet the needs of candidates. Host courses all over the district and at schools that are hosting other evening programs so that you can "cost share" to have a location open at night
- An assessment process is important. Rely upon portfolios, mentor feedback, and course work results to guide the program
- Have the "behind-the-scenes" data system set up before you begin. You cannot do things manually; work closely with your technology department so that the technology can work for you.
- Reevaluate the program continuously. Provide obvious steps for completion and "next steps" to the participants. Rely upon administrator and teacher surveys for feedback. This ensures that you will continue to meet the needs of your teachers, principals, and district as times changes.
Educator Certification Program, Region XIII, Austin, Texas
|Partners||Region XIII Education|
Region XIII School Districts
|Total Program Graduates||2,082|
|2004 Candidate Cohort||236|
|Candidate Demographics||79% Female |
Majority are White
|Program Duration||17 months|
|Cost per Candidate/Who Pays||$5,200 |
The program underwent a major redesign in 1991. One of the most important changes was a switch from holding classes during the day to meeting in the evenings and on weekends. Daytime classes had forced districts to hire substitutes to fill in for the candidates while they attended classes. Night and weekend classes allow candidates to be with their own students as much as possible. The program also expanded the types of credentials offered to include bilingual and secondary education. The changes resulted in a huge increase in the number of program participants, or "interns." In 1990 the program trained 17 special education teachers; in 1991 98 teachers with various specialties exited the program. In 1995 the program again increased its offerings and added regular elementary credentials. Region XIII ECP is currently approved to provide certification in Early Childhood-4th grade (Generalist); Early Childhood-4th grade (Bilingual Generalist); Early Childhood-12th grade (Special Education); All secondary level content areas; and Seven Career and Technology Education (CATE) areas.
As the program has matured and adapted to serve increasing numbers of candidates, the ECP has also refined its program goals. Its current mission is "to be sure there is a teacher in every classroom who cares that every student, every day, learns and grows and feels like a real human being." Staff have identified as underlying program principles: 1) Accountability- The high-stakes environment that students are required to excel in makes training teachers a high-stakes endeavor and 2) Practice what you preach-Be prepared to teach through modeling and alignment of standards if you expect your teachers to do the same.
The ECP is a rigorous 17-month, field-based program that integrates theory with practice. It provides training and certification for selected candidates who hold a bachelor's degree and wish to become teachers. The cohort-based program prepares candidates to be "classroom ready" in six months through a combination of online and face-to-face preservice training. The training includes preparation and individual tutoring for the required state teacher assessment, as well as a two-week field experience. Following this six-month getting-ready process, candidates continue training while employed by one of the Austin-area districts as the teacher of record in their own classroom. During this first year of teaching, the program provides the candidates with both mentoring and field support.
The Region XIII ESC employs 15 full-time staff to support the ECP mission. The program's director also oversees other Region XIII initiatives. Under the director, there is a program coordinator who oversees day-to-day program administration. Eight education specialists serve as cohort leaders, designing and delivering instruction for their particular area of certification
One recent addition is the position of mentor and field support specialist, who ensures that individuals who support the candidates in the field know how to reinforce what is being taught in program classes. The technology support and online education position is another recent addition, created to support the required online course work and to support the technology-related learning competencies. There are also four support staff at the ECP: one registrar, one office manager, and two program secretaries.
Recruitment and Selection
Program enrollment fluctuates because the program accepts only enough candidates to fill the staffing needs in the districts it serves. The ECP program coordinator meets regularly with the regional affiliate of the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators to stay aware of their hiring needs.
Typically the program has 800-900 applicants of which it accepts 25-30 percent. Applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree with an overall grade point average (GPA) of 2.5, provide evidence of required competency in reading, writing, and mathematics, and have daily access to a personal computer, printer, and a private Internet connection. While the program prepares candidates in their content area for special education, bilingual, and elementary certificates, applicants seeking middle- and secondary-level certification must already have the required course work and semester hours for the desired certificate area. Applicants must also submit three letters of reference and complete the TeacherInsight™ assessment developed and administered by the Gallup Organization. While the program originally used its own interview process, it has found Gallup's 40-minute online tool to be efficient and helpful.
Upon completion of the application process, the cohort leader, in the credential specialization for which the applicant is applying, scores the applicant on a matrix, which includes the applicant's TeacherInsight™ score, the applicant's overall GPA and course work GPA, information from references, and other comments and observations. The matrix, which yields an overall applicant score, is used for the final selection of candidates.
The program averages 275 participants each year. Candidates represent a range of professional backgrounds, including computer technology, sports, journalism, social work, the military, and retail.
Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy
Program curriculum is based on state standards established by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and is aligned with the state board exams, the state Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS) Framework, and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state curriculum established for Texas public schools.
Preservice training for the elementary, special education, and bilingual candidates begins in January each year with online course work to address the "highly qualified" component of No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB). These candidates are required to take the content portion of the Texas Examination of Educator Standards before they are hired, and most candidates remain in their current employment while they accomplish this. Candidates for middle- and secondary-level certification already meet the NCLB requirements for "highly qualified" through their college course work and are not required to take a content exam.
The online course work was created by Region XIII and master teachers throughout the region. Program staff reviewed it to ensure that it aligns with the state standards and provides training necessary for candidates to pass the state exam in March. In March or April of the following year, all candidates then take the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities (PPR) exam. In the past, 98-99 percent of program candidates have passed this state exam.
In mid-March of the first year, all candidates begin face-to-face instruction. Required courses include Learning Foundations (human growth, development, and learning theory); Lesson Design (lesson cycle and how to incorporate standards into lessons); Classroom Environment (how to establish a positive environment); The "Learner" (instructional and questioning strategies); and Beyond the "Learner" (designed to help the candidate develop a strong philosophy regarding being an educator.)
A two-week summer field experience takes place in June, during which candidates are assigned to a summer school classroom that matches their intended level of certification. The ECP requires a two-week field experience because that is the amount of time most candidates are able to take off from their current job.
After completing the online and face-to-face preservice training and the field experience, candidates are eligible to be employed by a district for the internship year. To remain in the program at this point, candidates must obtain a position as a teacher of record at the teaching level for which they are seeking certification. Generally, over 95 percent of ECP candidates obtain positions and remain through the intern year. When they are hired, the ECP program recommends the candidate for a probationary certificate from the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). As teachers of record, candidates receive full pay and benefits for the internship year.
Candidates also receive an additional 12-18 hours of training from the ECP each month during the internship year. Some of this training is delivered over the Internet.
Mentoring, Supervision, and Support
Each ECP candidate has an on-site mentor and field supporter available during both the summer field experience and the internship year. Each mentor is selected by the campus administrator, who receives guidance from Region XIII on mentor selection guidelines. Mentors attend 15 hours of professional development provided by the ECP. The on-campus mentor and candidate are required to complete six observations during the school year. The program recommends that the mentor observe the candidate three times and the candidate observe the mentor three times. The mentor and candidate must also get together for four discussion meetings during the year.
A field supporter observes each candidate two times during the two-week summer field experience and makes four half-day visits, minimally, during the internship year. Field supporters are contracted through Region XIII and are usually educators who have a proven record in the classroom.
Before becoming field supporters, these educators attend two to four days of training developed by Region XIII. Some candidates consider the support they get from mentors and field supporters to be one of the program's greatest strengths. "I can honestly say that I don't think I would have made it through the year without my field supporter," says one candidate.
Upon successful completion of the ECP (including the internship year) and the state licensing requirements, participants typically earn a teaching certificate specific to their area of study. To receive the certificate, candidates must satisfactorily complete all ECP course work and assessments, receive at least a satisfactory rating on their teaching evaluation, pass all state board exams, receive a recommendation from their campus administrator, and be recommended by the ECP program.
The ECP is financially self-supporting. Candidates make scheduled payments that total approximately $5,200 over the 17-month program. Of this amount, $3,700 is the "internship fee," which is deducted from each candidate's paycheck on a prorated basis during the internship year. There is no cost to districts for any portion of the program, as part of the candidate's tuition pays for his or her school-based mentor.
ECP's program completion rate was 89 percent during 1999-2001. According to ECP's deputy director, one of the most important benefits of becoming certified through this program is the outstanding reputation that ECP candidates enjoy in the region. Other staff members report that principals sometimes claim to prefer ECP candidates over other new teachers. When asked why, the principals reportedly cite the field support candidates receive during the induction year.
Key Success Factors
ECP leaders identify the selection process as a key factor in the program's success. They are selective and do not accept all applicants. They have a tool to identify strengths and weaknesses of potential candidates and they use it. Selectivity pays off in part because program staff can focus on supporting the candidates as they move through content, rather than on candidates who are struggling with issues outside of the content.
Program leaders also note the value of aligning the program to meet the needs of local districts and others who will be hiring their program graduates. Build a relationship with the districts you serve, they say: Take advantage of the natural relationships that are provided by proximity to schools and districts.
Alignment of the curriculum to state academic and performance standards is also key. ECP staff suggest staying in tune with the statewide education initiatives and local district initiatives. Doing so can help ensure that programs produce teachers who will be on the cutting edge and will be armed with the latest knowledge.
A candidate's relationship with his or her cohort leader is crucial. The cohort leader does most of the instruction throughout the program, and it is with this individual that a candidate can find a "safe haven" if a question or problem arises and the candidate wants to avoid taking it to someone at the school site. Program staff also point to the invaluable support provided by the field support team and mentors, without whom there would be quite a bit of anxiety among teachers and principals. Not only do the teachers have access to an extraordinary form of support, but the principals know that when they hire an ECP graduate, that teacher will have a level of support from ESC XIII that a teacher from a university education program will not generally have. This reduces the burden on the principal to be responsible for all the support needed by most first-year teachers.
Finally, ESC XIII has a passionate, dedicated staff focused on making the program ever better.
Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program, Northwest and Metro Regional Educational Service Agencies, Georgia
|Certification/Degree||Middle Grades |
Education (Metro only)
|Partners||School districts in NW Georgia|
and metropolitan Atlanta
|Program Initiated||NW: 2001 |
|Total Program Graduates||NW: 64|
|2004 Candidate Cohort||NW: 43 |
|Candidate Demographics||NW: 66% Female|
17% Afr. Am.
3% Asian Am.
|Program Duration||2 years|
|Cost per Candidate/Who Pays||NW: $2,250|
Case by case; combination of
candidate, school, RESA
The following year the Professional Standards Commission facilitated the development of a statewide program modeled on that created by the Northwest RESA. Later named the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program (GA TAPP), the two-year, research-based program offers a low-cost method for bringing fully certified high-quality teachers into Georgia schools. Today, there are 9 RESA-operated GA TAPP programs, including the original NW RESA program, which serves 16 school districts across 11 mostly rural counties, and a closely linked sister program developed by the Metro RESA, which serves 11 school districts in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Today, the two RESAs coordinate and collaborate, learning from each other to continuously improve their respective programs while always keeping an eye on how best to serve their own particular constituent districts.
Although some of the specifics vary between the two programs, like all GA TAPPS, they both use a two-phase approach. Phase 1 begins in the summer with candidates taking an intensive "Essentials" course that introduces them to best practices and gives them information about professional roles and responsibilities of educators, code of ethics, parent communication, and special education issues. (For teachers hired after the start of the school year, the class is taught in the evenings and on Saturdays or the candidate may be required to take a "Five-Day Survival Course" before entering the classroom until the Essentials course is available again.) Phase 2 has candidates teaching in the classroom supported by intensive mentoring and supervision and monthly seminars.
Recruitment and Selection
Because its candidates are hired as regular teachers and receive a teaching salary as they move through the program, GA TAPP has been able to attract a wide variety of applicants, including males and ethnic minorities. One GA TAPP candidate who had worked as a long-term, albeit uncertified, substitute teacher, reports having looked into a teacher preparation program at a nearby university only to lose enthusiasm upon learning that it could take up to four years to become a teacher. Through the GA TAPP program, she has been hired at a school where she used to substitute and she is now receiving slightly less than a full teacher's salary (with benefits) until she earns a Clear Renewable Certificate.
Another candidate, a former industrial engineer, took early retirement and entered the program because he "wanted to give something back." One man, a former veterinarian with two small children, looked into other options, but says he was drawn to the practical, hands-on aspect of the GA TAPP program. A candidate who is expecting his first child says an alternative route to certification was the only option for him because he could not afford a lapse in salary and benefits at this time in his life. In general, the application process starts with a local school system hiring a prospective candidate according to its normal hiring practices. State mandated minimum requirements include a bachelor's degree in the field of certification or related field, a 2.5 GPA, a passing score on the PRAXIS I (unless exempted based on qualifying SAT, ACT, or GRE scores), and clearance on the Georgia criminal background check. Once the applicant has been hired, GA TAPP staff review the applicant's transcripts to ensure that he or she has the appropriate content background. Because the GA TAPP is not the only avenue to gain clear renewable certification, the local school system and the RESA determine the option that best fits the circumstances of each candidate, and some candidates are referred to other programs.
Although basic acceptance criteria are state-mandated, each RESA has its own variation on the selection process. In the NW RESA program, each district screens applicants on its own, although RESA staff might recommend a prospective candidate to a specific campus because, through their longstanding relationships with member districts, staff understand the needs and hiring criteria of each school system. In contrast, at the request of its member district, the Metro RESA pre-screens all applicants. This process includes a paper screening, a personality test, an interview with a panel of representatives of the Metro districts, and a question-and-answer session with a panel of first-year GA TAPP teachers.
Once applicants are accepted into a GA TAPP program, they apply to the state for Intern Certification and the program assigns them a Candidate Support Team (CST) made up of school and system-level staff who provide support for the duration of their internship.
Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy
The Essentials of Effective Teaching is a required course for all GA TAPP candidates and most take it during the summer before they start teaching. This 80-hour class, based on Danielson's framework, introduces candidates to best practices in Instructional Content and Practice, Planning and Managing the Teaching and Learning Environment, Instruction, and Professional and Ethical Practices. Each area has corresponding competencies in which candidates must demonstrate proficiency in order to pass the class. Through this course, GA TAPP teachers learn research-based exemplary practices in instructional pedagogy.
Additionally, to meet state requirements, candidates must take Introduction to Educating Exceptional Children and Youth and be able to demonstrate technology competencies, such as creating online activities and performance-based assessments, and aligning their curriculum with Georgia Technology standards. Also, candidates choosing to teach middle school have to take the Nature and Needs of the Middle School Learner course and the appropriate teaching reading and writing course.
The program also uses seminars, which are professional learning workshops designed to meet the candidates' individual needs. For example, if a candidate's mentor or supervisor notices that he or she is having difficulty managing pupils, a "Classroom Management" seminar could be recommended. These seminars are problem-based and aligned with Danielson's framework. Candidates are required to attend a minimum of six seminars the first year and four the second year. Seminars also serve as a way to incorporate the latest research-based strategies and education trends.
All candidates participate in a practicum in a school that is culturally and socioeconomically different from the candidate's home school. Candidates receive release time from their classroom. In addition to observing instructional strategies and programs, the candidate may observe procedures related to discipline, parental involvement, community support, classroom space, or other areas of interest. A conference follows each practicum to discuss and reflect on what was observed.
Mentoring, Supervision, and Support
At both RESAs, the core members of the Candidate Support Team (CST) are a school-based mentor (a classroom teacher), school administrator (principal, vice principal), the system coordinator (a school system employee such as a human resources employee), and the RESA coordinator. Together, they ensure that the candidate receives daily support and supervision during the two-year internship. A support team may additionally include content experts, course instructors, and anyone else deemed helpful to support the candidate or advance his or her knowledge and skills.
The CST meets initially to review expectations with the candidate and then meets at regularly scheduled times and as many additional times as needed during the two-year training. Ongoing support is provided through a school-based mentor who observes frequently, provides specific feedback, and generally serves as a professional role model. Additionally, each candidate has a program supervisor assigned to him or her. The supervisor observes and meets frequently with the candidate, the school-based mentor, and the school administrator to discuss the candidate's progress and any additional support that may be needed. The school administrator and the system coordinator observe the candidate both formally and informally.
School-based mentoring by a classroom teacher is an essential part of the program, with candidates receiving a minimum of 100 hours the first year and 50 the second. The mentor, who receives a $1,000 stipend for the first year and $500 for the second, supports the candidate in a variety of ways, including in collecting evidence that the candidate has met the competencies required by the program and in organizing the program portfolio that will be part of the candidate's final assessment. On a regular basis, the mentor also observes the candidate in the classroom, coaches and demonstrates lessons, and facilitates reflective teaching opportunities. The mentor also arranges for the candidate to visit other teachers' classrooms and maintains and submits all records and forms required by GA TAPP.
The RESA coordinator and the rest of the CST are committed to the success of the candidate. Although there are many "evaluations," both formal and informal, the basic purpose of the CST is to support the candidate by providing the feedback, resources, and strategies necessary for successful program completion. One candidate reports that "everyone in the program is available to help at anytime—and that includes my mentor, my RESA supervisor, even the coordinator of the program." Most of the candidates say they could not imagine being a new teacher without the kind of support they received through GA TAPP. One high school teacher—a GA TAPP grad—says that from the beginning of the program she felt that she was "set up to succeed."
Helping to pay for the program is one way in which a hiring system can support its GA TAPP candidates. For example, a system may pay for the program in its entirety or may require the candidate to pay and arrange a payment plan. In some instances, a system and candidate each pay a portion of the cost. One system recently adopted a policy requiring candidates to pay back a portion of the fees if they do not fulfill their contract. At the Metro RESA, even though the member school system may pay, ultimately the candidate is responsible for the program fees.
One of the best advertisements for GA TAPP is the successful teachers that graduate from the program. Superintendents, principals, and other related school personnel claim that GA TAPP teachers are as prepared as, if not better prepared than, traditionally trained teachers. In fact, two of the three new teachers voted "Teacher of the Year" in one school district were GA TAPP candidates. One alumnus now in his third year of teaching has been approached by fellow teachers and his principal to model some of his strategies for the other faculty on his campus.
Key Success Factors
The leaders of the GA TAPP program at both the NW and the Metro RESA do not just ask the candidates to master the four domains of planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities—they model it. One reason this program has enjoyed so much success is that the people who are involved in the program, from the top down, truly value an open exchange of ideas. They know what their local school systems need because they ask, and then they listen. This ability to not just listen to major stakeholders, but to seek them out, probe and question, and really flush out the needs of the local school systems is a major success factor.
Another factor is the commitment to constantly evaluate and refine the program based on evidence of success. The RESAs have created forms, checklists, criteria, and rubrics for all aspects of the program, providing them with a constant stream of feedback. This information is disseminated to relevant stakeholders (by email, through written correspondence, or meetings). After everyone has been consulted, decisions are proposed. This shared decision-making and responsibility model fosters tremendous buy-in at all levels.
There is a real passion and commitment to the program. One assistant superintendent notes that while the program itself might not be hard to replicate, "The heart, soul, and commitment at the highest levels might be harder to come by."
New York City Teaching Fellows, New York
The New Teacher Project
|Total Program Graduates||5,748|
|2004 Candidate Cohort||2,000|
|Candidate Demographics||66% Female|
19% Afr. Am.
5% Asian Am.
|Program Duration||2-3 years|
|Cost per Candidate/Who Pays||$12,000 licensure plus master's|
District pays $8,000
Candidate pays $4,000
After investigating alternative route models in other states, the New York City Department of Education decided to partner with The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit organization that works with local education organizations to increase the number and maximize the effectiveness of public school teachers. The New Teacher Project runs the daily operations of the Teaching Fellows program, and the NYC Department of Education staff-director and four program managers-are responsible for policy direction and working with the schools and universities.
The Teaching Fellows program is grounded in two core assumptions: First, there is a substantial pool of talented individuals who have chosen other career options but who are capable of and interested in becoming excellent teachers. This pool can be tapped by offering a clear, expedited, and structured path into the teaching profession. Second, the alternative route to certification can and will meet high standards for teacher preparation and certification. It provides a distinct and innovative path for candidates to achieve the same high standards as are expected of those who go through traditional teacher education programs.
The program begins in the summer, with seven to nine weeks of preservice training for fellows. During this period, they participate in a combination of university-based course work and student teaching. They are then hired by the NYC Department of Education to serve as teacher of record at schools needing their content expertise. In addition to receiving district-funded mentoring during the first year, fellows take classes and receive additional support from one of the program's partner universities, of which there are currently 11. Classes and support are tailored to fellows' needs and schedule, and fellows earn a master's degree in the process.
Recruitment and Selection
Word-of-mouth has been the most effective means of recruitment, but one of the program's most distinctive recruitment efforts has taken place in the City's subways. Dissatisfied professionals riding to unfulfilling jobs see ads proclaiming that "your most important clients will carry backpacks, not briefcases" and "no one ever goes back 10 years later to thank a middle manager." In their personal statements about why they seek a career change, many program applicants say something about not feeling they are making a difference in "corporate America." The program also uses the Internet to market itself, but most applicants are local. New York has decreased its use of print media (e.g., newspaper ads) because it determined that this approach was not cost effective.
The program's minimum selection requirements align with the state's requirements and with entrance requirements for partner universities, in which fellows will need to enroll as part of the program. Prospective fellows must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum overall GPA of 3.00, be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident with a green card, and speak English fluently. Applicants may not have completed an undergraduate- or graduate-level teacher education program or hold a current or expired New York State teaching certificate. The GPA requirement is not written in stone. Applicants with a lower GPA can be accepted into the program under certain circumstances; the deciding factor is that applicants have to be acceptable to the partner university at which they will take classes.
The program also works closely with the NYC Department of Education to identify areas of need, which change over time. The program sets quotas and matches candidates to the needs.
The entire application process is coordinated online, and applicants are notified within three weeks whether they can continue to the next stage of the selection process, a four hour multistage "interview." At this stage, applicants must teach a five-minute sample lesson, produce a prompt-driven writing sample (e.g., a letter to parents) that is intended to reveal their critical thinking and problem-solving skills and to demonstrate how they use language, and, finally, participate in a one-on-one interview. Successful applicants are given their subject assignments and asked to enroll in the Fellows program. A computer system assigns them to a region, taking into consideration their subject area, schools' needs, and fellows' preferences. The New York City school system has 10 regions, and each college and university participating in the Teaching Fellows program serves fellows from a specific region. Thus, a fellow's teaching assignment dictates the institution of higher education at which he or she will enroll during the program. Once the fellows receive regional assignments they begin looking for a teaching position in that region, a process consisting of placement fairs, independent searches, and individual interviews facilitated by the Fellows program.
Prior to receiving the temporary state teaching license that allows them to be the teacher of record in a classroom, fellows must pass two state-required exams-the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test and Content Specialty Tests. The program encourages candidates to take the exams as early as possible so that if they do not pass, they will have time to re-take the tests before the fall. Those fellows who don't pass until too late to start teaching in the fall may start to teach midyear if they subsequently pass the exams, although the program has not yet developed what it considers to be a satisfactory method for preparing midyear candidates.
Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy
Preservice. Fellows start their 200-hour preservice training with two weeks of full-time study at their assigned university. Because fellows are expected to have content expertise before applying to the program, preservice program course work is pedagogically oriented. (The only exception are applicants who were not math majors, but who majored or have extensive professional experience in a related field and who are willing to teach math, which has been an exceptionally hard-to-staff content area for NYC schools. These fellows complete two additional weeks of preservice preparation and additional content requirements over the two years of course work that follows preservice. NYCTF currently admits 300-350 fellows annually to the math-immersion program.)
After two weeks of full-time classes, fellows shift to a combination of course work and field work. Each weekday morning they work as a student teacher at a NYC school where they are overseen by a "cooperating" teacher. Each afternoon they continue taking classes. And for two hours at the end of the day, groups of approximately 30 fellows come together for advisory time facilitated by a fellow adviser. In addition to imparting information and leading discussions about such essential topics as instructional design and delivery and classroom management, they help fellows reflect on their student teaching experiences, what they are learning in the course work, and how everything connects. To inform this process, the advisers also observe fellows during their morning field work. Employed by The New Teacher Project, advisers receive a $6,200 stipend for their work between May and September.
University course work. Once fellows complete their preservice session and become the teacher of record in a classroom, staff from The New Teacher Project and the NYC Department of Education step back and fellows' assigned university becomes their main point of information and support for the duration. Although specific course requirements can vary from one university to another, the general content provided across all of them is guided in part by the state's requirements for certification and in part by what the professors learn about the needs of fellows. How classes are taught is informed by the immediacy of the fellows' teaching responsibilities. A professor who knows that a fellow might need to apply what he or she learns in a Tuesday night university course to a high school chemistry class the next morning is likely to work harder to tie theory to practice in classroom discussions.
The number of fellows served by each university is determined by the number of teaching vacancies in the region it serves and by how many of the vacancies will be filled by a fellow as opposed to a standard hire. Thus, participating universities must remain flexible and be able to adjust to a fluctuating number of fellows from year to year. Each university employs one or more coordinators to manage its role in the Teaching Fellows program. This individual shepherds fellows through the next two years, plans the course work (e.g., decides if it's necessary to increase the sections of an assessment class in order to serve the higher number of fellows in a given year), and manages the university's field consultants. These consultants tend to be retired teachers or administrators, and per state requirements for an alternative route program, they must visit each fellow in his or her classroom at least once a month. In addition to offering feedback and guidance to the fellow, the consultants communicate with the university professors and the coordinator about what's going on in the classrooms they observe.
Most partner universities operate both traditional and alternative route teacher education programs, with alternative route programs especially prominent in high-need areas like mathematics and special education. Pace University, for example, has about as many students in traditional and alternative programs overall, but at its New York City campus almost 90 percent of candidates are in alternative programs.
Mentoring, Supervision, and Support
In addition to the preservice support they receive from fellow advisers and the inservice support they receive from a university's field consultants, fellows can count on two additional sources of assistance.
Program Support. Experienced fellows provide continued support to candidates through e-mail and phone calls. Lead fellows identified at each school site provide orientation and some on-site assistance. The program also provides communication and support through a newsletter and periodic seminars and social events.
Mentors. In the program's start-up years, fellows received school-based mentoring, but the quality and amount was very inconsistent. Some teachers, while excellent in the classroom, are not necessarily good at working with other adults. Future program participants will profit from the Department of Education's decision to institute a mentoring system for all new teachers that follows the model of the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This model involves a formative assessment for which mentors receive specific training and which then guides individualized support. Full-time mentors each work with 17 new teachers as the model is being implemented in NYC for the 2004-05 school year. A challenge is to provide the amount of support required for so many new teachers across the system (650 in one region alone, including 235 fellows), and to match mentors within particular license areas (e.g., science).
The NYCTF program operates with a $35 million budget from the New York Department of Education. The state has received two federal grants to subsidize the program at certain partner universities enabling them to expand their capacity to fill subject area shortages. Until September 2003, the program covered the entire cost for a fellow to participate. Now, each fellow, through a payroll deduction, pays $4,000, one-third of the program cost. NYCTF understands the financial burden of changing careers and pays a nontaxable $2,500 stipend for each fellow's participation in the preservice training. The 44 fellows become full-time teachers after the seven weeks (nine for people needing the extra math content) and receive full salary and benefits as employees of the NYC Department of Education.
The program is filling a significant need in NYC, accounting for 30 percent of new hires in math. The popularity of the program is evident in the huge number of applications-around 17,000 a year. Its effectiveness is tracked through retention rates. About 90 percent of candidates complete their first full year as teacher of record and return for the second year. The program is working with partner universities to track longer-term completion and retention rates.
Key Success Factors
Program staff identify the following as having significantly contributed to program success thus far:
- engaging The New Teacher Project;
- targeting recruitment to a wide market with the message of "do something meaningful in your career";
- taking great care with selection;
- building a big enough pool of applicants to allow selectivity in accepting candidates;
- constantly reassessing the program and the school-system needs;
- putting technical data systems in place;
- engaging the universities in the process early and often; and
- working collaboratively with unions and regional representatives.
Northeastern California Partnership for Special Education, Chico, California
|Partners||Cal. State Univ., Chico |
57 Local Ed. Agencies
U.S. Dept. of Education's
Office of Special Education and
|Total Program Graduates||331|
|2004 Candidate Cohort||60|
|Candidate Demographics||74% Female|
2% Native American
2% Asian Am.
15% Individuals with disabilities
|Program Duration||2 years|
|Cost per Candidate/Who Pays||$10,000 average|
Candidate is responsible but may receive a scholarship of $5,200-$10,000
In response to this crisis, CSUC developed the Northeastern California Partnership for Special Education in 1989. It offers an alternative route program in the form of an education specialist internship. Its mission is "to improve the quality of rural special education services to pupils and their families."
The partnership comprises CSUC, 57 local education agencies (including school districts, individual schools, and counties), the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC), and the federal government. The Partnership Advisory Board provides program oversight and policy leadership. The Board consists of representatives of the partner groups, including a cross-section of professional roles, community and parent representatives, and university faculty. Regular communication ensures that the university and each of the local education agencies share equally in decisions governing each local candidate's recruitment, selection, support, and competency verification.
The program begins with a preservice orientation on the CSUC campus. Program participants, or "interns," then begin teaching full time while working toward a full credential by way of a highly structured, organized, sequential learning experience.
It typically takes two years to complete the program, including summer school on campus. During the school year, classes are offered on campus on the candidate's monthly release days and on one Saturday each semester, as well as online after the candidate's school day via real-time streaming video on the Web.
Recruitment and Selection
The program has an emphasis on attracting home grown talent. In its recruitment efforts, the program deliberately targets groups that are under represented nationally as special education teachers (especially people with disabilities and men). And as the diversity of the region's students continues to increase, the program also actively recruits ethnically diverse candidates. Due to regional increases in rural drug abuse and poverty, the program has made it a priority to search for candidates with credentials to serve students with moderate-to-severe needs.
Many candidates in this program are career changers—notably from the military and the dot-com industry—or people re-entering the workforce. The average age is 40. Some candidates are drawn to the program because they have children of their own in special education. Others say they had always wanted to teach but got sidetracked by better-paying jobs. A common denominator seems to be a certain level of maturity.
Many candidates must meet a set of basic state requirements, including having a bachelor's degree with a GPA of at least 2.67, demonstration of subject-matter competency, and passing the California Basic Education Skills Test. Every candidate who meets the prescreening criteria goes through an extensive and intensive structured interview conducted by a team. Since the program is continual, interviews take place every two weeks. The interview protocol is inspired by the "Star" Teacher Selection Interview developed by the Haberman Educational Foundation—an instrument with a 95 percent predictive rate over its 35-year history. It helps to gauge such qualities as whether a person is persistent, is a problem solver, is protective of learners and learning, can translate theory into practice, and can use successful approaches with students considered at risk of failure. An essay portion of the interview assesses writing ability. And the process also includes role-playing situations.
The selection interview is specifically tailored to rural special education teaching. It seeks to evaluate, for example, a candidate's reasons for becoming a teacher and working with exceptional children and prior commitment to exceptional children. It determines candidate's skills in communication and collaboration through such questions as: What role does collaboration play in special education? How would you create a climate of fairness and equity in a diverse classroom? "The interview process makes it clear to candidates that this is a rigorous program," says a program adviser. "Before we used it, candidates would get into the program and then say, 'I had no idea this would be so hard.'"
Team members score interview results using a rubric and candidates who score below a cutoff point are not accepted. Candidates who do not make the initial cut are assigned to a second team for another interview. "We don't want their whole career dependent on one interview," says the adviser.
Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy
Each candidate's goals and his or her action plan for achieving those goals—including course work, individual assistance, and professional development opportunities—are documented and tracked in a personal roadmap called the Individualized Induction Program (IIP). The entire program is anchored in standards: the California standards for the teaching profession, the education specialist standards for earning the credential, and the California academic content standards for students. Each IIP is designed to ensure that by the end of the program, the candidate meets all the standards. The candidate's course work must follow a prescribed scope and sequence of courses, but substitutions are allowed, based on a candidate's background and experience. The candidate's portfolios and reflective logs are organized around the standards.
The program begins with a one-day orientation, dubbed survival training, in which candidates become acquainted with the instructors, the university supervisors, and—if possible—the local support providers (i.e., mentors). During the orientation, candidates also begin to get to know each other.
Throughout the program, discussions are tailored to suit the issues candidates confront in their daily teaching. The traditional time gap between course work and the chance to put what's being learned into practice is virtually nonexistent in this program, with candidates continually traveling an arc from academic theory to trying it out with their pupils, and then, back in the university classroom, reflecting with instructors and peers on what worked, what didn't, and why.
The curriculum is geared to pupil outcomes. Under the program's Pupil Assessment Project, for example, candidates focus on four or five of their most challenging pupils and how to move them forward. The emphasis is on using assessment to support pupil growth.
Overall, more emphasis is placed on teaching strategies than on content. "We are a fifth-year program, meaning that candidates come in with subject-matter content, so the focus is on pedagogy," says the program director. "However, it's very content-rich. And the fact is, both content and pedagogy are special-education specific."
The cluster of courses and field experiences required for California's Level 1 credential covers a range of critical how-tos, such as how to manage the physical structure and content of learning environments to meet pupils' behavioral and academic needs; how to work collaboratively to construct a pupil's Individualized Education Program; and how to approach relationships with paraprofessionals. The cluster also covers assessment and evaluation, methods for teaching math, technology in specialized instruction, and laws and regulations in special education.
Level 2 requirements include instructional strategies for behaviorally and emotionally disturbed students and advanced curriculum content for teaching pupils with both mild-moderate and moderate-severe disabilities.
Mentoring, Supervision, and Support
The individualized web of candidate support provided collaboratively by district and university staff is the soul of this partnership program.* Not only do these relationships provide a safety net for the candidate during the high wire act of simultaneously learning and teaching, but they enable high caliber learning experiences for pupils by bringing layers of expertise to bear in meeting pupil needs, even in remote locations.
The candidate's support team consists of CSUC-based program coordinators and supervisors and local mentors and administrators. Supervisors are university instructors who facilitate the support network in their assigned region. Each supervisor works with 10-15 mentors and roughly the same number of candidates, whom they follow throughout the four semesters. They visit candidates onsite at least five times a semester to observe, coach, model, and mentor. Between visits, they maintain phone and email contact. Besides linking with mentors, supervisors communicate and develop rapport with school principals and other district or county education administrators. Many of today's supervisors were once candidates themselves. Mentors, or local support providers, are local teachers or district staff members with at least three years of successful teaching experience. They are nominated by county or district administrators and usually work one-on-one with a candidate—matched by credential and expertise. Mentors attend training at the university, meet weekly with the candidate for the first two semesters, and work with a university supervisor. The mentor gets release time and a stipend to function as the candidate's coach, consultant, and critical friend to help reduce stress, build skills, and meet the needs of the moment.
Principals and other local administrators are also integral members of the candidate's support team. At the end of the program, the supervisor and principal must both sign off on required competencies for the candidate to receive a credential.
The program's evaluation of a candidate's readiness for the credential models the kinds of assessment the candidate is learning to conduct with his or her own pupils. The evaluation incorporates the following measures:
- a GPA of at least 3.0 must be maintained in all courses;
- artifacts from course work, including, in the candidate's portfolio, a detailed reflective journal tied to standards, as well as individualized lesson plans driven by analyses of ongoing pupil assessment data and critiqued by supervisors, mentors, and the employer;
- formative observation feedback, using a research-based format, that documents growth and skills in teaching;
- results from individual progress conferences between candidate and faculty that are held at least twice a year;
- results from conferences among supervisor, mentor, employer, and candidate that occur at critical junctures during internship placements; and
- a final evaluation of competencies made by the supervisor, employer, and related program faculty.
Each partner contributes to the program. The university provides televised or Web-based courses, regional supervision, and separate course sections for candidates. Public schools guarantee candidates 10 paid release days each year to attend classes. Grants from the CCTC and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services support partial tuition stipends, the services of support providers (mentors and candidate adviser), and program coordination and evaluation.
This program can boast an unprecedented feat: It has eliminated special education emergency credentials in its sprawling service area. Since 1990, the program has had 331 graduates, and 91 percent of them now teach in the region's schools. That rate of local retention has held steady despite the intensifying seriousness of pupil needs over time and despite the mobility afforded by a credential that qualifies one to teach at any K-12 level and across special education settings. So far, some 206,875 special education pupils have gained credentialed teachers.
The program has also had a ripple effect throughout individual schools, as veteran general education teachers—often struggling to keep up with changed standards—tap into the cutting-edge knowledge and skills brought to their sites by way of the CSU Chico-linked special education program. "I see other teachers coming by when I come to a school," says one university instructor. Administrators see this, too, and build on it to keep their sites more current. They ask candidates to do consultations and modeling with other teachers, for example, or to present at board meetings.
Key Success Factors
The partnership leaders credit five guiding principles for driving the program's success over time:
Attract candidates by raising, not lowering, standards. From the outset, the partners asserted the need to draw a different clientele—people more suited to meeting kids' needs—by raising standards for admission, university curriculum, and candidate supervision and performance. They set, and have not wavered from, twin goals of high quality and ready access.
Ensure collaborative decisions. The public schools and the university make mutual decisions. A critical step in making the program a success was gaining the support of the regional school districts for a structured, centralized program. By allocating funds for monthly teacher release days, districts agreed to give up the courses they were offering locally. But it was not a tough sell, since administrators saw hope in the new program for ending the emergency credential crisis.
Evaluate for continuous improvement. In the face of continual challenges, the program remains flexible, using evaluative data (including feedback from students and others throughout the region) to identify and solve problems. The use of data to tailor the program so that it meets candidate needs has resulted in a rising retention rate over time. One administrator emphasizes that information collected is not just quantitative. "We try to collect candidates' voices. The survey at the end of each class is not just their rating but their words and their emotions connected to this course experience. Honesty is important. We break down the objectives of the courses and ask what students are not feeling satisfied with."
Pursue high quality personnel. Program directors, instructors, supervisors, and advisers have extensive public school experience and excellent academic backgrounds. They understand highly effective teaching and the demands of a rural internship and are committed to offering stability through their roles. All involved credit the "grow-your-own" approach the program has used. In effect, it's a case of program administration modeling the kind of culture it strives to nurture in the program itself. "We have all been mentored," says one program staff member. "This program has done a remarkable job of recognizing talent in our own backyard and encouraging and supporting people to be innovative."
Pursue external funding. Annual grant writing has secured state and federal funds that have underwritten management, advisement, coordination, regional travel, program materials, support provider stipends and training, candidate stipends, and program evaluation.
*For the theoretical underpinnings of the support structure, program leaders refer to Tharp and Gallimore's Triadic Model of Assisted Performance (1988), which is based on the Kamehameha Elementary Education Program, a 15-year continuous research and development program.
Wichita Area Transition to Teaching, Wichita, Kansas
|Certification/Degree||Secondary with master's|
|Partners||Wichita State Univ. |
Wichita Public Schools
|Total Program Graduates||234|
|2004 Candidate Cohort||26|
|Candidate Demographics||65% Female|
|Program Duration||2 years|
|Cost per Candidate/Who Pays||Program with licensure $4,800|
Plus master's degree $6,400
Based, in part, on the success of the WSU-Peace Corps partnership, the Kansas State Department of Education granted approval for WSU to expand the experimental program to include non-Peace Corps candidates beginning in the summer of 1997. At that time, WSU and Wichita Public Schools (WPS) received a three-year Title II grant to develop a program for an alternative route to teacher certification and to increase the number of alternative route candidates in high-need teaching areas. In this effort lay the foundation for the Wichita Area Transition to Teaching (WATT) program, which began in 2001. That same year, in response to aerospace industry layoffs in Wichita, the city of Wichita and the Raytheon Aircraft Industry provided a grant to enhance the program.
WATT now serves some 40 Wichita-area school districts, enabling them to hire qualifying noncertified program participants to teach in content or specialty areas for which a district has had difficulty finding qualified applicants. Program candidates participate in a two-year course of study leading to full certification for teaching at the middle and high school level in the state of Kansas. The program begins with a summer preservice session and provides instruction and support to candidates while they serve as a teacher of record during the subsequent two school years. A three-year program, which results in a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, is also available.
The WATT program is managed by the Transition to Teaching Office in the College of Education at Wichita State University in collaboration with several other departments and agencies. The program, which employs a director, an assistant, and three part-time peer consultants, maintains a collaborative relationship with the school districts it serves. As one district human resources representative explains, her district needs WATT in order to fill its openings and WATT needs the district in order to place its candidates. WATT also maintains open communication channels and cooperates with the Kansas State Department of Education because licensing standards and regulations impact the requirements for the alternative certification route candidates.
Candidates come to WATT from a variety of fields. Recently, the largest number of candidates have come from business related fields. Many substitute teachers have also entered the program.
Recruitment and Selection
A key WATT objective is to recruit and place midcareer professionals and recent college graduates in high-need teaching positions. To find the best-qualified candidates, WATT has developed a rigorous selection process that begins with a transcript analysis. Applicants must have a degree in the field in which they want to teach, but an analysis of their transcript yields information about their relative mastery of the relevant content. Analysis results are used to create a "plan of study" for the candidate that lists any deficiencies in the major content area, which candidates must make up within the two-year program period. Applicants are then interviewed by the program director who determines if an applicant is qualified to be a candidate. In order to participate in the program, qualified candidates must pass the Pre- Professional Skills Test (PPST) in reading, writing, and mathematics. (Once in the program, candidates must pass the Praxis subject content test[s] at the end of their first year of teacher, and before program completion, they must pass the Principles of Learning and Teaching [PLT] test.) Finally, prior to being accepted, applicants must be admitted to Wichita State University Graduate School and have a job offer from an accredited school district.
This latter requirement is tied to the program's intent to place candidates in high-need teaching positions. WATT conducts several activities designed to help qualified candidates meet this requirement: It hosts a job fair where candidates are introduced to potential employers. The program director works to match candidates with districts that have vacancies in high-need areas. Staff have also produced a booklet on interviewing skills and they host a seminar to assist candidates with interviewing procedures. After securing a teaching position in his or her field of licensure and appropriate grade level, the applicant officially becomes a part of the WATT program.
Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy
Each candidate must successfully complete three summer courses (Creating Effective Classrooms, Introduction to the Exceptional Child, and Growth and Development) before WSU can recommend him or her to the state for the provisional certification required for the candidate to become a teacher of record and begin his or her clinical practice for the school year.
While serving as teachers of record, candidates participate in an internship course each semester. The course is a biweekly new-teacher seminar that caters to the needs of the candidates as they become immersed in the classroom. In addition to their four internship classes, during their two years of teaching, candidates take seven professional education courses: Creating Effective Classrooms, Introduction to the Exceptional Child, Theories of Growth and Development, Learning and Reading Strategies, Multicultural Education, Foundations of Education, and Curriculum Models and Processes. They are also expected to engage in university course work according to their individual plan of study, and to attend district-sponsored professional development activities as prescribed by the program and their employer district.
The Kansas State Department of Education has established 13 performance standards for all Kansas teachers, and the WATT aligns its own candidate performance standards with these state standards. The required courses within the alternative route to teacher certification program are also aligned to the state standards.
Mentoring, Supervision, and Support
The third and fourth WATT program objectives relate to ensuring that candidates receive adequate support during their two-year classroom experience. Once a candidate is hired by a school district, the program requests that the principal at the candidate's school assign a mentor. Written suggestions on how to select appropriate mentors are provided to the district and the principal of the school. In addition to having a school-based mentor, each candidate is paired with a peer consultant. WATT certification candidates receive a minimum of 10 observations with written feedback during their first year and another 10 the second year.
As noted earlier, WSU employs three part-time peer consultants to assist the WATT Director, who also serves as a peer consultant. Wichita Public Schools also employs its own peer consultants to assist with all new teachers in the district, and one of these consultants works with WATT teachers as well. It can sometimes be difficult for the WATT peer consultants to make the required number of visits to candidates who work 51 Innovations in Education: Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification across the broad geographical area served by the program. Therefore, district superintendents, principals, and mentors help with classroom observations.
WSU faculty members also support candidates through the weekly internship classes. Additionally, the program makes use of video conferences for face-to-face communication throughout the week for candidates in remote areas of the state.
The fourth and fifth program objectives relate to ensuring that a high percentage of WATT candidates will be successful during their first- and second-year teaching experiences. In cooperation with WSU's Office of Student Support Services, the program monitors the successful completion of clinical practice for all alternative route candidates. The hiring district, the university or district mentor, and the WATT director monitor candidates and provide evaluation-based support throughout the program. Candidates applying for exit from the program must complete an application and submit supporting documentation at the end of the second year of teaching. By this time, candidates will have been evaluated using the Teacher Work Sample (TWS), Administrator Performance Evaluation, Mentor Observation Assessment, the district contract renewal process, faculty assessment, and self-reflections. The WATT director reviews the applications and a certification clerk within WSU's College of Education completes a certification audit. Candidates must also pass the Principles of Learning and Teaching test at the conclusion of the program before final licensure.
The initial partnership between WSP and the Peace Corps was funded by a grant from DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation. The WATT program also benefited from a 2001 U.S. Department of Education grant of $700,000 awarded under Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as well as from local business funding.
The tuition cost for the two-year WATT program is $4,800, plus books and test fees. (The PPST test costs about $130. Praxis content area tests are about $80 each, and the Principals of Teaching and Learning test costs about $100). A master's degree, which includes licensure, requires 10 additional hours. Therefore the three-year program will cost approximately $6,400, plus tests and books.
Since 1992, 259 candidates have completed the WATT program (including the 41 Peace Corps fellows who participated in its first incarnation). Over the years, the program has had a 90 percent completion rate, and 85 percent of the candidates who have completed the program since 1992 have remained in education. The WATT director also reports that over 95 percent of WATT teachers are placed in high-need teaching positions based on requests from participating districts.
Both anecdotal and quantitative data point to WATT's success in meeting its objective of developing "competent, caring teachers." On the anecdotal side, school administrators who work with WATT teachers describe them as assets, praising their maturity and overall involvement in school and community activities. WATT has also received reports that its teachers share new ideas and teaching tips with veteran teachers. Districts that employ a teacher prepared in this program tend to ask for additional WATT teachers when vacancies occur.
Some empirical data also indicate program success. A majority of all WATT teachers received "proficient" or "distinguished" final ratings from their peer consultants on each of the components included on the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development's Professional Practices scale used to assess levels of performance in planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities.
Key Success Factors
Alternative route candidates cite as a significant program strength the opportunity to spend most of the two-year program in the classroom teaching. They also acknowledge that the salary and benefits attached to being a teacher of record is an important factor.
Program staff believe the job fair also contributes to candidate success. In 2002, the WATT produced its fair for 36 school districts and placed 53 new teachers in accredited schools for the 2002-2003 fall and midterm, exceeding the program goal of recruiting 50 new teachers.
Overall, the success of the WATT program lies in using the cohort model, its choice of class offerings, the availability of evening and weekend classes (e.g., the internship courses are offered every other Saturday during the two years), and the level of personal attention and support provided to its teacher candidates.
While the WATT program has already achieved success, program staff point to trends that may further strengthen the program over time. A recently designed statewide Transition to Teaching Program has brought the state face-to-face with the challenges of implementing an alternative route to licensure. As more students enter the state program and as more institutions participate in the preparation of alternative candidates, it will likely bring about some changes in state regulations that guide this delivery model. Strong communication between participating institutions and school districts, collection of data, and continued statewide assessment of alternative route candidate performance will provide a foundation for the state of Kansas to effectively align and evaluate education performance standards with alternative route programs.
The development of this guide was initiated and directed by Nina S. Rees, assistant deputy secretary in the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. Sharon Horn was project director.
An external advisory panel provided feedback to refine the study scope and prioritize issues to investigate. Members included Vicki Bernstein, New York City Teaching Fellows; Emily Feistritzer, National Center for Alternative Certification; Meryl Kettler, Regional XIII, Texas; Joan Baratz-Snowden, American Federation of Teachers; Cyndy Stephens, Georgia Professional Standards Commission; and Ken Zeichner, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Staff in the Department of Education who provided input and reviewed drafts include Tom Corwin, John Gibbons, Margaret West Guenther, Thelma Leenhouts, Dan Madzelan, Meredith Miller, Michael Petrilli, Phil Rosenfelt, and William Wooten.
This guide was written, designed, and based on a report by WestEd.
WestEd is a nonprofit research, development, and service agency committed to improving learning at all stages of life, both in school and out. WestEd has offices across the United States and also serves as one of the nation's ten regional educational laboratories.
WestEd's partner in developing this series of research reports and innovation guides is Edvance. Created by the American Productivity and Quality Center, Edvance is a resource for process and performance improvement with a focus on benchmarking, knowledge management, performance measurement, and quality improvement initiatives in education.
The six programs cooperating in the development of this guide and the report from which it is drawn were generous with both their time and attention to the project. We would like to thank the district superintendents and the many district staff members who were instrumental in coordinating and participating in the site visits that inform the report and this guide.
Alternative Certification Program School District of Hillsborough County 901 East Kennedy Blvd. Tampa, FL 33602 http://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/ Cathy Jones Program Director
Region XIII Educator Certification Program 5701 Springdale Rd. Austin, TX 78723 http://kids.esc13.net/ Becky Washington Senior Coordinator
Metro RESA Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program 1870 Teasley Drive Smyrna, GA 30080 http://www.mresa.org/ Phyllis S. Payne Coordinator of Alternative Programs
Northwest RESA Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program 3167 Cedartown Highway SE Rome, GA 30161 http://www.nwgaresa.com/ Betsy Dellenback Linda Segars Coordinators
New York City Teaching Fellows Program New York City Department of Education 65 Court Street, Room 322 Brooklyn, NY 11201 http://www.nycteachingfellows.org/ Vicki Bernstein Director of Alternative Certification
Northeastern California Partnership for Special Education California State University, Chico Special Education Programs Chico, CA 95929-0465 Lisa Churchill Michelle Cepello Co-Directors
Wichita Area Transition to Teaching Wichita State University College of Education 201 Corbin Education Center 1845 N. Fairmount Wichita, KS 67260-0028 http://webs.wichita.edu/?u=altcert Judith Hayes Director
WestEd 730 Harrison Street San Francisco, CA 94107 http://www.WestEd.org/ Glen Harvey Chief Executive Officer Nikola Filby Associate Director, Regional Laboratory Program
Edvance 123 Post Oak Lane, Floor 3 Houston, TX 77024 http://www.edvance.org/ C. Jackson Grayson Jr. Chief Executive Officer Kristin Arnold Project Director
APPENDIX A: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
The project methodology is an adaptation of the four-phase benchmarking process used by the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC),* including case descriptions of individual alternative route teacher preparation programs and a cross-site analysis of key findings. While classic benchmarking looks for best or promising practices, using quantitative measures and comparisons among organizations, alternative route programs are too new to fully support this methodology. A brief description of this project's adapted methodology follows.
First, a conceptual framework was developed from an analysis of research on teacher preparation, including alternative route programs. Experts in teacher preparation and alternative route programs were recruited to serve on an external advisory panel, which provided feedback to refine the framework and prioritize issues to investigate. The resulting study scope guided all aspects of the study (see figure 2 on page 5).
Site selection was a multistep process to ensure that the guide would feature an array of practices covering the elements of the framework and would represent a variety of geographic locations and contexts with which district administrators could identify. A list of possible sites was compiled through primary and secondary research conducted by Edvance, the education nonprofit created by APQC, and by WestEd and the expert advisory panel. All had some promising practices in place, required that candidates enter the program with at least a bachelor's degree, and had candidates work as the teacher of record as part of the program.
To narrow the selection, a screening template was developed to systematically analyze the weighted criteria for site selection identified by the advisers. The factors considered were whether the program had an operational track record beyond three years, was designed to meet local needs, gave credit to applicants with previous experience and skills, was field-based, appointed mentors to support candidates, tracked program retention and completion, and monitored student and teacher demographics. Multiple points were possible on each of these factors.
The template was completed for sixteen programs for which data were available based on public documents, such as program marketing materials, reports, and program Web sites, supplemented with targeted phone interviews with program staff. The six programs that were selected had relatively high ratings on the template. In addition, selection balanced different types of programs (e.g. district-based, regional, university partnerships), and geographic locations.
Collecting detailed descriptive information from program staff, partners, and participants was key to understanding the program's practices, the outcomes or impact achieved, and lessons learned from which others could benefit. The major steps to this phase were finalizing the site visit interview guide based on the study scope, and arranging and conducting program visits to the programs.
Each of the six sites hosted a two-day site visit that included interviews with administrators, program participants, and partners as well as observation of events if scheduling permitted. During the site visits, these key personnel were asked questions from the site visit discussion guide tailored to their role group. In addition, artifacts from the sites, such as applications, planning tools, and interview protocols, were collected to provide concrete examples of program practices. The study team collated the information collected during the site visits and developed a case study for each site.
Analyze and Report
The project team analyzed all collected data to understand the promising practices uncovered throughout the benchmarking project, both within and across programs. Four key findings discussed in the final report emerged from the cross-site analysis.
Two products resulted from this research: a report of the findings and this practitioner's guide. The report provides an analysis of key findings across sites, a detailed description of each site, a collection of artifacts, and key project documents. The practitioner's guide is a summary of the report intended for broad distribution.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement, Innovations in Education: Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification, Washington, D.C., 2004.
The promise charter schools hold for public school innovation and reform lies in an unprecedented combination of freedom and accountability. Underwritten with public funds but run independently, charter schools are free from a range of state laws and district policies stipulating what and how they teach, where they can spend their money, and who they can hire and fire. In return, they are held strictly accountable for their academic and financial performance. To represent what such flexibility and accountability look like in practice, this guide provides a glimpse into the inner workings of eight American charter schools whose freedom to experiment is raising the level of student learning.
Free to experiment how? To lengthen the school day, mix grades, require dress codes, put teachers on their school boards, double up instruction in core subject areas like math or reading, make parents genuine partners in family-style school cultures, adopt any instructional practice that will help achieve their missions- free, in short, to do whatever it takes to build the skills, knowledge, and character traits their students need to succeed in today's world.
By allowing citizens to start new public schools with this kind of autonomy, making them available tuition-free to any student, and holding them accountable for results and family satisfaction, proponents hope that this new mix of choice and accountability will not only provide students stronger learning programs than local alternatives, but will also stimulate improvement of the existing public education system. With charter schools, it is accountability that makes freedom promising. No charter is permanent; it must be renewed-or revoked-at regular intervals. Continued funding, which is tied to student enrollment, also depends on educational results. "Deliver a quality product," as Finn et al. put it, "or you won't have students." 1
In this guide we take a look at what contributes to a "quality product" as well as how eight particular charter schools (see figure 1) help their students achieve success.
The first charter school legislation was passed in Minnesota in 1991, and as of January 2004, there were 2,996 charter schools operating in the United States.2 Across 40 states and the District of Columbia, about 750,000 students take part in this form of public education under varying charter laws.3
Parents choose to enroll their children in charter schools, usually entering a lottery for selection when schools are oversubscribed. The schools are free to determine their own governing structures, which include parents and teachers as active members. In all these configurations, autonomy gives charter schools the flexibility to allocate their budgets; hire staff; and create educational programs with curriculum, pedagogy, organizational structures, and ways of involving parents and community members that may not be typical of their neighboring schools. In this way charter schools can serve as laboratories, developing new educational practices that can be later replicated on a broader scale. This freedom to experiment is one reason charter schools have been called "education's best hope." 4
What does this promise look like in action? For this guide, a number of charter schools that are considered successful were carefully examined. The schools were selected first on the basis of student performance: They met 2003 Adequate Yearly Progress goals for their states and demonstrated three years of student achievement growth on standardized tests. They were also selected to represent a range of school types, serving differing student populations and various grade configurations. From over 250 schools nominated, many demonstrated that they were doing an excellent job of educating urban students who have been largely underserved in traditional public schools. A second set of charter schools seem to be meeting the demands of parents in more affluent communities who want an alternative to the local public school program. Very small schools-charter schools in rural areas, virtual technology schools, and home-schooling charter schools-were generally not eligible for consideration in this report because their size made it difficult to meet the testing criteria for participation. Ultimately, eight schools were selected for site visits. While not intended to represent "the best" charter schools in the country, they do provide a window into how autonomy, flexibility, and accountability can work to transform public education. Each school visit took place over one or two days, with observers visiting classes, collecting artifacts that represented aspects of the school's program, and interviewing parents, students, teachers, board members, administrators, and district liaisons. At each school, a set of questions guided the observations and interviews (see figure 2).
Figure 1. Demographics of Profiled Charter Schools
Figure 2. Framework for Site Analysis
Is the school's mission clear, concise, and achievable?
Can the whole school community articulate the school's mission, expectations of students and faculty, the school's educational program, and the school's values?
In what ways does the school's mission guide educational practice and improvement over time?
II. School Operations and Educational Program
What is innovative about the school's structure and programs?
How does the school meet the needs of its student population?
How is the school using data to influence the curriculum, the instructional program, interventions for students, and improvements in the program over time?
How has the school built organizational capacity, including professional development for staff?
How has the school achieved and maintained financial stability?
How does the school ensure that all stakeholders have shared expectations?
How does the school attract parents and respond to their input?
What community partnerships contribute to the school's success?
IV. Chartering and Accountability
Why did the school go the chartering route?
What is the school's relationship with the chartering agency?
What is the school's comprehensive accountability plan?
How do the conditions of chartering (flexibility, accountability, and choice) influence the school's operations and its success?
Among the eight schools represented in this guide, three consider themselves middle schools, one is a comprehensive K-12 school, one is 5-12, another is K-8, and two are elementary schools, one of which includes a preschool program. Student enrollment ranges from 182 at a middle school to 850 at an elementary school. At three of the schools, more than 80 percent of the students qualify for subsidized meals; at three other schools, the percentage is about 20 or less. Three of the schools are chartered by their state, four hold a charter from the local district, and one is chartered by a special chartering authority. The oldest of these schools has been in existence for 10 years; most are five or six years old. Programs vary from college prep to project-based learning, from an arts emphasis to bilingual education. Several programs feature non-violence or character education. Part II presents a concrete portrait of each school, a snapshot seeking to capture the particular ambience of the school culture, its distinctive mission and instructional program, and how it has gone about creating a learning community for its particular school population.
As remarkably diverse as these schools are, they share certain fundamental qualities, core features that seem to be at the heart of the charter process. Part I of the guide highlights those necessary elements of creating an effective charter school.
PART I: ELEMENTS OF EFFECTIVE CHARTER SCHOOLS
All charter schools are someone's creation. A visionary or, more likely, a group of people sees a need or opportunity and decides to start a school. To be effective, a charter school begins with a mission and stays mission-driven: Everyone associated with the school knows what it stands for and believes in its vision. Each school engages parents as real, not nominal, partners. Each school fosters a culture that is highly collegial and focused on continuous improvement. And each effective charter school has a strong accountability system, not just to please its authorizers but also its "clients," the parents.
Getting a Good Start
Who starts charter schools? Thoughtful community members, concerned parents, dedicated teachers, university educators, and political and business people are among those who have come together to create charter schools. KIPP Academy Houston was started by two former Teach For America teachers using two classrooms within a pre-existing public school. The BASIS School in Tucson was started by a husband and wife team of college educators. Roxbury Prep in Boston, the School of Arts and Sciences in Tallahassee, and Community of Peace Academy in St. Paul, were launched by educators with a vision for an academic alternative to the public schools in their local communities. Others such as Oglethorpe Charter School in Savannah, and the Arts and Technology Academy in Washington, D.C., were developed by groups of parents working together with community members on a grassroots level.
As new public schools, they all experienced immense start-up challenges, including developing the mission and vision for the school, thinking through every facet of the school program, writing the charter, hiring staff, making decisions about curriculum, and securing the building and funds needed to open. One comment resurfaced at each school: They could never have anticipated how much hard work would be involved and how many decisions they would have to make to create the systems to start a charter school.
Some charter schools begin from scratch; others are conversions from pre-existing public schools. Some handle every aspect of running a school-from curriculum to accounting. Others contract out administrative and business functions. Education management companies can provide charter schools with an operational structure and a curriculum model. For example, Mosaica Education, Inc., contracts with 24 charter schools nationally, including the Arts and Technology Academy, to provide the company's education model as well as central office functions (see figure 3). The Core Knowledge Foundation contracts with the Oglethorpe Charter School, providing curriculum and teacher training. Other charter schools such as KIPP Academy Houston are part of a network of schools that ascribe to a particular school organizational model. The KIPP, Inc., national office helps to support the training of principals and the replication of new KIPP charter schools around the country. But however a charter school originates, each starts with a clear mission, a unifying vision of what the founders want students to know and be able to do, and why.
Leading with a Mission
At the heart of each charter school is a well-conceived and powerful mission, a shared educational philosophy that guides decision-making at every level. The spirit of the mission appears in slogans on hall placards, banners, and T-shirts and resounds in chants, assemblies, and informal conversations. During site visits and interviews for this guide, parents, teachers, students, and board members easily articulated their school's mission, demonstrating the basic condition that they all begin on the same page.
In some schools, the mission is to prepare low-income, urban students for higher education, students, for example, who enroll with below-grade-level skills and aspire to be the first members of their families to attend college. Such a mission led Roxbury Prep to structure the school day so that every student takes two periods of reading and two of math. Awareness of the school's daunting challenges drives a highly rigorous academic program. Other schools may develop a mission focusing on the needs of the whole child. The Community of Peace Academy, for example, strives to "educate the whole person, mind, body and will for peace, justice, freedom, compassion, wholeness and fullness of life." This means helping students grow not just academically, but emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Founders of the School of Arts and Sciences spent a year researching and designing a school grounded in developmental theory and dedicated to learning by doing. Their mission, centering on the belief that kids are naturally curious, seeks to foster students' self-directed learning, with a strong emphasis on the arts.
Visits to classrooms in these charter schools found students engaged, on task, and learning. A strong, clearly articulated purpose focuses the work, creates a pervasive positive spirit, and promotes consistent expectations from class to class. Teachers are deeply aware that they are creating change, both for their students and also within the larger public school system. At a mission-driven school, it is easier to focus on what will enable students to reach the school's goals and objectives. A clear vision also makes it obvious when teachers are not in sync with the school program and empowers administrators and governing boards to hold the staff accountable. Above all else, the mission serves to inspire and motivate the teachers, parents, and students to make the necessary effort to assure that their school will thrive.
Innovating Across the School Program
In effective charter schools, the mission drives every aspect of the school program, and in each case the school program reflects the school's freedom to experiment, to be creative in terms of organization, scheduling, curriculum, and instruction. "The way we are going about closing the achievement gap for our kids," said Roxbury Prep's principal, "simply would not be possible under the present confines of the public school system." The schools are infused with the spirit of innovation. At one charter school, innovation takes the shape of a longer school day; at another, it is in the teaching pedagogy or scheduling configuration. While such practices may have been developed and tried in other places across the country, the novel ways charter schools can put them together often results in a school culture and operational structure quite different from those in neighboring schools.
Figure 3: Mosaica and the Arts and Technology Academy
Not all charter schools want to start from scratch. One option for charter schools is to contract out services such as accounting and other central office functions to "education management organizations." In addition, these management organizations can provide charter schools with an operational structure and curriculum model. Such are the arrangements in place between the Arts and Technology Academy in the District of Columbia and Mosaica Education, Inc., which has relationships with 24 charter schools nationally.
The Arts and Technology Academy (ATA) operates as an LEA with a budget of just over $5,320,000 (2001-02). The school pays Mosaica an annual fee of $610,000 to provide central office management functions and the Mosaica Educational Model. Aspects of this model in place at ATA include the extended school day and calendar year, a commitment to student and teacher facility with technology, foreign language instruction beginning in kindergarten, and Mosaica's interdisciplinary Paragon "world ideas" social studies curriculum, which complements ATA's and Mosaica's focus on the arts. Direct Instruction in reading and mathematics are also a Mosaica feature adopted by ATA. In addition to all that ATA has implemented from the Mosaica model, the school has negotiated variations from the model as well. For example, when a new principal came to ATA, he asked the school board to add the 100 Book Challenge to the school's reading program, to balance the existing skills focus with more literature. The board president and principal noted both a "healthy tension" between ATA and its management company and the importance of a strong board for negotiations.
Mission-Responsive Curriculum and Pedagogy
At the School of Arts and Sciences in Tallahassee, curriculum and instruction are responsive to the developmental approach to learning called for in the school's mission. The program features thematic, interdisciplinary instruction, project-based learning, and portfolios in place of grades. The rubric in figure 4, used for self-reflection and program monitoring, shows how the school defines this approach. In St. Paul, responsive to its mission in a gang-infested neighborhood, the Community of Peace Academy has created a whole co-curriculum, in and outside of class, focused on peace building and fostering justice and a non-violent lifestyle.
With a mission to challenge their students academically, KIPP Academy Houston and the BASIS School, in Tucson provide accelerated curricula (see figure 5). Some schools, like Roxbury Prep and the School of Arts and Sciences, develop their own curricula and do not typically use textbooks. Other schools have adopted external models such as the Advanced Placement curriculum taught at BASIS, the Core Knowledge curriculum used at Oglethorpe, and the Paragon curriculum and direct instruction model at the Arts and Technology Academy.
Figure 4. The School of Arts and Sciences Thematic Instruction Rubric
Stage 2 - Thematic, Multi-Age Classroom
In addition to Stage 1 components
Environment Curriculum Expectations Indicators
The prepared environment is aesthetically pleasing (calming colors & music), neat, and orderly. There is a calm, relaxing atmosphere. The learning process reflexts a triangle flow of information between teacher, student, and environment. Hands-on skill lessons are laid out in a progression so that students can start at their own level and progress. Students work independently. They show respect for the materials and handle them appropriately. Teachers set their Professional Development Goals driven by student data.
Classroom materials are student-centered. The teacher’s personal resources are located at home or other designated storage areas to make room for student materials. Developmental checklists assist teachers in tracking student development and planning for instruction. Students are taking charge of their learning. Students progress in academic skills, as well as projects, performances, and productions. Scores on classroom assignments & FCAT reflect their growth.
The environment is clean, uncluttered, and ordered to encourage motivation, concentration, and independence. Themes continue to be an integral part of the curriculum, culminating in whole school programs or festivals. Students make books centered on themes they study. Students take initiative to research topics, work on projects, and develop presentations. Students are learning how to set goals and follow through. They maintain daily job charts, wallets, or learning tickets.
The schedule allows the class to have an uninterrupted work time every day. Special area subjects are fully integrated into the classroom themes when possible. Students are engaged in their work and treat each other well. They continue to work on the Life Skills. Students produce beautiful portfolios based on the 8 Intelligences. Self-evaluation is part of the process.
Students understand all procedures and ways of work. Teachers use student assessment data to plan instruction. Inter-cluster and intracluster collaboration is happening between teachers. The whole class is focused on learning and hums with productivity. Students work individually, paired, or in small groups more often than whole class instruction.
Many schools incorporate project-based learning and internships for older students to develop connections between classroom learning and real world professions. At BASIS, the last two weeks of the school year are devoted to project-based learning. For example, some students developed and produced an opera as part of the Metropolitan Opera Project, while other students went to Mexico to visit a marine biology lab. Each Friday, middle school students at the School of Arts and Sciences work with science professionals in the community. Among their many projects, students have worked on DNA studies, animal studies, robotic programming, and electron conduction studies with university researchers, veterinarians, and engineering scientists. As part of their science class, students conducted an archeology project for Cornell University, and while sifting through sediment from a site, discovered the wing of a pre-historic beetle. Their findings became part of a research study.
Figure 5. BASIS Course Requirements
Course and Graduation Requirements List BASIS High School 2003/04
Course Group Course Requirements
Grade offered Credit AP Exam
AP English Language & Composition
9 & 10
AP English Literature
With Algebra I and Algebra II
Political Science & Philosophy
Not offered in 2003/04
AP World History
Not offered in 2003/04
AP European History
AP U.S. History
Foreign Language I
Foreign Language II
Foreign Language III
AP Foreign Language
AP Computer Science
Enrollment in a minimum of 7 courses/year is required for students in grades 9-11
BASIS does not award 1/2 credits for completing a single term of a two-term course at BASIS
*2003/04 11th grade students are not required to take AP test in Statistics or Calculus
In many of these charter schools, student motivation is enhanced by providing an element of choice within the curriculum. At Oglethorpe Charter School, students pick electives and clubs for Friday activities. At the School of Arts and Sciences, students organize their own progress through a set of assigned math activities or writing exercises. Likewise, the topics of their project work represent personal choices, related to a class or school theme. At Community of Peace Academy, students using the Accelerated Reader program select the books they will read in class based on their improvement and reading level. At the BASIS School, students can choose to take a full menu of Advanced Placement classes and graduate after 11th grade.
Flexible Structure and Operations
In schools driven by a mission, structure should be at the service of function. The flexibility afforded charter schools allows them to carry out their missions in many different ways. Some schools use a traditional model with 50-minute classes, while others use a block schedule with 80- or 90-minute classes. Some use a combination. The structure depends on what the school is trying to accomplish-whether, for example, to expose students to a full liberal arts curriculum or to focus on particular areas or allow for extended projects. At the School of Arts and Sciences, a developmental approach is supported with multi-grade classrooms and allowing students to progress on a developmental timetable. A lead teacher and an assistant teacher work across three grade levels in each classroom.
Because many charter schools have an extremely ambitious mission, they provide a longer school day than their local counterparts. At the Arts and Technology Academy, children attend school one hour a day longer and 20 days more a year than the regular District of Columbia schools. The added time can be calculated as three extra years of schooling by the time children reach high school. At KIPP Academy Houston, students are in school from 7:25 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon, with Saturday school required twice each month.
Behind the scenes, administrators at these schools have created program schedules to support teacher collaboration. Shared meeting time for teams of teachers during the school day gives them the opportunity to plan, develop curriculum, discuss student issues, and conference with families. Special Friday schedules at Roxbury Prep allow teachers a weekly three-hour block for professional development. Afternoon teacher meetings are a weekly feature at the BASIS School, as well.
Each charter school has the autonomy to hire staff that fit its program. Gates, for example, hires teachers with specialized certification to work with English language learners. The school also hires a number of part-time teachers to reduce group sizes during core academic instruction and created a position for a teacher leader to oversee the school's complex array of programs. BASIS looks for teachers with strong academic backgrounds, but not necessarily teaching credentials, to teach their advanced courses. KIPP and Roxbury Prep look for young teachers with lots of energy. Roxbury Prep plans its program in anticipation of frequent teacher turnover; other schools, like Community of Peace, have stable faculties that have evolved the school's program over time.
One of the striking characteristics of these schools is their ability to provide a high teacher to student ratio. At Community of Peace Academy, there is one teacher per 16 students in the kindergarten and first grade. Elementary grades at the School of Arts and Sciences have two teachers, a lead teacher and an associate teacher for each multi-age classroom. Many of the schools have staff specialists, such as a school nurse, social worker, or counselor; high school or college placement director; parent liaison-translator; special education resource specialist; and librarian. Student needs and priorities determine the staffing and resource allocation.
In all cases, school leaders and staff agree that teachers need to buy into the program or find another home. At the Arts and Technology Academy, for example, turnover was high after the first year with a new principal, when the faculty came together around a vision and expectations increased. Staff not enthusiastic about the school's new demands were encouraged to leave, and 21 of the 41 teachers and instructional assistants did so. The following year, turnover was much lower.
Supportive School Environment
Common to these charter schools is a sense that school cares for each student as a family does for its children. At the School of Arts and Sciences, teachers work with the same students for two or more years in a row. This "looping" gives teachers more time to develop strong relationships with students and families and to understand and meet students' educational needs. At Oglethorpe Charter School, an individual "Personal Education Plan" is developed for all students to help monitor their progress toward achieving subject area objectives. There is a widely shared sense that students have specific needs and may require different levels of support in their learning. The focus at the School of Arts and Sciences on individual learning needs has attracted many students whose previous education experiences featured the highly individualized approaches of home schooling.
Students in these relatively small schools are taught to help and support one another. At KIPP Academy Houston, one of the school mantras posted in every classroom reads, "If a teammate needs help, we give. If we need help, we ask. Work Hard. Be Nice. Team always beats individual." At Community of Peace Academy, students are trained to become "Peace Builders," actively working to create a non-violent community based on trust and acceptance. Teachers make time for proactive classroom discussions about character and responsibility, coaching students to make thoughtful, caring decisions. As one parent said, "Community of Peace works because the teachers create a peaceful environment where the children feel secure and comfortable to learn. The teachers really care about the children." The tone in these charter schools is one of acceptance. For example, students at the School of Arts and Sciences are encouraged to express their creativity, knowing that their individuality will be supported, not teased. Several schools bring everyone together for Friday community meetings, singing together, giving theatrical presentations, and recognizing student achievements and contributions to help create a positive tone schoolwide.
Even in neighborhoods known for rough public schools, these charter schools are peaceful and safe, without violence or disruption among the students. Every school has developed strong expectations for student behavior and systems to help students to do their best. Most of these schools have a dress code or require uniforms. The School of Arts and Sciences is a notable exception, where students are free to wear blue hair and capes if they please. Student incentive programs at KIPP Academy (see figure 6) and Roxbury Prep keep students focused on being prepared for class and modeling excellent citizenship. At Oglethorpe, students must earn the privilege of clubs and extracurricular activities by keeping their grades up.
To be sure that no student "falls through the cracks," support for students extends from providing for their social and emotional well-being to providing systems for students who struggle academically. At Roxbury Prep, if students are not doing well in an academic class, or need help to master a concept, teachers will pull them for a tutorial during gym or elective periods. Several schools have "homework hotlines." Oglethorpe created a special class for five students at risk of failing the sixth grade, allowing them the opportunity to accelerate their learning and join the seventh grade mid-year. At BASIS, if students do not pass comprehensive exams in academic subjects, they are offered summer school courses to prepare them to retake the test at the end of the summer. At KIPP Academy Houston, students who have not completed their assignments are required to attend "Wall Street," staying after school, often late into the evening, until the work is finished. Such measures help these schools maintain their high expectations; parents are supportive and students recognize that they are learning to take responsibility for themselves.
Figure 6. KIPP Student Incentive System (Excerpt)
Promoting a Community of Continuous Learning
Commitment to a vision, an innovative spirit, and strict accountability all work to create learning communities in these schools, cultures of continuous improvement.
In most charter schools, the whole accountability process, from end-of-term comprehensive exams, to weekly teacher sessions sharing student work, is used to steadily improve teaching and learning. Yearly analysis of progress, taking a hard look at what's working well and what isn't, becomes the basis for a schoolwide improvement plan with new goals for the coming year. Schools give constant attention to refining curriculum and instruction, using student data to make instructional changes. If an analysis of math scores reveals a problem, steps are taken to solve it, whether through professional development, adopting a more effective program, or focused attention to specific areas of the curriculum.
At Roxbury Prep, faculty engage in a rigorous process of self-reflection, analyzing curriculum and student performance down to the level of the questions on comprehensive exams. Students at BASIS participate in a highly articulated examination process, taking midyear "preliminary" exams in all core subjects followed by "must-pass" year-end exams. Students at Gates are regrouped for reading and math based on tests given every four or five weeks. The Community of Peace Academy hired an outside evaluator to help them assess their overall program. At Oglethorpe Charter School, teachers explicitly reflect on their own learning, with each annually submitting a professional portfolio to the school's board of directors. At the BASIS School, a teacher's pay is partially determined by "performance bonuses" tied to achieving learning goals.
Professional development at these charter schools is driven by school goals. For example, when the Community of Peace staff learned that their students needed better preparation in reading and writing, the school hired a full-time curriculum specialist to support teachers to improve their instruction. When an evaluation showed that the school's approach to English as a Second Language (ESL) needed strengthening, the school made it possible for every team of teachers to work with an ESL specialist, weekly, to help modify assignments and assessments and scaffold learning to accommodate students struggling with a new language or learning disabilities.
At the same time, schools allow for informal, collegial professional development. Across the schools, teachers are provided time during the week for planning and meeting together. During Roxbury's regular Friday afternoon "Inquiry Groups," teachers share problems, analyze student work, reflect on practice, and agree to try new ideas.
Charter autonomy is itself a help in fostering a culture of improvement, by giving schools the flexibility to act quickly to identify areas of concern, make programmatic decisions, and put them into action. As one teacher said, "I see change happen here when we need it." It is control over budget, staffing, and curriculum that allows charter schools' internal accountability systems to work so effectively.
Most of the charter schools visited provide teachers with additional professional development and planning time throughout the year. Some also have summer sessions during which staff build ownership of the school's mission and vision, developing the systems and curriculum that will create the unique culture of the school.
Charter schools attract teachers who strongly share the school's mission and are willing to go the extra mile to achieve it. At Community of Peace Academy, Principal Karen Rusthoven seeks adults who personally live the philosophy of the school and understand the importance of a healthy balance of the whole person, mind, body, and will. Her teachers love the school so much that many have served there for five years and more, a long time in the universe of charter schools, where most are themselves less than five years old. Other schools have a harder time retaining teachers. As dedicated as the young teachers are who come to Roxbury Prep, the work load is grueling. Comparing it to the intensity experienced by recent college graduates at high-powered management consulting firms, the school's co-directors recognize that their young teachers, who "come early and stay late," cannot be expected to remain for years and years. To compensate for the expertise that leaves with each departing teacher, the school has developed systems to retain evolving curriculum knowledge, storing it in school databases and passing it on from one teacher to the next. The KIPP Academy mantra, "There are no shortcuts," applies to staff as well as students. Teachers work hard, long hours, starting their day at 7:00 and teaching until 5:00; they are also on call in the evening to field student and parent phone calls and to teach Saturday school twice a month.
Teachers at charter schools are not in it for the money. They are not earning overtime for their long days. Staff compensation at these schools is usually the same as in the local school districts. In some cases it is less.
In all of these schools, parents rave about the teachers' commitment to the students, their availability and openness for communication, and their dedication. The challenge is how to support staff who are working so hard to make a school successful. Many teachers say that collegiality with their teammates, the partnership with parents, the climate of support from administrators and board members, and even the opportunity to serve on their school board provide a boost in morale that makes it possible to engage in such all-consuming work.
Partnering With Parents and the Community
At each of these schools, the culture forged around a shared educational vision creates a strong sense of community. Parents choose to send their children, and students know why they are there. The schools tend to be small, which itself allows an intimacy and face-to-face recognition not possible in larger schools. But their family-like feel is intentional, part of the school design. As one teacher explained, "We see the whole school as an extended family." Teachers reach out to create a connection between home and school environments. At Community of Peace Academy, teachers begin the school year with home visits to meet the families and learn about students' home environments. Parents repeatedly commented that they appreciate how frequently teachers communicate with families. Every teacher at KIPP Academy Houston is accessible by cell phone, taking calls until 8:30 at night from students and parents. The sense of shared commitment by parents and staff is formalized in most of these schools in a signed compact like that of the Community of Peace Academy shown in figure 7.
The fact that students are never assigned to a charter school, but are there as a conscious choice, helps create a voluntary civic community.6 In the schools visited for this guide, the tremendous commitment on the part of the teachers, parents, community members, administrators, and students was palpable. For some, the creation and development of their school community has involved unexpected challenges, including political conflicts, facility nightmares, and funding struggles, to name a few. But with the generosity of community partners, who have donated everything from office space and auditorium facilities to new reading programs and a music teacher, who have served on the schools' boards and mobilized parents, these charter schools have become part of the fiber of the local communities that they serve.
Figure 7. Community of Peace Parent Compact
Community of Peace Academy
The School Will
Teach and model a non-violent lifestyle.
Treat parents with care and respect.
Provide a Family Handbook in English and Hmong.
Visit the home of each parent in the fall of each school year.
Return phone calls in a timely manner.
Meet with parents upon request.
Conduct Parent/Mentor/Teacher/Student Conferences in August, November, and March.
Provide Parent/Mentor Nights at least semi-monthly.
Provide a Home/School Liaison to assist parents/mentors.
Translate important information into the Hmong language.
Provide child care and interpreters for conferences and meetings.
Provide transportation to important meetings and conferences as needed.
Provide a monthly calendar and newsletter for all parents.
The Parent/Mentor Will
Teach and model a non-violent lifestyle.
Treat school staff with care and respect.
Read the Family Handbook and High School Handbook and support the philosophy and policies therein.
See that the child is in school and on time every day.
See that the school has accurate emergency numbers, phone numbers, and addresses for the parent/mentor at all
Attend Parent/Mentor Registration Night and all scheduled conferences and meetings concerning their child, or call the school prior to the meeting if not able to attend.
Return phone calls and answer requests for meetings and conferences in a timely manner.
Return important school documents in a timely manner.
Support the community as able by attending Parent Nights, volunteering, and attending school events.
Names and grad levels of children attending Community of Peace Academy
BY SIGNING THIS FORM YOU BECOME AN OFFICIAL MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY OF
Parent involvement is widely recognized as a benefit to children and schools, and these charter schools engage parents as authentic partners at many different levels. Parents at Roxbury Prep, KIPP, and BASIS formally agree to support their children through these schools' very demanding academic requirements. At Oglethorpe, parents sign a contract to provide 20 service hours annually (see figure 8). Parents were often visible at these schools, helping in classrooms, supervising student activities, and organizing school programs. At all these schools, parents serve on governing boards of directors, making policy decisions that shape the schools' operations and futures.
Figure 8: Oglethorpe Parent Volunteer Options
How Do You Earn Volunteer Hours?
Parent volunteers are a critical component of our program at Oglethorpe Academy. In fact, all parents at Oglethorpe sign a contract agreeing to serve the school for 10 hours (if single) or 20 hours (couples).
We provide many activities for which you may "earn" hours:
Attending day-time school events and field trips
Extra-curricular parent-planned dances and parties
Preparing food for special school events
Attending school functions (athletics, concerts)
Saturday workdays to spruce up our facilities
Working in the media center
Assisting with health screenings
Acting as a team coach or coordinator
Leading a club
Working from home: collecting box tops, pop tops, completing character assignments, doing research, etc.
Participating in committee work
Serving on the Governing Board
Parents are provided with a quarterly "report card" (sample attached) so that they can monitor their progress. To ensure that all families do their fair share, only those families who have fulfilled their family contract are allowed to re-enroll their students at Oglethorpe Academy for the following year.
We believe that parent participation is part of our student success formula!
Some of the schools see that supporting parent education is part of their broad commitment to the community, as well as a way to support student learning. Gates, for example, opens up its computer lab for English as a second language classes and also provides Spanish classes for parents, in keeping with its focus on bilingualism.
Governing for Accountability
The freedom to innovate with governance models is a signal feature of charter schools. Each has a governing board of directors that is responsible for school policy-making and oversight. Those serving on governing boards are stakeholders in the truest sense of the word, people not only attuned to the school's mission, but also highly familiar with its daily operations. Parents are board members in each of the schools visited. At Oglethorpe, because Georgia charter law requires parents to be the majority on a charter school's board, the board is made up of six parents, two teachers, and four non-voting members, including three community members and one school administrator. At other schools, community members might make up the board's majority.
Gates Adult Education Program
Saddleback Valley Unified School District
English as a Second Language (ESL)
Ingles Como Segundo Idioma
Computer Assisted Classes at
Clases asistidas de computación en la escuela
We Offer Two Classes:
1. Monday and Wednesday 9:00 am - 11:30 am Room Lab 2
2. Tuesday and Thursday 9:00 am - 11:30 am Room Lab
Hay Dos Clases:
1. Lunes y Miercoles 9:00 am - 11:30 am Salón Lab 2
2. Martes y Jueves 9:00 am - 11:30 am Salón Lab 2
TESTING AND ENROLLMENT
New students should come to Laguna Hills High School or Silverado High School on any of the dates indicated to take the English assessment test and to enroll. The assessment process is on a first come, first served basis. The testing takes approximately two (2) hours.
EXAMEN E INSCRIPTICION
Nuevos estudiantes deben venir a Laguna Hills High School or Silverado Continuation School en una de las fechas indicadas para hacer el examen de ingles e inscribirse. El proceso de este examen dura dos (2) horas aproximadamente.
English Assessment Sessions
Date Location Time
Thursday September 18 Laguna Hills HS 4:45 pm
Thursday September 25 Laguna Hills HS 4:45 pm
Saturday September 27 Silverado HS 8:45 am
Please call Adult Education for more information (949)837-8830.
¿Mas Preguntas? Llame la oficina de Adult Education (949)837-8830.
Including teachers on school boards is one of the biggest departures from traditional public schooling. In states where charter schools are exempt from collective bargaining, teachers presumably face no conflict of interest in negotiating teacher contracts and can serve on the governing board alongside parents and community members. The advantages of teacher membership on school boards include deepening teachers' ownership of the school's vision, giving them a greater stake in policy and organizational decisions, and helping to ensure that a board's solutions fit the identified problems.
Figure 10. Roxbury Prep Annual Accountability Plan (Excerpts)
Academic Program (Note: Once the MCAS is expanded to include Math and English Language Arts exams for all middle school grades (6-8), RPC may no longer use the Stanford 9 exam for external accountability purposes.)
Goal # 1: Students at RPC will be able to effectively comprehend and analyze literature and non-fiction texts.
Over 90% of RPC students who have attended RPC from September of the 6th grade through May of the 7th grade will pass the 7th Grade MCAS English Language Arts exam.
RPC students who have attended RPC from September of the 6th grade through May of the 8th grade will at the end of the 8th grade year improve their entering Stanford 9 Reading Comprehension scores by an average of 3 NCE points.
Goal # 6: RPC enrollment and attendance reflect parental demand and commitment.
Applications to enroll in grade 6 will exceed the number of available spaces by at least 25%.
Annual school attendance rates will be 93% or higher.
Faithfulness to Charter
Goal # 9: RPC students are prepared to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college.
Over 30% of graduating RPC 8TH grade students will enroll in college preparatory high schools in which over 80% of graduates matriculate to college.
Annually, charter schools are expected to evaluate their school program, quality of teaching, and student outcome measures in light of the mission and goals defined in the charter document. All charter schools publish an annual report or a school improvement accountability plan outlining specific goals to be accomplished each year (see excerpt from Roxbury Prep's plan in figure 10). The governing board monitors a school's progress and helps to set new goals to keep it moving forward toward its mission.
Over a longer time frame, typically three to five years, a charter school must demonstrate that it is meeting the terms contracted in its charter. The authorizer, whether district, state, or another entity, is responsible for monitoring whether the school has in fact lived up to the promise of its charter. If a school fails to meet ongoing criteria for success-ranging from financial management to student performance-its charter can be denied renewal or revoked.
Yet another dimension of charter school accountability has to do with family satisfaction. Charter school practices are open. Information is shared and available. All parents and community members can see how students are doing on a regular basis. Thus a school that is not delivering is likely to lose its customers: Parents will no longer choose to send their children there. It is this openness of the charter process, the high visibility of the quality of performance, which may be the strictest accountability measure of all. As one principal put it, "The conditions of chartering, if anything, lead us to be more self-analytical and critical, holding ourselves to a higher standard than most schools."
Again, the natal twin of charter accountability is freedom to act. Success "hinges on academic achievement and other performance indicators, not on regulatory compliance or standardized procedures."7 Charter school boards do not have to convince districtwide majorities or unwilling superintendents that their approaches are right. A Roxbury Prep board member remarked that as a charter school, "We have the flexbility to turn on a dime." If board members see a need, they can follow up. Freed from the constraints of bureaucracy, when a decision is made, implementation is immediate.
The charter schools in this guide measure success in a number of ways. All have made continuous academic gains and are proud to have done so. All have attendance rates at 95 percent or more. Waiting lists to get into these successful schools provide new meaning to "winning the lottery."
In other ways, what constitutes success at a given school varies with its mission. The Community of Peace Academy in St. Paul, Minn., can point to its designation as an exemplary character education school. KIPP Academy Houston can take satisfaction in the 85 percent of its students who enroll in college. Parents at the School of Arts and Sciences in Tallahassee, Fla., find that the school succeeds in welcoming all students, however unique or whatever color they may have dyed their hair. The school profiles in the next section provide additional measures of success at each school.
Taken as a group, successful charter schools clearly illustrate two things: (1) key elements that enable success, such as mission-driven programming, are shared by all of them, and (2) the forms those elements take vary widely from one school to another.
One theory of charter schooling is that freedom from regulation will stimulate innovation and experimentation. This is not to say that each charter school, even each successful charter school, is entirely original or ground-breaking. But as illustrated by the eight schools in this guide, each reflects the particular vision of its founding educators and community members-whether for classical education, schooling infused with character education, approaches aligned with research on learning and instruction, or programs that have been designed by educational management organizations, for example. What does make each of these schools unique is the combination of ideas that have been brought together, made the centerpiece of each school's educational approach, and then assessed to make sure the approach works in practice to accomplish the intended goals.
Success comes not only from the ideas themselves but also from the focused and energized school culture that thrives in a mission-driven school. School communities become internally accountable-dedicated to working together to accomplish their shared goals, adjusting their approach based on results, and responding flexibly and quickly when needed.
Implications for charter school educators. Charter school educators may gain some confirmation and encouragement from these schools. Only eight schools could be included in this guide, but each represents a whole class of other, similar schools. Charter schools around the country are experimenting with new ideas, mobilizing communities, and meeting the learning needs of children and families. This guide may help support their cause.
Implications for other school leaders. Within this guide, school leaders will find ideas that can be applied in any public school. Many of the specific practices in these schools can be put in place anywhere. Perhaps more importantly, the core organizational features, such as vision and internal accountability, are also transferable. The concept of internal accountability, for example, was first identified in research on public schools that were restructuring.8 As a stimulus to all educators, the guide provides concrete visions of what is possible. Readers might ask themselves, "How can I replicate these conditions and practices in my setting?"
Schools looking to meet the accountability requirements of NCLB should especially take note. These eight schools were selected in part because they have increased their scores on state assessments over a three-year period and made "Adequate Yearly Progress" this past year. They have improved over time. It's not that they found a magic solution so much as they became organizations mobilized to achieve their goals. Other schools can do that, too.
If local constraints set up what seem to be insurmountable barriers, educators and community members may want to consider chartering as a route to pursuing their vision more fully. The local district or another authorizing agency may provide support. (The resources section of this guide identifies additional sources of support.)
Implications for district or state administrators. For those charged with the task of creating the institutional supports schools need to succeed, the key question to ask is, "How can we get more schools like the ones in this guide?" District and state administrators may see here the opportunity to "reinvent public education" in meaningful ways.9 Districts, like some mentioned here, can see chartering as one way to encourage innovation and better meet the needs of children and families. States may reexamine chartering policies in light of their understanding of school conditions that promote success.
The first part of this guide has laid out what appear to be the cross-cutting design elements of successful charter schools. Brief illustrations of how these elements take shape in the eight features schools demonstrate that they can be accomplished in a variety of ways. In the following part of the guide, snapshots of each of the schools are intended to help readers envision full charter school programs-eight different ways, just for starters.
PART II: CHARTER SCHOOL PROFILES
The Arts and Technology Academy Public Charter School
Location Washington, D.C.
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1998
Special charter school board
English Learners 0%
Subsidized Meals 97%
Special Needs 7%
Per Pupil Spending $8,650
When low enrollment led the District of Columbia Public Schools to close Richardson Elementary, local parents and community members stepped in to create a new school in the empty building. The Arts and Technology Academy Public Charter School (ATA) was chartered in 1998-"A true, homegrown, grassroots effort," says a member of the chartering board. In a tough Washington neighborhood characterized by public housing and family incomes well below federal poverty levels, some of these parents had a different vision for their children.
For its 615 students-98 percent African American and 97 percent low-income-the pre-K-6 ATA has designed a program to meet their needs and their parents' dreams. According to the school's annual report, the curricular mixture of the basics and the arts seeks to "propel" students beyond their "economically depressed community." The arts are seen as the foundation for building children's academic prowess as well as a way to "connect them to the great artists and leaders who were nurtured within their community." By design, the school program reflects for children the strengths of their heritage and creates many ways for them to express themselves and to excel.
Program and Operations
To meet its high expectations, ATA runs an extended, seven-and-a-half-hour school day, and an extended school year of 200 days, about 20 days longer than at neighboring schools. The basics in reading and math are taught through the scripted approach of direct instruction. On the other hand, a multicultural social studies curriculum invites students to explore the history of ideas. Everyone learns Spanish. Students and their teachers have easy access to current technology. After-school tutoring and homework assistance are provided for students who need it. Student clubs and extracurricular activities reinforce the focus on arts and academics. And student performances fill the auditorium with proud parents throughout the year. Teachers liken the school to "an oasis in the community."
To keep focused on the children's possibilities, the faculty and staff of ATA have created a list of belief statements that begins, "We can teach every student," and concludes, "Given knowledge and opportunity, students can shape their futures." To safeguard those futures, a culture of achievement has taken hold at ATA. While standardized test scores indicate that ATA students still have a lot of ground to make up, students are proud to have good grades. "I got 28 As and 8 Bs," a sixth-grader reports with satisfaction.
Principal Anthony Jackson is a large part of the ATA story. Jackson came to ATA in 2000, two years after it opened, at a time when the school was floundering, children were not succeeding, and complaints were high. After three years, all signs are positive. "This is an example of how a school can turn around," says a member of the District of Columbia Public School Charter Board. "When I get discouraged, I point to it."
The leadership that Jackson brings to the school begins with his attitude about the school's place in the community. On a tour of the school, he stops to point out a window in the rear of the building that looks onto the neighboring public housing developments. There used to be a cage on this window, he reports, to keep out the vandals. On all the windows, in fact. "Cages," he says, "signify surrender," and against the advice of many, he took a chance and had them removed. At the same time, Jackson is not willing to take chances with his students. Walking a boy home who was being suspended, Jackson experienced the open-air drug market outside the student's apartment, reversed course-boy in tow-to deal with him instead within the walls of the school. Otherwise, he says, "I was just turning him over to them."
In a tough Washington neighborhood characterized by public housing and family incomes well below federal poverty levels, some of these parents had a different vision for their children.
Academically, Jackson is equally protective. "I get kids to come read to me all the time. I see that child who struggled … he's reading with confidence, with inflection, and he understands what the heck he's reading. I think we're doing a pretty good job," he allows. A self-described "data nut," who enjoys the challenge of disaggregating data to see what it can reveal, Jackson also recognizes the limitations of test scores. He never loses sight of his students' broad academic needs and the role of the arts in their education. "It's our responsibility," he says, "to make sure that schools remain-even in an age of accountability-kid friendly. If at the end of the day children have passed every SAT 9 test that's placed in front of them, but they have no sense of beauty, what have we created?"
Beyond the core curriculum of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies, students all learn basic communicative and performing arts, often demonstrating them through technology-based activities. The arts and technology program encompasses the disciplines of the visual arts; speech; drama; dance; music, including singing, playing instruments, and composing; journalism, and video production. As a teacher points out, the school's mission and belief statements are "based on the fundamental understanding that kids learn in different ways. ATA gives them many ways to learn."
The director of special education notes that the arts program is also very effective for the 7 percent of the students who have special needs. The parent of a special needs student calls ATA "a blessing" for her son. "All of the teachers and staff, everybody makes him feel comfortable and loved. The kids are comfortable with him. He's excited about his homework and about the things he's asked to do. He gets lots of stimulation."
The school's strong emphasis on teaching values and respect is key to the treatment this child has received at ATA and to the school's overall discipline approach. Teachers may not yell at students or punish children by isolating them in any way. Jackson counsels teachers to get to know students instead of resorting to overly strict practices. "You can't discipline strangers," he cautions. "You have to build trust first."
The school also benefits from having a dean of students, who serves as a "behavior interventionist." In a school founded on the arts, it is only fitting that one kind of intervention is music therapy. Picture a small group of boys singing a song called "Cooperation" as the music therapist strums a guitar. No one notes the irony of the cooperation in evidence.
Finally, the condition of the school's physical plant is not incidental to the atmosphere of confidence and pride that permeates ATA. One of the board of directors' first actions was to repair the run-down building. When ATA opened, the new school was in ship shape, but it was sterile. Two years later the hallways were still barren and no student work was on the walls, lest students tear it down or deface it. When Jackson arrived, he encouraged wary teachers to paper the walls with colorful student work. To their delight, they found that students respected each other's contributions. Says one proud teacher, "If children are going to be here for eight hours, they should have a stimulating, beautiful, safe environment-and our building is all of those things."
To improve instruction in all areas, faculty and administrative staff meet four times each year to review assessment outcomes and to develop responsive strategies. They use outcomes from curriculum-based assessments to identify students with low skill levels who are tracked for consideration of special education referral and/or learning enrichment, such as tutoring or homework assistance. SAT 9 outcomes are used to identify areas that are posing a challenge for students, and the curriculum is modified accordingly. Jackson also looks at data such as attendance, referrals to the office, and numbers in after-school tutorial programs, all with the purpose of planning improvements.
The school devotes at least 15 days each year to professional development in the areas of standards, best practices, test-taking strategies, and classroom management. Teachers meet with the assistant principal weekly to discuss classroom practices. In addition, the assistant principal completes weekly classroom observations and coaches teachers. Program coordinators for grades pre-K-2, grades 3-6, and arts and technology also regularly coach teachers. This structure and support are credited with teachers' high performance. Proud of what ATA teachers have accomplished, the school board president notes that they are not inherently "better" teachers than those in the rest of the District of Columbia but that they have responded to the environment in the school. The leadership team believes it has created a culture where it is "okay to ask questions." Likewise, teachers at ATA feel they are "allowed to grow."
The principal, one teacher says, "is a leader who demands the best. It makes all the difference because you want to do well for somebody like that."
Parents and Partners
Although ATA was first envisioned by parents and has two parents on the school board, parent involvement outside of a small core group is very limited. Most parents are single mothers and have themselves had few educational opportunities, which teachers report limits participation in their children's academic life. The school board and school staff are eager to increase parents' role in the school. GED classes, job training, and job placement that could be offered through the school's Parent Resource Center are seen as important services that could also strengthen parent participation in the school.
Students are proud to have good grades. "I got 28 As and 8 Bs," a sixth-grader reports with satisfaction.
ATA has many relationships with community groups such as local churches and cultural organizations, including the Library of Congress, but no key partnerships.
Governance and Accountability
The Arts and Technology Academy Public Charter School was chartered by the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board in 1998 as a nonprofit corporation and local education agency (LEA). It has an annual budget of about $5,320,000, receiving funding of about $6,550 per student, plus some extra dollars for weighted categories, such as pre-school, and federal entitlements amounting to about $475,000.
ATA has a business relationship with Mosaica Education, Inc., which operates 24 charter school programs nationally. The school pays Mosaica $610,000 annually to provide a "central office" function. The company also provides the school's Direct Instruction reading and mathematics curricula and the Paragon social studies curriculum.
The school is governed by a nine-member board, which meets monthly. Recently the board used tax-exempt bonds to purchase the school building, which it had been renting. Monthly payments dropped from $33,000 to $13,000. These savings have contributed to the school's $600,000 bank balance.
"The principal is a leader who demands the best. It makes all the difference because you want to do well for somebody like that."
While the school cannot operate without sound fiscal management, success is measured by student test scores, the scope of the curriculum, attendance, disciplinary referrals, staff retention, and parent satisfaction:
Since 2000, when Jackson took over as principal, students' SAT 9 scores have moved steadily up. In reading performance, 59 percent of the students were reading at or above grade level in 2003, compared with 35 percent in 2000. In math performance, half of the students were at or above grade level, compared with 20 percent in 2000.
Many educators are baffled by ATA's ability to emphasize the arts as well as raise test scores. With the trend toward an increasingly narrow curriculum, Jackson is used to the question, "How do you guys do it?"
Daily average attendance is 95 percent.
Behavioral referrals dropped from 43 to 24 in three years.
After Jackson's first year in the school, faculty turnover was high. Staff not enthusiastic about the school's demands were encouraged to leave, and 21 of the 41 teachers and instructional assistants did. The following year staff turnover was low, with departures down to seven.
Parent satisfaction is measured by the school's waiting list, the overflow audiences for student performances, and parents' pleas that the school extend its program into middle school.
BASIS School, Inc.
Location Tucson, Ariz.
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1998
English Learners 1%
Subsidized Meals Not
Special Needs 1%
Per Pupil Spending $5,339
In the midst of a national focus on educational performance and accountability, BASIS School, Inc. achieves both through its priorities of hard work and academic achievement. The school's mission is to provide a rigorous academic background to prepare students for college, with an emphasis on a classical liberal arts education based on European education practices. Struggling students receive extra academic support until they can meet the school's performance standards, and teachers are hired not on the basis of certification but according to their level of expertise. Of the 19 faculty members, 10 have a master's degree, and two have doctorate degrees, all in the subjects they are teaching. BASIS parents, who maintain an active community dialogue, adhere strongly to the school's mission. Says one parent, "The workload is hard, but it brings a sense of satisfaction and prepares children for the real world." Students too appreciate their school culture, reporting that the school's small size and emphasis on enabling every student to succeed makes it feel like "an extended family."
Housed in a converted one-story structure in Tucson, Ariz., the BASIS School is open to children of any background or ability, including those who qualify for special education. The school serves a student population that is 74 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Asian American, and 4 percent African American. The 246 students in grades 5-12 must take a placement exam before enrolling. Students who place below their desired grade level are offered such options as remedial work in summer school, a retake of the placement exam after home preparation, or enrollment in a lower grade. Consistent with the school's liberal arts focus, students in all grade levels take courses in language, literature, history, art, philosophy, mathematics, and science, in a curriculum that is aligned with the Arizona State Standards and also exceeds those requirements in many areas. Sports and fine arts courses are offered to all students, and middle school students take physical education. After some pressure from parents, after-school sports, band, and other courses and activities were added.
The BASIS School is the brainchild of a husband and wife team, both economists, who founded the school to combine their idea of the best from European and American educational traditions. The European tradition, they feel, provides academic rigor, while the American tradition promotes creativity, problem solving, free expression, and a sense of community. Chartered in 1998, the BASIS School proved so successful that in 2001 its founders opened a second campus, BASIS Scottsdale, in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Program and Operations
The mission of the BASIS School drives every aspect of its daily operations. School leaders are guided by a self-described "bias toward traditional teaching." They strive "to avoid educational fads and empty slogans and to put substance above form." Faculty, parents, and students fully understand that the students are expected to work hard at courses that are more rigorous than most of those at similar grade levels in local schools. All students begin taking algebra in the seventh grade and move on to calculus in high school. Sixth-graders study Latin to prepare for learning scientific terms and romance languages, seventh-graders take public speaking, and eighth-graders take economics. High school courses are based on the Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum, with 12 out of 30 courses qualifying as AP, and the course load is designed such that by the end of the 11th grade all students have enough credits to graduate. In their senior year, if they choose to stay, they may engage in higher-level coursework.
The BASIS School is the brainchild of a husband and wife team who founded the school to combine their idea of the best from European and American educational traditions.
An integral part of the school's program is its system of yearly comprehensive exams, which every student must pass in the core subjects of English, mathematics, science, and social studies in order to be promoted to the next grade. In January, students take a "preliminary exam" in each subject, which serves as an accountability measure for students, a test-development tool for faculty, and a formative evaluation for teachers, parents, and administrators to make decisions about tutoring and other support options for the students. If students do not score higher than 60 percent on an exam, they are not promoted unless they successfully retake the exam before the start of the next school year. All members of the school community express satisfaction that the school allows no exceptions to these promotion policies. The faculty feel that students learn to take responsibility for their education. When students occasionally leave the school because of the heavy workload, they often come back, reporting that they were "bored" in other schools or felt lost in the larger, less personalized school environments.
Along with its rigorous curriculum and high performance standards, the BASIS School offers a number of supports for students that are designed not only to enable them to reach high academic standards, but also to foster a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Fifth grade, called "6 prep," may include some students who are sixth-graders but not yet ready to engage in the full sixth-grade program. Students in need of academic help have access to tutoring both during the school day and after school and can enroll in four weeks of summer school. Teachers are required to hold after-school office hours twice a week-one day for student help and one day for parent-teacher conferences. Because the school is small, students may keep the same teachers over several years, and the teachers as a result understand students' unique strengths and weaknesses and can target help as needed. In addition to this kind of support from teachers, students also report feeling supported by their peers. One student notes that BASIS students "feel like brothers and sisters." In a school culture where "It is 'cool' to be on the honor roll, and even cooler to be on the high honor roll," the array of student support networks is intended to help students "find enjoyment in academic achievement."
During the last two weeks of the school year, after the comprehensive exams, students engage in project-based learning. Examples include developing and putting on an opera as part of the Metropolitan Opera Project and traveling to Mexico for a marine biology project. These last two weeks serve as an opportunity to put into practice skills that students have developed over the course of the school year.
Implicit in the school's high performance standards is an emphasis on improving teaching and learning. Student progress is assessed regularly, with six grading periods over the course of the year and a final, cumulative grade. Student achievement and improvement are acknowledged via frequent honors assemblies. Students receive a gold or silver balloon for achieving "distinguished" or "regular" honor roll, and students who have improved their cumulative average by 2 percentage points or more are honored and also awarded a balloon. A limited number of non-academic awards are given out by teachers who wish to recognize students who achieve highly in other areas. The balloons have proven to be an effective inspiration to work hard, and even high school boys report "loving" the balloons. Students carry them throughout the school day, and they are a visible symbol of improvement, pride, and accomplishment. By continually recognizing student achievement and improvement, the school aims to strike "an appropriate balance between students feeling challenged by rigorous academics and the self-satisfaction that flows from the school's recognition of excellence based on hard work."
The BASIS School also devotes significant time and resources to improving teacher practice. At least once a semester, and twice or more for new teachers, the school director makes unscheduled observations of each teacher in his or her classroom. Observations are also conducted by peers, and in each case an evaluation is discussed with the observed teacher. Any problems are reported in writing to both the teacher and school administrators. Parents may also provide feedback on their children's teachers. "Hard measures," such as test scores, and "soft measures," such as science fairs and math competitions, are also considered in teachers' evaluations.
Teachers meet one afternoon a week to share teaching strategies and information about struggling students. All teachers participate in professional development workshops and trainings, including the College Board's Advanced Placement training, which the middle school as well as the high school teachers attend. At the end of every school year, all faculty and staff attend a two-day retreat, where together they review the students' performance on the comprehensive exams. Consistent with the emphasis on continuous improvement, the next year's syllabi are developed based on their analysis of these results. In August, teachers spend two weeks before school starts finalizing the syllabi and preparing for the year.
The school's founders also structure creative financial incentives into teacher compensation to encourage teacher commitment and improvement. Faculty compensation comprises a base salary and a "performance bonus," which can range from 6 to 14 percent of the base salary. Performance bonuses are based on quantifiable goals determined at the beginning of the school year. Teacher commitment is also rewarded through a "wellness bonus." Teachers start the year with five paid sick days and are compensated at the end of the year for any that remain.
Parents and Partners
The ethic of individual responsibility and clear communication about standards and goals is one to which BASIS parents adhere strongly. Parent buy-in to the school's mission is deliberately sought, as the school expects parents to participate actively in their children's education. Before a student enrolls, at least one parent must come for a school visit and interview with the school director. Parents are informed of the school's strict, high expectations and are told that if a child is not ready to work hard, or if parents are not willing to support their child to work hard, then the parents should consider other educational options. At the beginning of the school year, every student receives a Communication Journal, which serves as the primary means of communication between teachers and parents. Teachers and parents use the journals to correspond, and students use them to record daily homework, other assignments, and important information. Parents also frequently contact teachers by e-mail, often sending group e-mails when the matter is of general concern.
High school courses are based on the Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum.
In addition, parents engage in an active community dialogue about the needs and goals of the school. The parent-teacher organization, called BASIS Boosters, operates independently from the school administration and so is not a typical parent-teacher organization. The Boosters run a parent-created and supported Web site addressing any and all aspects of the school. The Web site includes an online calendar, a message board for announcements and discussions, links to resources and photos, and a teacher information database. Recently, the Web site offered a poll to ascertain whether the school should stock healthier snacks in its vending machines. Says one school administrator, "The important thing is that it's run by the parents, not the administration."
The BASIS School was selected by the AALE for a pilot program to develop criteria for charter school accreditation.
Governance and Accountability
Both BASIS schools, in Tucson and in Scottsdale, are owned and operated by BASIS School, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. BASIS School, Inc. serves as the contracting agent with the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools and also appoints the school boards at each school. At the BASIS School, Tucson, both school founders currently sit on the board, as does the school director. The remaining members are a local community college professor, who has been repeatedly recognized as a superior educator, an experienced University of California educator and philanthropist, a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, the school's drama and public speaking teacher, and a parent representative.
The BASIS School, Tucson, was selected by the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) for a pilot program to develop criteria for charter school accreditation. (AALE is an accrediting agency for liberal arts colleges and universities.) The academy's main criteria are high levels of academic achievement and commitment to a liberal arts curriculum. Charter applicants are also assessed on factors including mission, teacher quality, assessment, financial management, organization and governance, student services, special education, and facilities. Beginning this year, the BASIS School will undergo annual reviews with AALE to secure renewal of its accreditation. In addition, the school continues to be accountable to the state of Arizona, which requires all charter school students to take Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test and the Stanford 9 standardized achievement tests.
BASIS students consistently score well above the state average on the AIMS test, and the BASIS School, Tucson, was the only school in Arizona in 2003 whose students' median scores were above the 90th percentile on the Stanford 9 math test in all grades. While academics are important, school leaders continue to emphasize that "BASIS graduates should be not only well prepared for college admission, but more importantly they should be prepared to succeed in college and enter their adult lives without losing their appreciation of learning."
Community of Peace Academy
Location St. Paul, Minn
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1995
English Learners 75%
Subsidized Meals 80%
Special Needs 10%
Per Pupil Spending $10,355
In a community where gangs actively recruit adolescents into their ranks and teenagers sometimes marry at age 14, according to Hmong custom, the Community of Peace Academy (CPA) has created a school program and family-style community that empower students to make thoughtful, non-violent life choices. The school's mission, to create a peaceful environment in which each person is treated with unconditional positive regard and acceptance, is heard in teachers' conversations about curriculum, seen in student-fashioned hallway murals, and experienced through the school's Peace Builder awards. "Community of Peace works," says one parent, "because the teachers create a peaceful environment where the children feel secure and comfortable to learn. The teachers really care about the children." Their focus on educating "the whole person, mind, body and will for peace, justice, freedom, compassion, wholeness and fullness of life," guides every aspect of the school, from hiring and mentoring new teachers to disciplining students for misbehavior, from maintaining small class size to relationship building.
Located on the east side of St. Paul, Minn., Community of Peace Academy serves a high proportion of low-income and English language learners. With 546 students in grades K-12, 70 percent are Hmong and 20 percent are African American. The remaining 10 percent include Hispanic, Eritrean, white, Vietnamese, and American Indian students. The majority do not speak English at home. The K-12 curriculum focuses on four core academic areas: reading/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. In addition, peace and ethics instruction are infused at every grade level.
Community of Peace Academy was founded in 1995. It began as an elementary school and added a grade a year. As it became clear that the large local high schools would not meet the individual needs of the school's students, the Community of Peace Academy decided to extend its K-8 program. The staff has grown from under 20 members when the school opened to over 80 in the fall of 2003. The still-developing high school now enables families to enroll all of their children at one school, where students will not fall through the cracks.
Program and Operations
The mission shapes the entire program structure. The most striking and innovative feature, represented in the school's name, is its focus on fostering a non-violent lifestyle. Peace building and character education are woven into every facet of the school. Each teacher receives a two-week Responsive Classroom training so that all are using the same system for guiding student behavior and modeling positive discipline. This consistency from one classroom to the next is remarkable. Students know exactly what is expected of their behavior and the result is a peaceful, intentional tone in the classroom, which allows every student to engage in learning. The K-8 PeaceBuilder Program, Project Wisdom for grades 7-12, and the Ethics and Advisory elective in the high school are all integral parts of the school's peace and ethics program. It becomes part of the way teachers take time to teach the whole child, not narrowly focusing on academics. In a sixth-grade classroom, for example, a teacher identified a need to help her students reflect on what it feels like to be teased and why they tease others. By the end of this morning circle, students shared personal feelings and set goals for the week, including a commitment not to tease others. At this age, the focus is preventative, on teaching students how to develop the skills to create a safe classroom environment.
"The teachers create a peaceful environment where the children feel secure and comfortable to learn."
To work with older students, the Hmong Gang Strike Force coaches the high school faculty on signs that indicate gang involvement. Through this partnership, the school is also trying to empower parents to take back children from the gangs, which have a strong presence in the community.
Real life issues are seized on as ways to build a nonviolent perspective. Last year, for example, two high school students broke out into a fight in front of a group of first-graders at breakfast. These were two new students with violent backgrounds who had an unresolved conflict from the weekend. At Community of Peace, consequences are functional and constructive rather than punitive. So as a result of their fight, the high school students were asked to develop a presentation for the first-graders, explaining their personal rejections about the use of violence and what they could have done differently. They talked about learning how to solve problems without striking out. It proved to be a powerful learning lesson for the teenagers, and teachers reported that it had a huge impact on one of the boys in particular. Teachers consider the school as a family and help each other to work through issues that arise, teaching students to learn from their mistakes and supporting them in the process.
In a practice called "looping," teachers work with the same students for two years in a row. In the elementary school, each teacher is supported by an ESL specialist, a classroom aide, and a shared special education teacher. For grades seven and eight, teachers team by math and science and by language arts and social studies; each teacher teaches the two subjects to the same two groups of 24 students for a two-year cycle. This looping, whether at the elementary grades or in junior high school, provides continuity and allows teachers to develop strong connections with students and families. Additionally, teachers feel that when they identify a critical student need, there is support to make things happen quickly. As one teacher comments, " I see change happen here when we need it."
Ongoing learning is evident on every level, from the classroom to professional development. At the outset, the school hired an outside evaluator to help them stay focused on their mission and to strategize ongoing needs. The whole evaluation and accountability process is used to steadily improve teaching and learning. The board members, teaching and support staff, and administrators use student performance evaluation measures to focus on continuous improvement. Data collected each spring are analyzed by the evaluator consultant, then presented to the staff of the school. Working groups then review the data and work during the school year and summer to develop strategies that will help students to meet the desired outcomes of the plan. For example, analysis of standardized testing data revealed the need to develop a stronger reading program. So the school adopted Accelerated Reading K-12, created a reading period every day for every student, and lowered K-1 class size to 16 students. Through an America Reads grant, they collaborated with the University of St. Thomas to provide an after-school Reading Buddies program for second- and third-graders, pairing these elementary students with university students for reading support. The school also hired a full-time instructional facilitator to provide ongoing professional development. The reading program is now considered very strong. "My daughter would never pick up a book," reports one parent, "and now I can't stop her from reading and her grades have gone up." She attributes this to the motivating schoolwide focus on reading.
The evaluation process also helped teachers see the need for a more fully developed ESL program, a model that was more inclusive, embedded, and tightly monitored. It is now one of the school's most innovative elements. Based on the belief that every CPA teacher must be an ESL teacher, the school is partnering with Hamline University, which provides in-service workshops, teacher observations, and conferencing with teams to provide feedback on the ESL content and learning objectives. Every two grades are matched with an ESL teacher who provides support in the classroom inclusion model and plans regularly with the classroom teachers. In the high school, two ESL teachers provide classroom support as well as teaching two ESL electives, one a tutorial for students who need additional help with their academic classes and a second ESL class for students who continue to struggle with English language acquisition.
Now every ESL student has an Individual Learning Plan. Looking at a student's standardized testing data, grades, and school record, the ESL teacher creates two to three learning goals for each student, indicating the level of intervention needed and areas for teacher focus. Every Monday, classroom teachers and ESL teachers plan strategies for their English learners, such as using more realia, giving students more time to respond to a question, and allowing students who are shy about participating more time to share ideas in classroom discussions.
Parents and Partners
Embracing the belief that parents are the first educators of their children, the school works very hard to reach out to the families of their students and keep lines of communication open and clear. All families are asked to sign a Home/School Compact and a Mentor Contract, committing themselves to full participation in the education of their child's mind, body, and will within an educational community fully committed to peace and non-violence. Teachers start off the year visiting students' homes, connecting with families and developing a deeper understanding of and empathy for each child. This paves the way for ongoing communication throughout the school year, sharing goals and expectations. A full-time parent liaison fluent in Hmong arranges interpreters for home visits, meetings, and conferences and translates all school information, such as the Family Handbook and the monthly parent newsletter, into the Hmong language. Transportation and child care are provided for parents so they may attend school meetings, conferences, and events.
The school hired an outside evaluator to help them stay focused on their mission and to strategize ongoing needs.
In addition to regular parent-teacher conferences, parent nights are held every other month throughout the school year. Students in grades K-6 write a weekly letter home to update parents on their grades, homework, and school learning.
Each year parents are invited to evaluate the school and its programs through focus groups and surveys. It was the parents' idea to have the students wear simple uniforms-khaki pants and polo shirts-as a way to remove barriers among students. Over nine years, teachers and parents have worked closely together to develop the school program. On the school's board of directors, parents hold five of the 11 voting memberships and teachers hold the other six.
Governance and Accountability
In addition to the five parents and six teachers on the school's board of directors, four non-voting members attend the board's monthly meetings: the school's executive director and principal, the business accountant and adviser, the high school assistant principal, and the elementary school assistant principal. The board is responsible for implementing and overseeing the school's mission, budget, and policy. Every other year the board engages in strategic planning.
Teachers start off the year visiting students' homes, connecting with families, and developing a deeper understanding of and empathy for each child.
Community of Peace Academy is chartered through the local public school district of St. Paul, Minn. Granted for three years at a time, the charter has been renewed three times, based on the school's successful focus on its mission and student academic growth. CPA is accountable not only to the charter authorizer but also to the parents and students it serves. Accountability is also directly tied to teacher evaluation. This high level of accountability, says founding principal Karen Rusthoven, is at the heart of the school's success.
Financially, the school is sound, although staff are paid about 10 percent less than their district counterparts. In 1998, through a nonprofit building company, the Community of Peace Academy bought the building it was renting and built an addition to better serve the K-8 program. In 2002, by raising a community bond, the school further renovated the building and constructed a new high school. In addition to per pupil funding from the St. Paul district, the school uses a combination of other funding sources to provide special programs for students and teachers. For example, school improvement funds support the instructional facilitator, who provides ongoing professional development support for teachers. Title III funding supports an ESL partnership with Hamline University. First-grade-preparedness funds provide the kindergarten with a full-day program, and class-size-reduction funds allow a maximum of 16 students in kindergarten and grade 1 classes.
In 2003, the Character Education Partnership in Washington, D.C., presented Community of Peace Academy with the National School of Character Award, recognizing the school as one of 10 schools nationwide for "exemplary work to encourage the ethical, social, and academic development of its students through character education." The school is also recognized by World Citizens Incorporated as an international peace school.
Academically, the school is doing well by its low-income students. For example, 73 percent of the students in grade 8 passed the 2003 Minnesota Basic Skills test in math, compared with 72 percent statewide. Math improvement among students in grades 5-8 ranked the school among the top 20 in Minnesota. In reading, with a majority of students whose home language is not English, 65 percent passed the assessment.
Finally, as demonstrated by the school's waiting list, parents are actively choosing Community of Peace Academy, drawn to the small size, the K-12 program, the cultural acceptance, and the focus on peace and non-violence.
KIPP Academy Houston
Location Houston, Texas
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1994
English Learners 8%
Subsidized Meals 86%
Special Needs 5%
Per Pupil Spending $8,670
At KIPP Academy Houston, daily chants ring out through the school: All of us will learn. Read, Baby, Read. Hallway banners proclaim The path to success is education. Work Hard. Be Nice. Every teacher and school leader at KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, is on a mission to level the playing field for students who live in neighborhoods troubled by illiteracy, drug abuse, broken homes, gangs, and juvenile crime. KIPP's mission is to "help our students develop academic skills, intellectual habits and qualities of character necessary to succeed in high school, college and the competitive world beyond." Serving predominantly low-income, minority students in grades 5-8, KIPP has forged an academic culture of high expectations, charged with the conviction that every child will learn. The key to this top-performing school is its unrelenting focus on results: teachers and administrators will do whatever it takes to help students learn, which includes being on call via cell phone for homework help at all hours. Everyone in the school is expected to live by its credo: "There are no shortcuts. Success is built through desire, discipline and dedication. The path to success is education."
KIPP Academy Houston is the flagship among the 31 KIPP schools now operating in the United States. It was started in 1994 by two Teach For America teachers, Dave Levin and Michael Feinberg, who recognized that to bridge the academic achievement gap, students needed more time and lots of hard work. Their first agenda was to broaden the concept of a school day to one in which every student worked hard academically from 7:25 in the morning until 5:00 at night. Then, as current principal Elliott Witney explains, "We focus on the pieces students are missing and work to catch them up and prepare them for college. We want disciplined thinkers, in a society where thinking doesn't always get rewarded. And a big key to success here is that we want our kids to believe they have choices in life-that their future is not determined by their past or their status in society or their economic reality or their skin color or for whatever reason-success is defined by the choices they make."
When KIPP Academy began, it was a contract school in the Houston district. The program was immediately successful and co-founder Levin left at the behest of the New York Public Schools to start a KIPP school there. Meanwhile, Feinberg continued to run the Houston campus. By 1998, the district had moved the school five times, so Feinberg applied for and received a charter from the state. In 2000, with a $7 million capital campaign, KIPP Academy Houston moved to its present 37-acre campus and built a multipurpose space for the new middle school.
Of KIPP Academy Houston's 346 students, who are chosen by lottery, 77 percent are Hispanic, 21 percent are African American, and the remaining 2 percent are Asian American and white; 8 percent of KIPP students are English language learners; 5 percent receive special education services; and 86 percent qualify for subsidized meals.
Program and Operations
A standout feature at KIPP Houston is its academic work ethic and how its chartered freedom is used to extend student learning time. The school day is considerably longer than most workdays and the schedule includes two mandatory Saturdays each month, plus summer sessions. The school year begins in June with a three-week kick-off and then school resumes six weeks later in August for the rest of the school year. The summer component for incoming fifth-graders focuses on creating the school culture-making sure students understand the strict code of conduct and learn the chants, songs, and systems that will carry them through the school year. For the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, the focus is strictly academic.
Every teacher and school leader is on a mission to level the playing field for students who live in neighborhoods troubled by illiteracy, drug abuse, broken homes, gangs, and juvenile crime.
Students travel as a class from one subject to the next, working as a team in their 80-minute core classes: language arts, history, science, and math. They also take 45-minute classes, including physical education, art, music, and Spanish. Students eat lunch with their entire grade in the cafeteria, as teachers conduct informal meetings. With 90 students per grade, there are three sections of 30 students each. Teachers are able to handle such large classes because the students are on task and well behaved.
Consequences for misbehavior or not completing homework are serious. Discipline is summed up in the slogan, "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the Porch." Students who misbehave are "put on the Porch" and are prohibited from socially interacting with anyone except adults, are required to wear their uniform shirts inside out, and must work their way off the Porch through a combination of good behavior, community service, apologies, and goal-setting. Incomplete homework sends students to "Wall Street," the after-school homework center, where they stay until they finish, even if it takes until 8:30 at night. KIPP also uses a schoolwide incentive program, a weekly "paycheck" that rewards good citizenship and good deeds with "KIPP dollars" to purchase items at the school store. Paychecks can also be docked for bad behavior.
The academic focus at KIPP is on making sure that students "know what they need to know," says founder Mike Feinberg. "It is not a race," he adds. This attention to mastery and academic engagement is evident in a visit to a fifth-grade English class. Students conduct themselves in an academic discussion the way college students might engage with a text. Not needing to raise hands, but instead politely waiting to comment on the contributions of the last person, students offer remarkably mature and thoughtful responses. They hold the classwide discussion among themselves rather than always addressing the teacher. Pointing to particular examples in the book Night John by Gary Paulsen, students support their ideas with evidence, whether to make a point or to respectfully disagree. The tone is supportive rather than competitive. After 20 minutes of student discussion, the teacher compliments his students and models the use of supporting detail: "Your ideas are beautiful. I liked the way you grabbed someone else's idea and then extended it." At other points in the lesson, the focus was on grammar, with students learning hand cues to figure out the predicate and the nominative cases in a sentence. In KIPP classrooms, whether students are learning grammar, discussing a novel, singing their math facts, or chanting state capitals, the pace is fast and full of engaging instruction and learning.
KIPP does not track students; everyone takes the accelerated high school preparatory curriculum. The extra hours devoted to instruction and academic learning make it possible for all students to handle more rigorous academics. However, when students are new to KIPP, there is often a steep learning curve as they fill in the gaps and holes in their knowledge.
KIPP's first priority in maintaining its demanding program has been to recruit and train outstanding teachers committed to raising achievement for underserved kids. Most KIPP teachers are young and all work long hours. "We hire stallions," says Principal Witney, "give them the race track, and let them run."
Teachers from different grade levels are grouped in teams of four by department. As a team they videotape each other conducting lessons, give feedback, and help to develop a plan of action after viewing the videotape. This is a powerful learning tool for teachers to develop their teaching. Once a month, students have a half-day schedule and teachers convene for a staff meeting and curriculum development. Learning inquiry groups are another form of professional development at KIPP, one that is new enough to be considered a work in progress. Extra support is available to beginning teachers. The school's lead mentor teacher observes new teachers two to three times each week, writes comments, meets with them during their prep periods to provide feedback, and helps with curriculum and lesson planning.
Student learning is assessed in multiple ways, including weekly progress reports to parents, six-week report cards, student writing portfolios, unit tests, projects, and standardized tests. KIPP also considers other measures as valuable indicators of student progress towards achieving their mission, such as number of books read, attendance, and high school and college placement.
Parents and Partners
Parent involvement starts from the first orientation presentations. Entering students, their parents, and their teachers all sign the KIPP Commitment to Excellence Form, their agreement emphasizing a culture of shared expectations. These include making a commitment to the extended school hours, Saturday school and summer school, the school dress code and conduct code, and homework. If parents need help managing their commitments, staff are ready to help. One mother whose son consistently skipped his homework explained to the principal that she could not control the boy's TV viewing. "Would it help for you to bring in the TV?" Witney offered. "And she nearly fell out of the chair. It's sitting here on my floor until her son earns it back."
"We focus on the pieces students are missing and work to catch them up and prepare them for college."
Parents are involved at KIPP in a myriad of ways: chaperoning end-of-the-year school trips such as visits to boarding schools and high schools across the country, supervising Saturday school, coaching sports, working in the office, serving on the board of directors, supporting students to focus on getting their work done, and providing transportation after school. One parent works in the office and helps other parents to communicate with teachers and administrators in Spanish. Parents serve food in the cafeteria, supervise Wall Street after school, and run fundraisers for the school. Bus transportation is provided to and from school, but parents often pick students up from the extended-day homework center and activities. Surveys find that parents are enthusiastic about the KIPP program and confident that it is making a difference for their children.
Governance and Accountability
KIPP, Inc., holds the charter for KIPP Academy Houston as well as for three other schools in Texas. The 19-member board of directors of KIPP, Inc., oversees the principals of each Texas campus and makes sure each campus adheres to the charter goals and Texas Education Code guidelines. The board also supports each campus for additional fundraising and marketing and holds each principal accountable for his or her school's academic and fiscal performance. Board members include CEOs, accountants, lawyers, educators, a doctor, community volunteers, and one parent.
KIPP Academy Houston operates on an annual budget of about $3 million. The school typically raises about $500,000 a year beyond the $7,400 per pupil provided by state and federal funding. Principal Witney points out that this is about $2,200 per pupil less than in the Houston district. "Even with our fundraising," he says, "we're streamlined. We don't waste money on administrative people. We have to pay for facilities, we have a program for alumni, we pay for out-of-state field trips. And the Saturday school teacher and I pick up the trash."
Everyone in the school is expected to live by its credo: "There are no shortcuts."
KIPP Academy Houston measures its success with a 99 percent attendance rate, a waiting list larger than its total enrollment, outstanding standardized test scores, and eighth-grade students who have accepted $13.5 million in high school scholarships over the past five years. KIPP Academy Houston has been recognized as a Texas Exemplary School every year since 1996, and, in 2003, was recognized as a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. The New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Forbes, and other media have lauded KIPP's remarkable results, and KIPP is widely considered one of the most promising initiatives in public education today. With the backing of the Pisces Foundation, the KIPP national office trains future school leaders to create KIPP schools across the country.
KIPP Academy Houston will soon embark on a $15 million capital campaign for facilities and an endowment to expand their program so that a child can enter in preschool and continue through high school.
Oglethorpe Charter School
Location Savannah, Ga.
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1998
English Learners 0%
Subsidized Meals 20%
Special Needs 5%
Per Pupil Spending $6,000
In 1997, when Savannah parent Martha Nesbit first pictured an alternative to the public middle schools available to her children, it was as a member of the district task force charged with researching ways to improve the district's lagging middle schools. But when the district accepted almost none of the task force recommendations, Nesbit approached a group of five friends in her church and asked, "If I think about starting a school, would you be on board with that?"
From the beginning, the parents' vision was for a school that would provide character education as well as challenging academics. They wanted a school that had an active role for parents, and they wanted student diversity. Yet the five friends were all white. To ensure that the school's student population would be representative of the district, where 57 percent of the students are African American, they purposefully invited African American parents to join them in shaping the school.
Because Georgia had no legislation allowing for a charter school that was a start-up (rather than a district conversion of an existing school), parents faced an unusual first step in securing their charter. They became lobbyists, persuading state legislators to pass the needed legislation. In addition to their trips to the capital, "We did a letter writing campaign and we did telephone calls. We probably made hundreds of calls," one parent estimates. The next step, securing the charter, was its own challenge. Knowing that they would be encountering a skeptical district board, parents prepared carefully. The charter was narrowly approved, five to four. Parents began preparations to open the school eight months later.
"We had nothing," one parent explains. "Somebody let us use a back office room in their insurance business where we set up our fax machine and a phone. We advertised for teachers in the newspaper and interviewed them in that office. They had no school to look at, no equipment, facilities, nothing. We still had to hire our principal and we had to have students." The district came up with an abandoned school that was both smaller than parents had planned for and in terrible disrepair. They took it. They found a principal that March, someone who would commute from her home in South Carolina. And the same month, at the district's showcase of all its magnet programs, according to parents there was "a line out the door for people to apply to come to our school."
The building capacity allows Oglethorpe to enroll 330 students, and there is a waiting list for each grade. Next year's sixth-grade class has almost twice as many applicants as can be accommodated. Students are chosen by lottery, and the efforts of the school's founding parents to reflect the diversity of the community in the school population have been effective. About 38 percent of Oglethorpe students are African American, 51 percent are white, 4 percent are Asian American, 3 percent are Hispanic, and 4 percent are multiracial. About 20 percent of students qualify for subsidized meals. Five percent are designated special education and participate in the school's inclusion program.
Program and Operations
Oglethorpe Charter School is an official Core Knowledge school, which means that at least 80 percent of the Core Knowledge curriculum is taught annually. The Core Knowledge curriculum, developed by scholar E.D. Hirsch, is designed to begin in the first grade, so Oglethorpe teachers frequently have to scramble to fill in their middle school students' missing Core Knowledge background. Nonetheless, teachers and parents like the sense that students are learning what it takes to be "a really educated person." As one parent puts it, "They are teaching things that everybody should know in life, to be a participating member of society." And even though Oglethorpe does not focus on test preparation, an eighth-grade student reports, "We have been hearing from students who have graduated that they seem to be a lot more prepared for high school than their friends who came from regular schools. Our school is a lot more challenging, and so by the time test time comes, we are very prepared and ready to take the test. We always do well."
From the beginning, parents' vision was for a school that would provide character education as well as challenging academics. They wanted a school that had an active role for parents, and they wanted student diversity.
All students at Oglethorpe are held to high academic standards, and participation in sports and special interest clubs, instead of attendance in study halls, depends on satisfactory grades. A Personal Education Plan (PEP) is created for each student, with clear learning goals related to a student's progress meeting subject area objectives. The PEP also includes standardized test data, results of a multiple intelligences survey, study skills monitoring, student reflections and self-evaluations, teacher comments, and portfolio work samples from each year.
Teachers at Oglethorpe work hard to meet students' individual needs and all provide regular tutorials for students during lunch and after school. Students who need help get it. One student explains what feels different about Oglethorpe: "I've been in schools where they help you with some things, but teachers here stay after school and stay over their work time to help you. It is really small here, so all the teachers know all the kids. And you feel a lot more, I guess, comfortable with your teachers."
Students entering the sixth grade can test into the Advanced Instruction with Motivation (AIM) class. Students in the AIM class can earn five Carnegie units for high school credit by passing a test at the end of the course. The AIM class is self-contained and student diversity in the class is controlled to be proportional to that in the school. Oglethorpe also has a teacher who works with students identified for academic intervention in a special reading program and after school two or three days a week between 2:30 and 5:30. Every effort is made to help students succeed. Last year, for example, a small group of students who failed their grade-six standards were placed in an accelerated program and given support until December to catch up. Three of the five students were able to move into the seventh grade, while two continued in sixth grade.
The school operates on a block schedule with 90-minute classes and a special schedule on Fridays. Students say they like the block schedule. They note, "You get more done in class," and "Because it doesn't meet each day, you have more time to get your homework done, so it doesn't feel overwhelming." Classes average 22 students. The school day begins at 7:30 and ends at 2:30, with tutorials from 2:30 to 3:20. On Fridays, classes are shortened to allow for a one-hour block that rotates among assemblies, clubs, and TLC (Titans Love Character) advisory group.
TLC is the most explicit aspect of Oglethorpe's focus on character development and is organized into cross-grade groups of about 12 students each. Every month a different "virtue"-such as integrity or service-is emphasized and students discuss what it means to them. The school also has a tightly monitored dress code and forbids students to bring personal electronics such as music players or video games to school. Rap music is excluded from the annual talent show. "It's strict here," students agree. Yet the results are positive. Last year only 44 detentions were given out for the entire year. When students are off campus, "People can tell who the Oglethorpe students are," one teacher says, "because of their good behavior."
Oglethorpe is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and in 2001 as part of the SAC accreditation, the school conducted a self-study focusing on student improvement. The study revealed that teachers needed more training in the Core Knowledge curriculum, which they now get. It also led the school to set goals for improving student learning outcomes. In 2002, Oglethorpe implemented SRA's Direct Instruction Corrective Reading program for their students who were reading below grade level-one- third of the student body. As part of this initiative, some students' parents agreed to become involved in the parent reading partners program, reading stories and completing vocabulary-building exercises together with their children at home.
As a Georgia charter school, Oglethorpe Charter School does not require teachers to be certified, but they must demonstrate competence in their subject areas. One teacher has a doctorate and one teacher came from university teaching. Most have many years of teaching experience. As a faculty they share common practices and have formed teacher research study groups for ongoing professional development. In addition to participating in weekly department meetings and monthly professional development sessions, each teacher compiles a professional portfolio. Self-reflection is part of teachers' annual evaluation process. Teachers describe feeling "respected as educators" and note that communication is very open at the school. Two teachers represent the faculty on the school's board of directors.
Parents and Partners
As stipulated by Georgia charter law, a parent-majority board governs Oglethorpe Charter School and monitors its operations. Parents have the ultimate decision-making responsibility for the school.
While membership on the board rotates and only a few parents serve at a time, all parents sign a contract to provide service to the school. Parents are obligated for 20 hours a year (or 10 hours if a single parent). The weekly school newsletter contains suggestions for ways that parents can earn their service hours and reminds them to do their part. For example, parents can chaperone field trips, prepare food for events, lead clubs, help in the office, and serve on committees. They can do weekend maintenance chores at the school, and they can receive credit for attending school programs such as the Math/Science Night and sporting events. If parents do not fulfill the family contract (or request a hardship exemption), their students are not allowed to re-enroll the following year.
A Personal Education Plan (PEP) is created for each student, with clear learning goals related to a student's progress meeting subject area objectives.
Communication with parents is frequent. Homework assignments are posted on the school Web site. Every Wednesday, folders are sent home with the school newsletter and classroom updates. Every quarter parents receive a mid-quarter report and a quarter-end report card for their children. "The school tends to attract families who want to be involved in their kids' education," one parent observes.
Beyond its relationship with parents, Oglethorpe has developed partnerships within the community. The school uses a local church facility for assemblies, special events, and gym classes; and the music program is operated in conjunction with a local university. The after-school program is in partnership with a nearby YMCA. In addition, Oglethorpe students participate in community outreach, such as an annual beach cleanup, diabetes walk, or food drive for homeless shelters. In March, the whole school became reading partners for students at a local elementary school.
The weekly school newsletter contains suggestions for ways that parents can earn their service hours and reminds them to do their part.
Accountability and Governance
The 11-person board of directors includes a parent majority, community members, two teacher representatives, and, in a non-voting capacity, the school administrators. Board members serve one- or two-year terms. Facility needs are a constant headache. In addition to contending with the building's generally poor condition, the board has needed to add restrooms and a new drainage system. The roof must be replaced. And to accommodate an additional class at each grade, portable classrooms are the only possible solution. One has already been added and another has been ordered.
Resources are tight. The Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools provides the school facility and student transportation. Per pupil funding averages about $6,000. Last year expenses were $2,112,000, which included $80,000 raised through grants to cover the costs of developing the reading program, paying a technology teacher, and buying laptops for the computer lab.
In June 2003, the school charter came up for renewal by the Savannah school board. This time, in contrast to the narrow vote in favor of the school's initial charter, the renewal passed unanimously. To even its toughest audience, Oglethorpe Charter School had proved its mettle.
Parents and the board are proud to have created a school that reflects the diversity of the Savannah community and that addresses student learning needs ranging from special education to advanced academics. For the 94 students reading below grade level, enrollment in the school's Corrective Reading program is beginning to make a difference. Sixty-nine percent of sixth-graders read at grade level; at seventh and eighth grades, this rises to 78 and 79 percent. In writing, 98 percent of students met or exceeded the state standards. Parent involvement, including the 44-hour average that families contribute each year, sets a model for the kind of character development that parents and faculty agree is woven throughout everything that happens at the school.
Ralph A. Gates Elementary School
Location Lake Forest, Calif.
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1999
English Learners 44%
Subsidized Meals 63%
Special Needs 5%
Per Pupil Spending $5,367
The most distinctive feature of Ralph A. Gates Elementary School is its two-way language immersion (Spanish/English) program. In 1998, a group of concerned parents spearheaded the conversion of Gates from a regular California elementary school to a charter school, in large part to protect this program. The recent passage of Proposition 227 had all but eliminated bilingual programs in the state, but parents, teachers, the community, and the school board in Saddleback Valley Unified School District were all committed to maintaining the program that had been developed over the years at Gates. A Gates parent, who later became school board president, took the lead along with a resource teacher in writing the charter application. They applied to become a district-dependent charter, a type of charter under California law that preserves the school district as the management organization to deal with contracts, personnel policies, and so forth, but allows the school site council control over instruction, staffing configurations, and budgeting.
The multicultural, multilingual mission at Gates goes beyond a particular program. The school's goal is to educate each student as fully as possible, advancing the life prospects of students who often come from families in which the parents did not complete high school. A few years ago the principal and staff reviewed and revised the school mission statement, taking a careful look at their student population, which had an increasing number of English language learners and low-income students. They established a set of seven key "tenets" that guide how they interact as a staff and school community. A sense of purpose and high expectations pervades the school culture. The principal holds teachers to these standards, and she is currently counseling out one of the staff. Teachers agree with this approach. As one explains, "Either you are part of our staff or you need to find another staff that meets your vision and your mission."
The celebration of multicultural community is at the heart of the school. The principal describes how the large number of students from bi- and tri-racial families bolsters an attitude of acceptance for all students. Kermes, an annual multicultural fair hosted by the parents and community with assistance from the staff, is attended by 3,000 to 5,000 people-families from across the Orange County area-in a literal celebration of the multicultural community that Gates represents. Of the school's 850 students, 44 percent are English language learners and 63 percent qualify for subsidized meals. The students enrolled in the two-way immersion program represent 43 percent of the school population, while 57 percent of the students are in the regular program. In the school as a whole, providing the best possible education to these students and enhancing their lives and those of their families is the purpose that drives a caring and committed staff.
Program and Operations
Gates is a welcoming home for bilingual language development for both children and adults. Students are enrolled in either the two-way language immersion program or the regular program, which includes English language development strategies. After school, students-both English and Spanish speakers-can extend their fluency through programs funded by a Title III grant. This after-school foreign language program includes Spanish as a second language classes for the native English speakers and a Spanish literacy program for Spanish speakers who are in the regular program but want to extend their academic literacy in their first language. French classes will be added to the after-school foreign language program as it expands.
Gates School Tenets
We strive for high academic standards and expectations for all students in an environment that stimulates learning.
We promote students' self-esteem with positive reinforcement and build good character so each student can be successful.
We believe in programs that allow students to progress academically through appropriately leveled instruction.
We believe our parents should be equipped with information and resources in order to support their child's learning.
We respect diversity and individual differences in our students and staff.
We believe students should be provided with opportunities to learn a second language.
We use available technology to help our students, parents, and staff prepare for the future.
Parents can build their language skills, too. When a survey revealed that almost half the parents had not completed high school and that they wanted to learn English and computer literacy skills, the school responded. Working with the district's adult education department, they combined Title I, Title III, and adult education funding to set up a parent education program. Now parents go to school with their children, heading for one of the school's two computer labs, where they take ESL classes that also build computer literacy. After school there are classes for English-speaking parents who want to learn Spanish and for Spanish-speaking parents who want to become literate in their native language.
This array of programs has attracted highly qualified staff members-all have specialized certification-who are excited about teaching English learners and committed to helping their students succeed. Gates enrolls more language learners and low-performing students than any other school in the district, and support for these students is high. Parents who share the staff's enthusiasm for language development have formed the Advocates for Language Learning group. Members of this group have become knowledgeable about the international track record of two-way immersion programs, attend conferences, and actively contribute to school planning.
While the carefully designed language programs at Gates provide a solid base, the staff attribute their students' recent large increases in test scores to an additional factor-the dynamic model of flexibly regrouping students homogeneously for directed reading, writing, and math instruction, which the school began four years ago. Suspending the assumption of "one teacher-one classroom," they instituted a Joplin-plan grouping arrangement in which students are regrouped every four to five weeks into homogeneous skill groups. Students in grades 4-6 are grouped across grades; students in grades 2 and 3 are grouped within their grade. The regrouping has created an opportunity for teachers in grades 2-6 to work together and collaborate, sharing their knowledge of the children whose education they share. For the children, the regrouping is a way to break down stereotypes, meet individual needs, and give everyone access to the same standards-based curriculum. Every group works on the same standards, but assignments vary in depth, and group sizes are smaller for students who need more help. Special education students are included in these groups, for example, and the resource special education teacher is part of the teaching team.
If a student needs extra assistance, the Gator Assistance Team steps in. This team of eight staff members is trained in the Masonic model to assess the student's social, emotional, and economic needs. Teachers make the referrals; the team sifts through them and makes recommendations that are implemented. The student is then monitored, and, if needed, the team can move the child to special education testing. The school's community liaison can also get involved as needed to facilitate access to community counseling or health resources.
Distinctive about the school culture is the "can-do" attitude. Teachers and staff will try whatever, provided it has worked for someone else or has evidence to show that it is a valid, promising program or approach. After trying and evaluating something new, staff decide whether to continue it or not. For example, when regrouping was instituted, in 2000-01, the whole first half of the year was dedicated just to getting the planning down pat. Teachers finally got started, halfway through the year, regrouping students for language arts. Initially, there were a lot of naysayers and doubters, people who were hesitant or even a little scared. What the principal suggested to them is indicative of the spirit that has served the school well: "We're all jumping off the fence and if we fall, I'll fall first and I will be your pillow." The principal, who had been at the school only a year, felt honored that the staff were willing to trust her, and after only two weeks, teachers realized that their experiment with regrouping was working. Even the loudest naysayer was pleased to have been wrong. At the end of the school year, teachers were eager to know whether regrouping would continue the following year. The principal left it up to them, and that's when regrouping was instituted for math as well as language arts.
Gates is a welcoming home for bilingual language development for both children and adults.
The teachers have developed rubrics for developmental progress that are used for student assessment, by the students themselves to reflect on their progress, for instructional planning, and in the regular reporting to parents. Teachers also refer to monthly printouts from standardized assessments to help them link their instruction to identified student needs.
Parents and Partners
Parents are active contributors to the school, volunteering in classrooms and running supplementary activities. The annual Kermes multicultural celebration is a highlight of the year, and draws participation from businesses and families in the surrounding community as well as from the school's own population. The parent-run Multicultural Club, the Computer Club, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and Homework Club supplement the after-school programs.
Parents and teachers work together to bring in new opportunities. In 2002, for example, the staff saw a need to help students increase in resiliency, respect for themselves and others, and responsibility for their work. A team of parents and staff attended a regional "Asset Building" workshop. They returned with training for the rest of the staff and began the integration of a character education program, focusing on teaching students how to build and practice the traits of positive character. This year, resiliency training is being extended to the assets classes the school provides for parents.
The staff reciprocate parents' involvement by going out of their way to be accessible to those who want to talk about their children's progress. As the principal reports, "We are here whenever they can make it. Before school, our teachers will come in at 8:00 in the morning, 7:00 in the morning. They will stay until 6:00, 7:00 at night to meet with the parents whom they feel they need to meet with."
They instituted a Joplin-plan grouping arrangement in which students are regrouped every four to five weeks into homogeneous skill groups.
In addition, the school provides regular and frequent communication to parents in both Spanish and English. Specific information about student progress is provided to parents monthly.
Governance and Accountability
The school site council, made up of six parents and six staff members, sets and oversees the school program. While taking advantage of district management services and staff development offerings, Gates has autonomy to allocate the school's budget and determine staffing as well as instructional programs. They can combine funding from different sources and use these funds flexibly as they determine what best meets the school's needs. For example, while the district's normal staffing pattern would not include an assistant principal for a school of this size, the council felt that additional oversight was needed and allocated a position for a teacher on special assignment. They also hired a number of part-time teachers who reduce group sizes during the regrouping for core academic subjects. While their annual plans and budgets are submitted to Saddleback Valley Unified School District as the authorizing agency, the district board is highly supportive of Gates and routinely accepts their proposals. The charter came up for renewal in 2003 and was quickly and unanimously approved.
Student scores provide positive evidence of the school's effectiveness. The 2000 Academic Performance Index (API) was 689 and was targeted to be raised 6 points for 2001. The reading regrouping empowered student subgroups to make significant gains above the target set by the state, raising the API by 32 points to 731. In 2002-03, Gates staff restructured the mathematics programs based on test data from 2001. This regrouping allowed them to create smaller classes for struggling students (as well as high achievers) so that they could provide the mathematics curriculum at each group's instructional level. Additionally, the program has increased the redesignation rate for students to be classified "fluent English," in both the two-way immersion and regular programs. In recognition of the school's continued student achievement, Gates received the California Distinguished Schools Award in 2002 and the California Title I Achieving Schools Award in 2003.
Roxbury Preparatory Charter School
Location Boston, Mass.
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1999
English Learners 0%
Subsidized Meals 56%
Special Needs 7%
Per Pupil Spending $12,910
This urban middle school was founded in order to prepare its African American and Hispanic students to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college. Located in Boston's tough Roxbury neighborhood, this charter school is filling a gap in local students' education choices. Unlike any other middle school in this impoverished community, Roxbury Preparatory Charter School (RPC) features an academic program designed specifically to prepare students for college.
The philosophy driving Roxbury Prep is that when curriculum is engaging and rigorous, when student character and community responsibility are emphasized, and when the community network supports student academic, social, and physical well-being, all students can succeed in college preparatory programs, even the 66 percent of the school's incoming students who are reading one or more grade levels below the norm.
The key to Roxbury Prep's success in bridging the achievement gap is its relentless and systematic focus on academic achievement. There is an urgency in the school, an understanding that this is a life-changing opportunity for students.
The school was started in 1999 by a team of educators-John King; Evan Rudall; Roger Harris, then principal of the James P. Timilty School; and Keith Motley, the vice chancellor of student affairs at the University of Massachusetts, Boston-who recognized that Roxbury did not have any public schools dedicated to a college preparatory program. With a charter from the state of Massachusetts, they originally intended to create a school for grades 6-12. Amid the challenges of start-up, however, they realized that managing such a comprehensive facility and providing all the options that come with a high school program, such as sports, was beyond their means. The board of trustees and administrators decided that, rather than launch the high school program, they preferred to focus on developing an outstanding college preparatory middle school for students in grades 6-8. As John King says, "It was better to focus on doing middle school well."
Roxbury Prep has 180 students: 72 sixth-graders, 58 seventh-graders and 50 eighth-graders this year. Eighty percent of the students are African American and 20 percent are Hispanic. Female students outnumber male students by 56 to 44 percent. Three-quarters of the students come from the Boston neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.
Program and Operations
Roxbury Prep has developed many schoolwide structures to create a common culture and work ethic for students. The academic day runs from 7:45 to 3:15, followed by mandatory enrichment classes, after-school clubs, and a homework center. Each day begins with breakfast in advisory groups and 25 minutes of Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) time. Students take six academic classes of 50 minutes each plus physical education and computers twice a week. Each day students have two periods of mathematics and two periods of reading/language arts; the extra emphasis helps students make up ground as needed and get ahead in these basics.
Fridays are structured differently, to allow for 1:30 p.m. dismissal so that teachers can meet for professional development. Saturdays find the school open and as many as half the school's 20 teachers and 20 to 30 students on hand.
Classroom practices promote continuity from one class to the next. For example, each day teachers outline on the blackboard a specific, measurable "Aim" for the day, a "Do Now" activity, and homework. When students enter any classroom at Roxbury Prep, they move quickly to their assigned seats and begin working silently on the "Do Now" activity, a five-minute warm-up that gets them settled and immediately focused on school work.
Each day students have two periods of mathematics and two periods of reading/language arts.
In a math procedures classroom, the "Mad Minute" routine is used to check basic math facts, helping students to develop speed and accuracy. The 24 sixth-graders are serious and focused on the work at hand. The teacher does not want students having side conversations with their neighbors, instructing them, "You have a question? You ask me." The class is fast paced, highly structured, and the tone disciplined.
Classes do not use textbooks, except for reference. The teachers draw from a curriculum prepared by staff during the previous summer and aligned both to state and Roxbury Prep standards. This curriculum, in turn, is refined using the plans developed in previous years.
In addition to a focus on basics, the school offers many enrichment classes, including Spanish, art, sports, choir, drama, computers, mock trial, and yearbook. Clubs include a history movie club, a science club, peer tutoring, music, and the student newspaper.
Character development is also an explicit part of the Roxbury Prep experience. It is woven into the daily interactions in the classrooms. As one teacher says, "Students are developing a sense of respect, how you speak to someone, how to ask a question for help. It is part of the daily learning." Friday advisory meetings have a specific character development focus at each grade: the sixth grade focuses on responsibility and time management, the focus at seventh grade is community and non-violence, and eighth-graders address leadership and community. Additionally, every eighth-grader is paired with a sixth-grade buddy, usually a student who rides the same bus, to help create a supportive sense of community across grades. Schoolwide community meetings are another opportunity to reinforce school values. The entire school comes together to share what they are learning in their classes, see performances by enrichment classes or clubs, and celebrate student academic achievement.
To ensure a safe, structured, and focused learning environment, Roxbury enforces a strict code of conduct and discipline. All students wear blue shirts, navy pants or khakis, and brown or black shoes and belts. Boys wear ties. Students not in compliance are not allowed to attend class and parents are asked to pick them up or bring them appropriate clothing. Students are required to be in line and silent in the halls when passing from one class to the next. In class they are expected to be focused and on task. Students are polite when they ask questions, raising their hands and using a respectful tone.
Students may be given demerits for conduct violations such as tardiness, school bus misbehavior, chewing gum, talking in the hallways, disrupting class, arriving unprepared, not completing homework on time, or disrespectful behavior. Three demerits lead to after-school detentions, and multiple demerits result in extended detentions on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Any student who is struggling academically may be pulled out of enrichment or physical education classes for tutoring. Students may also be required to attend after-school tutoring, homework center, Saturday school, and summer school to improve their academic performance.
Multiple assessments guide Roxbury's curriculum and instruction. Comprehensive exams based on the school curriculum guide ongoing adjustments to meet student learning needs. Students all take a benchmark comprehensive exam at the beginning of the year. Comprehensive exams at the end of each trimester indicate fine-grained academic progress aligned with the RPC standards, state standards, and Stanford 9 standards, when relevant. Teachers create extensive spreadsheets to show each standard and knowledge area tested and how each student performed on each question. Analyzing these results helps teachers see which students need additional support in specific areas. Students receive progress reports monthly and report cards each trimester. Students take the Stanford 9 at the midyear and at the end of the school year to monitor academic progress.
Each Friday, teachers engage in an afternoon of professional development. They devote one hour to grade-level team meetings, one hour to inquiry groups, and a half hour for a staff meeting. By collaborating to address challenges that arise, teachers solidify their teams and delve deeply into pedagogy, problem solving, and teaching issues. During inquiry group meetings, teachers share their efforts and analyze student work in order to focus their instruction. For example, one team of teachers saw the need to focus on the use of evidence in writing. They developed a shared vocabulary, rubrics, and a teaching system across classes so that when students were writing paragraphs in one class, they would know to draw on strategies they were learning in their other classes.
During the summer, staff are paid an additional stipend to devote three weeks to planning and preparing curriculum for the school year. They develop Curriculum Alignment Templates (CATs) that align with Roxbury Prep standards, the Massachusetts standards, clear and measurable benchmarks, learning activities, and assessment for each unit. A school curriculum file is maintained in binders and electronically, and teachers are required to save all CATs, syllabi, assessments, and course materials in hard copy and on the server. The process is valuable for developing shared knowledge among the staff and passing it on to new teachers, who can review the CATs for the courses they are teaching and build on those lesson plans and curriculum units.
Parents can expect to hear from their child's teacher adviser at least once every two weeks.
Parents and Partners
The school brings families into the school culture with an orientation that presents the ways that Roxbury Prep is different from traditional public schools. Families and students sign the Family and School Contract at the beginning of the year, agreeing to make the school a safe and orderly environment and to ensure that students arrive at school and class on time, with homework completed. Parents also agree to participate in school activities, to communicate regularly with the teachers, and to follow the guidelines of the school.
When the school first started, the codirectors believed that all families needed to carry the responsibility for making sure that students completed their homework, but as it became clear that some students did not have a quiet place to study or needed additional support while working on homework, the school added more support systems. With students having two or three hours of homework every night, there is now a homework center, where teachers can provide academic help and students have a quiet space to complete their assignments. The homework center can be mandatory for students who are not completing their work or are falling behind and receiving poor grades.
Teachers work hard to keep communication lines open with families. Classroom teachers send home weekly syllabi for parents' information and signature, and parents are asked to check homework assignments nightly. Regular parent-teacher conferences keep parents informed about their child's academic progress. In addition, parents can expect to hear from their child's teacher adviser at least once every two weeks. Teachers each serve as advisers for 12 students. They know these students well, spending breakfast and lunch with them,the morning DEAR time, and the Friday character development advisories. Parents appreciate the Roxbury teachers' commitment. "They come early and stay late," says one. Another parent reports what a pleasure it is that when teachers call, it is not always bad news. She also notes that her daughter can call her teachers until 8:00 at night if she has a question.
All Roxbury Prep graduates have gone on to high schools with college preparatory missions.
The Family Involvement Committee organizes potluck dinners and ongoing ways for families to be involved with the school program. Two parent representatives are on the school's board of trustees and serve on board committees.
In addition to several small community partnerships, Roxbury Prep benefits from donors who provide the school with about $350,000 annually in grant funding.
Governance and Accountability
Roxbury Prep operates on an annual budget of about $2,350,000. The school receives state-funded tuition of about $9,500 per student and other state and federal monies for programs such as Title I and special education, but the average cost to educate a student is estimated at $13,000 per year. The difference represents a healthy amount, and members of the board of trustees are valued in part for their ability to help the school raise funds. Of the 12 board members, 10 are Boston-area community members and two are parents.
The school has two codirectors. John King oversees curriculum and development and teacher observation and evaluation, and Josh Phillips is in charge of facilities, operations, and fundraising. But as they explain in unison, "We make the major decisions together."
Roxbury's charter was renewed in February 2004. Among the state's predominantly African American schools, Roxbury Prep students in 2002-03 had the highest average scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests in sixth-grade math, eighth-grade math, and eighth-grade science, and the second-highest average score on the seventh-grade English test. Students averaged over 2.5 grade levels of progress on the Stanford 9. Of course, the most important measure of success to the school's families and staff is students' ability to continue on a path toward college. All Roxbury Prep graduates have gone on to high schools with college preparatory missions, and the school's recent graduating class earned over $400,000 in scholarships and financial aid toward tuition in private high schools.
The School of Arts and Sciences
Location Tallahassee, Fla.
Year First Chartered and Authorized 1999
English Learners 2%
Subsidized Meals 19%
Special Needs 22%
Per Pupil Spending $5,750
A visitor to this school sees little that is typical of a traditional classroom. Students in multi-age classrooms range across three grades-K-2, 3-5, or 6-8. They are seated collegially at round tables rather than in rows of desks. They may be working on independent seatwork, cooperative learning with a partner or small group, or an interdisciplinary project. The goal sheets and checklists in students' folders let them manage their learning activities. The artifacts students select for their portfolios are an important measure of their achievement. Peer mediation and a student court help maintain school discipline, and all teachers and students are trained in conflict resolution and mediation.
According to Principal Debo Powers, the vision for the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) emerged from a group of educators and parents. The result is a school that centers around beliefs that learning is natural-since human beings are inherently curious-and that academics are only one component of education, best learned through hands-on activities that tap into real interest and through interdisciplinary approaches framed by large themes. High among the qualities valued at SAS are self-motivation, critical thinking, and creative expression. The school's unique curriculum design and program structures dovetail to support its mission "to facilitate individual educational ownership and responsible lifelong learners through interdisciplinary approaches to arts and sciences in a safe and nurturing environment."
SAS greeted its inaugural students in 1999, three years after first seeking a charter from the Leon County School District. Delays getting charter approval were followed with a series of frustrations in finding a suitable facility. In what might have been the last straw, just six weeks before the school was to open in August 1998, the school year had to be cancelled. Another facility had fallen through. The principal and teachers scrambled to find other positions for the year, a year that they turned into an opportunity to think and plan for yet another August. The continuing commitment to open the school was remarkable. "When you think about it," Powers says, "it's just amazing."
The students who are drawn to SAS, teachers estimate, include about one-third who have been home-schooled, one-third who select SAS specifically for its alternative pedagogy, and one-third who choose the school because previous schools did not meet their needs. Currently, SAS has a waiting list of 400 students for the school's 226 places. The student population is 62 percent white, 22 percent African American, and 9 percent Hispanic and Asian American; 22 percent qualify for special education services.
Program and Operations
SAS has three classrooms for each multi-age cluster-primary, intermediate, and middle school. Primary and intermediate classes have a maximum of 25 students and each class has a credentialed teacher and an associate teacher working as a team to facilitate instruction in all academic subject areas. In the middle school, classes rotate to different subject area teachers. Students in all grades take music, drama, art, Spanish, and physical education. Daily hands-on science is also a feature at every level.
Learning is driven by students' curiosity and is focused through a project-based interdisciplinary approach. Arts, science, foreign language, reading, writing, and mathematics are all integrated. For example, older students learning about Asia spent six weeks preparing projects whose topics ranged from sushi to Genghis Khan to modern-day sweat shops in China. Regardless of the topic, their teacher points out, "You get speaking skills, you get writing skills, and you get research skills."
Students stay with the same teacher for a three-year period, so teachers really get to know the individual students.
Instruction at all levels is highly individualized. In a K-2 classroom, where students are working in small groups with math manipulatives, some are learning subtraction using beads, others are learning about number place, while yet another group uses plastic coins to learn addition. Every student has an individual folder, indicating which activities he or she is ready to work on. The two teachers and a parent volunteer circulate around the room, working first with one child and then on to the next, asking questions, assisting, and providing direct instruction and support when necessary. Next door, students in another K-2 classroom work on literacy projects. A small group sits reading a story with one teacher, while another group works at a table with a teacher creating books. A few students work independently on a word game, and it is not easy to tell age or grade distinctions among students within the class.
Teachers find the multi-age classroom a powerful factor for cooperative learning, with older students naturally helping younger ones. Students are taught to work together, support is provided as needed, and no one is restricted from learning more by his or her particular age or grade. The principal explains that the younger students try to emulate the older students, and it raises the standard of work for everyone. SAS students are expected to work toward their personal best and to respect everyone. "No put downs" is an operating principle of the school and contributes to the self-confidence exhibited by students. "It's very, like, peaceful," a middle school student reports. "I've never seen a bully here."
Students stay with the same teacher for a three-year period, so teachers really get to know the individual needs and learning styles of their students. In addition to the continuity this provides, it contributes to the secure learning environment the school strives for. As one student says, "It's really a priority to have respect between the teachers and students. You don't have to be afraid of being embarrassed in front of the class or having them get mad at you. You feel free to talk to them." Students appreciate the freedom they are given to express themselves. For some this manifests in capes and plumes, one enjoys a spot of blue hair.
Teachers describe the natural transition of students who are new to the school and new to taking personal responsibility for their learning. "I don't want to tell them every move to make at every moment," one teacher explains, "so we do a lot of modeling. And we're constantly explaining our way of work. You just watch them flounder for a little while, you know. Their first projects aren't like everybody else's, but when they see what everybody else has done, their next projects are. You can just watch their growth."
Each year the staff analyze students' progress and use what they find to develop the schoolwide improvement plan and to set annual goals, which are published in the annual School Public Accountability Report. This process helps to keep teachers, administrators, and parents focused on the mission of the school, in both planning and implementation throughout the school year. Data from standardized tests are part of the mix, even though teachers uniformly say, "We don't teach to the tests."
Teachers do, however, use Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores to inform their practice. In reading, teachers use Scholastic's STAR reading inventory to get a baseline and then measure progress using FCAT scores. In 2002, when FCAT math scores were below the district average in grades 3-5, teachers developed school improvement objectives to focus on math instruction. With a $10,000 grant, they engaged in professional development around multi-age math methods. They adopted a hands-on approach to math instruction for grades K-5. After the training, when the new curriculum was implemented, third-grade FCAT math scores rose from 299 in 2002 to 335 in 2003, exceeding the state and the district averages, and showing an increase of 32 percent. Seventh- and eighth- grade FCAT math scores in 2003 were the highest in the district, and eighth-grade FCAT scores were second in the state, behind a school that admits only gifted students. This year FCAT math and reading scores exceeded the district average at every grade.
In a school with no grades and no report cards, students are very involved in evaluating their own learning. Students select all the work in their portfolios, choosing the work that best demonstrates progress towards academic goals and mastery of the appropriate Sunshine State Standards, as well as the work of which they are most proud. Students organize their portfolios on the basis of the multiple intelligences identified by scholar Howard Gardner.
Parents and Partners
At least twice a year parents meet with their child and the child's teachers to go over the child's portfolio. Typically, a student and his or her parents come in before the scheduled meeting with the teachers so that the child has a chance to orient parents to the portfolio. Then the teachers join them and the teachers talk with the child and ask questions about various pieces of work, with the parents observing. According to one teacher, the process is very affirming: "The child is able to tell, 'This is me. It's all about me.' And it really is."
In a school with no grades and no report cards, students are very involved in evaluating their own learning.
Parents like the fact that the school's developmental approach is grounded in the principles of how children learn and that they can be highly involved in their children's education. For the many parents who home-schooled their children, enrolling them in SAS was the first time they were willing to entrust their children to a public school. Parents also express satisfaction that there is not a lot of homework at SAS, so children have time to develop artistic, theatrical, and musical interests. Almost half of SAS students participate in an after-school program that features specialty classes such as yoga, puppetry, African dance, nature craft, chess, track, moviemaking, and the like.
Six parents serve on the 13-member school board. Other ways SAS parents are involved include personnel hiring, fundraising, acquiring furniture and supplies, providing transportation, maintaining the school building, volunteering in classrooms, supervising on the playground and on field trips, and organizing teacher appreciation events.
Maintaining its early support from educators at nearby Florida State University (FSU), SAS has relationships with a number of programs there: the fine arts museum, the science education department, the family and child services department, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, the music school, and the physics department all contribute to the school. Science mentorships-at FSU and local wildlife centers-have involved students in scientific inquiry and the work of real scientists.
Governance and Accountability
Governance of the school is at several levels. The school advisory council consists of three students, three teachers, three parents, and one board member. Their role is to write the school improvement plan and to recommend individuals for the school board. The 13 board members make a three-year commitment, with a third of the members changing each year. Their role is to set policy, oversee finances, and evaluate the principal. Each spring the board engages in strategic planning. The school also has a teacher leadership council, student government, and PTSO. A management team includes the principal, assistant principal/CFO, and the office staff.
Parents like the fact that the school's developmental approach is grounded in the principles of how children learn.
SAS has a supportive, positive relationship with its charter authorizer, the local Leon County School District. SAS is electronically connected to the district database system and has access to district e-mail. The principal attends district principals' meetings, and SAS staff are welcome to participate in district professional development opportunities. The district provides physical plant consultation and inspections, and SAS pays the district for food, transportation, and insurance services. The school also pays the district 5 percent of its state and federal funding.
The school operates on an annual budget of about $1.3 million, which includes funding of about $5,000 per pupil. Finances are tight, and board members look enviously at the half-cent sales tax revenue that other Leon County public schools receive. Yet when the school's state funding was cut by $60,000, instead of economizing by leaving a position vacant when the music teacher took maternity leave, parents raised the money necessary to continue the music program.
Success is measured many ways at the School of Arts and Sciences. Recent FCAT math and reading scores exceeded the district average at every grade. Seventh- and eighth-grade math scores were the highest in the district, with the eighth-grade scores ranking second in the state. Last year only one teacher left the school. Not a single student was on a behavior contract. A teacher laughingly recalls the complaints from members of the Student Court. "They think everybody is too good. They never have enough court time." Another teacher reflects on the compassion engendered in the students. "When extremely low, low, low kids get up to do their presentations, the audience is rapt. I mean these kids cannot give them enough attention and support."
For Principal Powers, the performance of SAS middle school students at last year's Model United Nations Conference at FSU is emblematic. Two middle schools were invited and all the other teams were from high schools. "Well, they gave six awards, and our students took three of them. Afterward, we were saying, 'How did our kids win against those high school students? They're obviously younger, they haven't had as much experience, they're not any smarter. What is it?' I think it's that they get to speak and perform in an environment where you're not laughed at, ridiculed, put down, made fun of, so they develop this kind of confidence. They can get up there and they can put together their ideas and communicate. That's success to me."
The development of this guide was initiated and directed by Nina S. Rees, deputy under secretary of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. Sharon Horn was the project manager.
An external advisory panel provided feedback to refine the study scope and prioritize issues to investigate. Members included Mark Cannon, executive director, National Association of Charter School Authorizers; Jim Ford, National Council of La Raza; Bryan Hassell, co-director, Public Impact; Bruno Manno, senior associate, The Annie E. Casey Foundation; Lisa Coldwell O’Brien, Coldwell Communications Group; Anna M. Varghese, director of external affairs, The Center for Education Reform; and Jon Schroeder, Education|Evolving.
Staff in the Department who provided input and reviewed drafts include: Mike Petrilli, John Fiegel, Dean Kern, Cynthia Dorfman, Stacy Kotzin, Brenda C. Compton-Turner, Meredith Miller, Carolyn Adams, Cathy Grimes-Miller, Christine Wolfe, Karen Akins, Patricia Landis, John Gibbons, Deborah Rudy, and Jacquelyn Zimmermann.
This guide was written and designed by WestEd. The project is conducted in partnership with Edvance.
WestEd is a nonprofit research , development, and service agency committed to improving learning at all stages of life, both in school and out. WestEd has offices across the United States and also serves as one of the nation’s 10 regional educational laboratories.
Edvance, a nonprofit organization created by the American Productivity and Quality Center, is a resource for process and performance improvement with a focus on benchmarking, knowledge management, performance measurement, and quality improvement initiatives in education.
The eight schools cooperating in the development of this guide and the report from which it is drawn were generous with both their time and attention to this project. We would like to thank the staff who were instrumental in coordinating and participating in the site visits that inform the report and this guide.
The Arts and Technology Academy Public Charter School
53rd and Blaine Sts., NE
Washington, DC 20019
BASIS School, Inc.
3825 E. 2nd St.
Tucson, AZ 85716
Community of Peace Academy
471 Magnolia Ave. E.
St. Paul, MN 55101
KIPP Academy Houston
10711 KIPP Way
Houston, TX 77099
Oglethorpe Charter School
707 Stiles Avenue
Savannah, GA 31401
Ralph A. Gates Elementary School
23882 Landisview Ave.
Lake Forest, CA 92630
Roxbury Preparatory Charter School
120 Fisher Avenue
Roxbury, MA 02120
John King and Josh Phillips
The School of Arts and Sciences
3208 Thomasville Road
Tallahassee, FL 32312
730 Harrison Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
Chief Executive Officer
Regional Laboratory Program
123 Post Oak Lane, Floor 3
Houston, TX 77024
C. Jackson Grayson Jr.
Chief Executive Officer
APPENDIX A: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
This guide is based on a descriptive study of eight charter schools selected for their exemplary achievement and for geographic and programmatic variety. While the schools are successful, the descriptive methodology does not support causal claims about which factors, or combinations of factors, led to their success. Nor does this guide constitute an endorsement of any specific commercial program or instructional practice. It does provide a portrait of what several successful schools look like and an analysis of common elements across schools. A brief description of this project's methodology follows.
An informal, nationwide recommendation process resulted in over 250 schools from 31 states being suggested for consideration. Nominations came from the advisory panel (see the acknowledgments section), state departments of education staff, charter school associations, authorizers, charter school administrators, and parents. Requests for nominations went out through key contacts to these networks, as well as through the U.S. Charter Schools Web site. Many schools nominated themselves.
Site Selection Criteria
The first and major criterion for site selection was exemplary achievement. Following the advice of the advisory panel, the emphasis was on improvement in achievement, rather than absolute achievement level, and on improvement trends across several years, so as to identify schools that were reliably becoming stronger and more effective over time. More specifically, the school had to have been established as a charter school no later than fall 1999, and it had to have achievement data for three consecutive years on the same measure, in order to show gains from one year to the next in two consecutive years. A final achievement criterion was that the school had met its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) target in the most recent year for which AYP had been announced to schools, as of December 19, 2003.
To check achievement scores, the research staff looked at published data on state Web sites, at the database of achievement scores compiled by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, and at information supplied by schools. For some states, it was impossible to find interpretable data. In other states, all schools were too new to have enough achievement data available. Unfortunately, very small schools were generally eliminated, because the scores for small sample sizes are not reliable and therefore are not reported.
Twenty-nine schools had acceptable achievement data and moved to the next phase of screening. Following the advice of the advisory panel, information was collected through public data and brief interviews about the grade levels served by the school, demographics of the population served, location, authorizer, and educational program. The goal was to find a diverse set of schools, encompassing both elementary and secondary levels, serving mostly low socioeconomic status students but some serving the general population, having a range of authorizers, representing different ethnic configurations, and having locations around the country. Final factors in screening, based on interview data, were stable leadership, evidence of parent involvement and parent satisfaction, and a positive relationship with the authorizer.
Study Framework and Data Collection
A conceptual framework to guide the study was developed from an analysis of research on charter schools and organizational effectiveness. Charter school experts, recruited to serve on the advisory panel, provided feedback to refine this framework and prioritize issues to investigate. The resulting study scope guided all aspects of the study
Collecting detailed descriptive information from project participants was key to understanding each school's vision and practices, the outcomes or impact achieved, and lessons learned that others could benefit from. Each school hosted a two-day site visit that included interviews with site leaders, teachers, board members, parents, and students as well as observations of classes and school events. In addition, artifacts from the sites, such as letters to parents, schedules, and training agendas, were collected to provide concrete examples of school practices. Site visitors reviewed the information from each site and developed a case report.
From the case reports, artifacts, and transcripts of interviews, the project team identified common elements that contributed to success across the sites. This analysis built on the research literature and study scope but also reflected patterns in the data and significant features that emerged in this study's cross-case analysis.
This descriptive research process suggests promising practices—ways to do things that others have found helpful, lessons they have learned about what not to do, and practical, “how-to” guidance. This is not the kind of experimental research that can yield valid causal claims about what works. Readers should judge for themselves the merits of these practices, based on their understanding of why they should work, how they fit the local context, and what happens when they actually try them. Also, readers should understand that these descriptions do not constitute an endorsement of specific practices or products.
Reports and Dissemination
Two products resulted from this research: a report of the findings and this practitioner's guide. The report provides the detailed description of each site, sample artifacts, an analysis of key findings across sites, and key project documents. The practitioner's guide is a summary of the report intended for broad distribution through conference presentations, as well as through national associations and networks. The guide and report are also accessible online at
Ultimately, readers of this guide will need to select, adapt, and implement practices that meet their individual needs and contexts. Schools coming together in learning communities may continue the study, using the ideas and practices from these sites as a springboard for their own action research. In this way, a pool of promising practices will grow, and schools can support each other in implementation and learning.
APPENDIX B: RESOURCES
The U.S. Charter Schools Web site provides a wide range of information and links to resources to guide charter schools in every phase of their development—from startup, to expansion, to renewal. The site includes a national calendar of events and a community-exchange feature.
The Center for Education Reform provides up-to-date reports on charter schools and choice activity around the country. The Web site links to “fast facts” and resources designed with parents in mind. A searchable database identifies resources and schools in each state.
The Education Commission of the States includes both charter schools and charter districts as issue topics on its Web site. An interesting recent development in the charter movement is charter districts—in which all or most of the schools are charter or contract schools. The Nuts and Bolts of Charter Districts is a four-part ECS series that looks at policy options for state leaders, design issues faced by district leaders, funding issues, and the new central office for charter districts.
Education|Evolving is a Minnesota organization working to help create and sustain an “Open Sector” in public education—a “space” in public education for new schools that are started from scratch by teachers, parents, community organizations, and multi-school networks. A January 2004 report discusses how district leaders can support the new-schools strategy.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation provides links to major studies and to over 50 other organizations’ Web sites in the areas of charter schools and choice.
The Charter School Leadership Council is a coalition of seven national organizations committed to advancing the charter school movement. In addition to serving as a link to these organizations and to charter policy information, the council’s Web site lists state-level contacts for charter school information.
The Charter School Experience is a good introductory resource for people wanting to understand chartering. Several national charter-supporting organizations joined forces to produce this brochure, published in 2002 by America’s Charter School Finance Corporation. The brochure is available online in English and Spanish.
Charter Starters, a set of leadership training materials published by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, consists of five workbooks, a training guide, and a profile of charter school leadership needs. Specific topics include start-up logistics, regulatory issues, assessment and accountability, governance and management, and community relations.
The Office of Innovation and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education operates the Public Charter Schools Program, which supports the planning, development, and initial implementation of charter schools. Other grants target support for charter school facilities.
1 Finn, C., Manno, B., and Vanourek, G. (2000). Charter schools in action. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, p. 266.
2 See the National Charter School Directory, 9th Edition,
3 Some states have stronger charter school laws than others, creating more supportive conditions for charter schools to launch and develop programs. See "Charter School Laws Across the States: Ranking and Scorecard, 8th Edition." For discussion of how chartering has developed in different states, see especially
Hassel, B. (1999). The charter school challenge: Avoiding the pitfalls, fulfilling the promise. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
Vergari, S. (Ed.) (2002). The charter school landscape. Pittsburgh, Penn.: University of Pittsburgh Press.
4 Wallis, C. (1994). "A class of their own," Time, October 31, p. 53.
5 The concept of internal accountability is explored by Paul Hill and colleagues. See chapter 3 in Hill, P., Lake, R., and Celio, M. (2002). Charter schools and accountability in public education. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
6 Discussions of building civic community and social capital can be found in Finn et al., op. cit., chapter 10, and by David Campbell in chapter 13 in Peterson, P. and Campbell, D. (Eds). (2001). Charters, vouchers & public education. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
7 Finn et al., op. cit., p. 267.
8 Newmann, F., King, B., and Rigdon, M. (1997). "Accountability and school performance: Implications from restructuring schools," Harvard Education Review, vol. 67, no. 1, pp. 41-74.
9 Finn et al., op. cit., chapter 9 discusses four stages of district response to charters and provides several examples of stages 3 and 4, competing to outdo charters and accepting charters as a district asset and opportunity. According to the chapter by Finn et al. in Peterson and Campbell, op. cit., charter districts—those in which all schools are chartered—existed in California, Florida, and Georgia as of 2001. The Education Commission of the States now supports an initiative focused on charter districts.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement, Innovations in Education: Successful Charter Schools, Washington, D.C., 2004.
SOME HELPFUL TERMS TO KNOW
Here are some terms that you may encounter as you read more about early childhood education.
Alliteration The same consonant sounds at the beginning of words in a sentence or a line of poetry. For example, the sound of P in Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Alphabetic principle The understanding that written letters systematically represent sounds. For example, the word big has three letters and three sounds.
Big books Oversized books that allow children to see the print and pictures as we read them.
Cognitive development Children's developing knowledge, skills, and dispositions, which help them to think about and understand the world around them.
Decoding The translation of the letters in written words into recognizable sounds and combining these sounds into meaningful words.
Emergent literacy The view that literacy learning begins at birth and is encouraged through participation with adults in meaningful literacy-related activities.
Environmental print Printed materials that are a part of everyday life. They include signs, billboards, labels, and business logos.
Explicit instruction Teaching children in a systematic and sequential manner.
Experimental writing Young children experiment with writing by creating pretend and real letters and by organizing scribbles and marks on paper.
Invented spelling Phonemic-based spelling where children create their own nonconventional spelling.
Letter knowledge The ability to identify the names and shapes of the letters of the alphabet.
Journals Writing books in which young learners scribble, draw, and use their own spellings to write about their experiences.
Literacy Includes all the activities involved in speaking, listening, reading, writing, and appreciating both spoken and written language.
Phonemes The smallest parts of spoken language that combine to form words. For example, the word hit is made up of three phonemes (h-i-t) and differs by one phoneme from the words pit, hip and hot.
Phonics The relationships between the sounds of spoken language and the individual letters or groups of letters that represent those sounds in written language.
Phonological awareness The ability to notice and work with the sounds in language. Phonological awareness activities can involve work with alliteration, rhymes, and seperating individual syllables into sounds.
Print awareness The knowledge that printed words carry meaning and that reading and writing are ways to obtain ideas and information. A young child's sensitivity to print is one of the first steps toward reading.
Scaffolded instruction Instruction in which adults build upon what children to per-form more complex tasks.
Sight vocabulary Words that a reader recognizes without having to sound them out.
Vocabulary The words we must know in order to communicate effectively. Oral vocabulary refers to words that we use in speaking or recognize in listening. Reading vocabulary refers to words we recognize or use in print.
Word recognition Using any one of a number of strategies such as recognition by sight or decoding so as to figure out their meaning.
What is Scientifically Based Reading Research?
Some federal programs may have a specific statutory or regulatory definition of this term. In general, scientifically based reading research includes concepts such as those below.
Scientifically based reading research uses scientific procedures to obtain knowledge about how young children develop reading skills, how children can be taught to read, and how children can overcome reading difficulties. Scientifically based reading research has the following characteristics:
1) It uses clear, step-by-step methods of gathering data. These methods involve careful observations and measurements. Often, experiments are used to gather information. For example, an experiment may compare how well children learn to read when they are taught in different ways.
2) It uses established, acceptable ways of measuring and observing. Let's say a researcher is trying to find which type of instruction best helps children learn the meaning of new words. The researcher must decide how to measure the children's word learning. Should the children just be asked whether they know the word? Should they be able to recognize the correct definition among several choices? Or, should they be able to use the new word correctly in their writing? The way the researcher chooses to measure word learning must be acceptable to other researchers as a good, or valid, measure of word learning.
3) It requires that researchers use established, acceptable ways of making sense of, or interpreting, the data they gather. Researchers must show that the conclusions they reach follow logically from the data they collected. Other researchers must be able to draw the same or similar conclusions from the data, and similar experiments must produce similar data.
4) It requires that several other researchers have carefully reviewed the report of the research. The report must include enough specific information about the research so that other researchers could repeat the research and verify the findings. These expert reviewers must agree that the research was done carefully and correctly and that the conclusions follow from the data. Usually, scientifically based reading research is published in professional journals and presented at professional meetings so that other researchers can learn from the work.
Scientifically based reading research provides the best available information about how you can help prepare the young children in your care for learning to read in school.
Here are some books that can provide you with more information about early childhood education.
Adams, M. J., B.R. Foorman, I. Lundberg, and T. Beeler (1997). Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom Curriculum. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Anderson, R. C., E.H. Hiebert, J.A. Scott, and I.A.G. Wilkinson (1985). Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading. Champaign, Ill.: Center for the Study of Reading, Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education.
Burns, M. S., P. Griffin, and C. Snow (Eds.). (1999). Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children's Reading Success. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Dickinson, D. K. and P.O. Tabors (2001). Beginning Literacy with Language. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Hart, B. and T.R. Risley (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Neuman, S. B., C. Copple, and S. Bredekamp (2000). Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Neuman, S. B. and D.K. Dickinson (2001). Handbook of Early Literacy Research. New York: Guilford Press.
Schickedanz, J. (1999). Much More than the ABCs. Washington, D.C.: NAEYC.
Snow, C. E., M.S. Burns, and P. Griffin (Eds.). (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.
CHECKING CHILDREN'S PROGRESS
The more you know about children's academic, social, and emotional development, the more able you will be to meet their needs. Information about how well the children are progressing helps you to plan your teaching. You want the children in your care to feel successful and confident, but you also want to offer experiences that will help them to develop further. In addition, through initial screening and by checking the children's progress, you can identify those children who need special help or who face extra challenges.
Here are some ways that you can keep track of children's progress:
- Observe them daily. Watch as they play with each other, respond to your directions, participate in activities, and use language to communicate.
- Collect samples of their drawings, paintings, and writing.
- Keep notes about what they say and do.
- Encourage them to talk about their own progress.
- Regularly assess their progress so that your instruction will meet their needs.
- Talk with parents and caregivers. Ask them what they have observed at home. Tell them about their children's strengths. Let them know about any concerns you may have.
- Also, remember to talk often with the children about what they are doing. Be sure to focus on their strengths—what they can do and the progress they have made. This will help them build confidence and motivation for learning.
COMMUNICATING WITH PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS
As a teacher, you and the children's parents and caregivers are partners in helping to get the children ready for future school success. Good communication with parents and caregivers can build support for and strengthen the important work that you are doing in the classroom.
It is important for you to communicate with parents and caregivers because:
- They will have a better understanding of how you are helping to prepare their children for success in school.
- They will learn how well their children are progressing in developing the building blocks of learning.
- They will learn ways in which they can help their children at home.
- You will have a better understanding of the background and experiences of the children.
- The children will see that the adults in their life care about them and are interested in their learning and development.
Here are some ways that you can communicate with parents and caregivers:
- Talk with them as they deliver and pick up their children.
- Send home newsletters, notes, or e-mails to inform them of what their children are learning in your classroom.
- Schedule regular meetings to let them know how their children are progressing—both the areas of strength and the areas that could use more support at home.
Jason's doing a great job of learning his letters. Maybe he can show you tonight how many he knows!
Amanda is having a little trouble talking about the stories that I've been reading to the class. It would probably help if you could ask her to talk about the stories you read to her at home. When you've finished reading a book, you could say something like, "Amanda, can you tell your teddy bear what that story was about?"
Encourage parents and caregivers to:
- Talk with children during daily routines such as when riding in the car and during meal and bath times.
- Help children to name objects in their environment (labeling).
- Read and reread stories.
- Recount experiences and describe ideas that are important to them.
- Visit libraries and museums.
- Provide opportunities for children to draw and print, using markers, crayons, and pencils.
- Share ideas with them about activities that they can do at home to build on what you are doing in the classroom.
You can help Roberto practice his "R" and write his name and then together come up with other fun words that start with the letter "R."
Here's a book that Lucas was interested in today. It is about animals. Maybe you can go to the library and get another book about animals. You can also take this book and read it and talk about which animals he likes the best and why.
As you know, today we went on a field trip to the grocery store. Please, ask Maurice to tell you some of the things we did.
Invite parents and caregivers to visit your classroom.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.
TEACHING ABOUT PRINT
From the time children are born, print is a part of their lives. Words decorate their blankets, sheets, and PJs. They appear on the posters and pictures that decorate their walls. They are on the blocks and toys that they play with and in the books that are read to them. Although printed words may be all around them, young children are not often aware of them. And, of course, they do not yet understand the role printed words will play in their lives.
It is important for young children to:
- Recognize print in their surroundings.
- Understand that print carries meaning.
- Know that print is used for many purposes.
- Learn about print through experimental writing.
- Children learn about print by seeing many examples. In your classroom, these examples should include:
- Books and other printed materials for the children to look at and pretend to read. For very young children, have soft-covered and board books that are washable.
- Photographs and pictures with captions and labels.
- Posters, calendars, and bulletin board displays that feature print.
- Labels and signs for special areas of the classroom.
In addition, you should also have available a variety of props with printed letters and words for the children to use in dramatic play. Here are a few suggestions:
- Menus, order pads, and play money.
- Recipes, empty food cartons, and marked plastic measuring spoons and cups.
- Old telephone books, memo pads, envelopes, and address labels.
- Price tags, stickers, and large paper bags (with printed words).
- Toy cars, trucks, and farm and construction equipment (with printed words).
Of course, always keep plenty of pencils, markers, and crayons handy for the children to use. Here are some other things that you can do to help your children learn about letters and words.
Show the children that printed materials are all around them by reading examples from everyday life.
Jessie, that's a great T-shirt you're wearing today. It has words on it. What do you think those words say?
Look at the sign above the door. It says, "Exit." What do you think that word means?
Have the children help you make signs and labels for projects or for special areas in the room.
We need to make a sign for the fish tank. Let's see can you help me? "F-I-S-H", we need to start with "F."
Wow, you made a castle. Do you want to make a sign for your castle? Do you want the sign to say "Tim and Harry's castle"? OK, T-I-M, (say slowly, sounding out the word) "T" (say the sound) we need to start with a "T" (say and write the letter).
We use this door to come in and this one to go out. These signs I've made say, "In" and "Out."
Draw the children's attention to the many ways that you use printed letters and words everyday.
I'm going grocery shopping later, so I wrote this list of the things I need to buy. Can you tell me how many things are on the list?
I want your parents to know how well you re-doing, so I'm sending them an e-mail.
Here's today's newspaper. I like to read papers every morning so that I know what's happening in the world.
Let's go over to the computer and see if we can find out some more information about butterflies.
Look at this menu I brought from my favorite restaurant. Here are some pictures of their desserts. This one looks good. It is a cake. Let's read it. C-a-ke (sound out slowly).
Distinguish between children's beginning writing and drawing.
I like the cat you drew. She is a pretty orange cat. Can you tell me your cat's name?
TEACHING ABOUT BOOKS
As adults, we do not pay much attention to the routine features of books and book handling. We just know that, in English, we read from left to right and from the top to the bottom of a page, that words are separated by spaces, and that sentences begin with capital letters and end with some kind of punctuation mark. We forget that when we were children, we also had to learn these things.
It is important for young children to:
- Know how to handle books appropriately.
- Recognize book features such as the front and back covers, and the top and bottom, of a book.
- Recognize that a book has a title, was written by an author, and has drawings done by an illustrator.
- Recognize that printed letters and words run from left to right across the page and from and from top to bottom.
Here are some things that you can do to help children learn about books:
Help the children learn how to hold a book and show them that we read from front to back and that we go through a book page by page. For older children, point out features of books such as the front cover and the title.
This is the front of the book. It tells you the name of the book and who wrote it and drew the pictures. This is the name of our book: If You Give a Pig a Pancake. Here's the name of the woman who wrote it: Laura Numeroff, and here's the name of the woman who drew the pictures: Felicia Bond.
As you read from big books, occasionally emphasize the direction in which we read print by pointing to the first word on a line and running a finger or hand beneath the words as you read from left to right and from top to bottom.
TEACHING ABOUT LETTERS
Children who enter kindergarten knowing many letter names tend to have an easier time learning to read than do children who have not learned these skills. In fact, it is unreasonable to believe that children will be able to read until they can recognize and name a number of letters. To read, children recognize letters and know how to connect these individual letters and sometimes combinations of letters with the sounds of spoken words.
It is important for young children to be able to:
- Recognize and name letters.
- Recognize beginning letters in familiar words (especially their names).
- Recognize both capital and lowercase letters.
- Relate some letters to the specific sounds they represent
In your classroom, you should have at children's eye level displays of the alphabet, such as large alphabet cards. Alphabet blocks, large plastic or paper letters, and materials for making letters, such as yarn, pipe cleaners, and play dough also should be available. A writing center can be creating in your room where children can go and experiment with different writing tools. And, of course, you should have a collection of alphabet books to read aloud and alphabet songs to teach the children.
Here are some things that you can do to help your children learn about letters:
- Encourage the children to notice that letters are all around them.
- Encourage the children to play with letters.
- Give children plastic alphabet tiles and encourage them to spell their names and other words they like.
- Say to the children, "See the letters on this keyboard? Press one and watch the letter come up on the screen."
- Play games with line segments where children try to guess which letter you are writing as you draw parts of the letter one at a time
- Allow children to experiment with letters, using magnetic letters on the chalkboard.
- Help the children write letters.
Here are some crayons and markers. I am going to write my name with the blue crayon. Can you help me write your name? Which color should we use to write your name?
We just read a book about Pete the pig. Pete starts with the letter "P". Let's use finger paint to practice writing the letter "P".
Look, I made the letter "C" out of play dough. Now, can you make a letter "C"? Good. What other letter should we make together?
Please write your names on your picture. I will help you start the "S" if you need help.
Help the children learn the alphabet.
Let's sing "The Alphabet Song."
Say the name of each letter as I point to it on the alphabet chart.
I'm going to read you an alphabet book. Help me read the alphabet book.
Help the children hear the sounds the letter's can make.
Linn, your name begins with an L (emphasize the beginning sound). Who else has a name that begins with the same sound? Yes, Larry! Larry's name also begins with an L.
I'm going to read you an alphabet book. On each page, there is a letter and a picture of something that starts with the sound that this letter represents. Let's say the name of the letter first. Then, we'll say the name of the picture. Then, we'll think of some other words or names that start with the same sound. Here we go: A A is for apple). What other words start like apple? Adam. Okay! Adam, your name starts like apple. What else? Animal! Right! Animal starts like apple, with the letter A.
Here are some words that begin with the letter M: mother, monkey, mud, map. What sound do you hear at the beginning of those words? (Emphasize the beginning sound.)
BUILDING CHILDREN'S BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE AND THINKING SKILLS
The more children know about their world, the easier it is for them to read and learn when they get to school. You have an important role to play in helping children learn new information, ideas, and vocabulary and how to use this knowledge to become full participants in their own learning. You can help children to connect new information and ideas to what they already know and understand.
It is important for young children to be able to:
- Know about what things are and how they work.
- Learn information about the world around them.
- Extend their use of language and develop vocabulary.
- Develop children's abilities to figure things out and to solve problems.
Here are some things that you can do to help children build knowledge:
Provide them with opportunities to develop concepts by exploring and working with familiar classroom equipment and materials in a variety of ways. and materials in a variety of ways.
Children learn about substances and changes in substances by cooking.
Children learn about plants by planting seeds and taking care of the growing plants.
Children learn about social situations and interactions through real interactions and dramatic play.
Share informational books.
Children enjoy learning about their world. They enjoy looking at books about things of interest to them perhaps how plants grow, how baby animals develop, or how vehicles carry people and things. Fortunately, many wonderful informational books are available today books with spectacular photographs or illustrations and descriptions that children can understand easily.
Teach the children new words and concepts. Explain new vocabulary in the books that you read with them. Teach them and name all of the things in the classroom. In everyday talk with children, introduce words and concepts that they may not know, for example, beauty or fairness.
It's silent time now. Silent means that we don't say anything.
Look at the seeds we planted. They're sprouting! See how the seedling is pushing through the dirt? See the tiny green leaves?
Have children write, draw, build, and engage in dramatic play. These experiences will help the children to incorporate what they are learning with what they already know.
Take the children on field trips. Any time children go some place, especially some place new to them, they can learn something. Even if it is just a walk around the block, children can learn something new if you talk with them. Point out things they might not notice. Explain events that are taking place. Answer the questions the children have and praise them for looking and learning. Before you go to a place the children have never been, such as a zoo or a museum, discuss what they will be seeing and learning. After the trip, have the children talk about their experiences.
See that sign? It says stop. "S-t-o-p."
Look! You see the round, brown thing up there in the branches? That's a bird's nest up in the tree. I wonder if there are any baby birds in the nest?
See that bulldozer? It's that big machine with a big blade in front of it. It's clearing out a place where they're going to build a new house.
Today, we're going to go to a special park. There are some statues in the park. Before we go, let's look at some pictures of statues and talk about them. When we get back, I want you to tell me what statues you saw.
Provide a variety of materials for your children to explore. For example, wire, cardboard, water, tubes, tissue paper, and funnels.
Invite visitors to your classroom.
Classroom visitors can teach your children a great deal. They can bring interesting objects or animals to talk about with the children. Visitors can talk about their jobs or their hobbies or show pictures of faraway places they have seen or tell stories about life long ago.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.
The name for the ability to notice and work with the sounds in language is phonological awareness. Young children who have phonological awareness notice, for example, that words can begin or end with the same sound — that bag, ball, and bug all begin with the sound of "b;" that words can rhyme; and that sentences are made up of separate words. Research shows that how quickly children will learn to read often depends on how much phonological awareness they have when they begin kindergarten.
It is important for young children to be able to:
• Repeat rhyming songs and poems, identify rhymes, and generate rhyming words when playing a rhyming game.
• Recognize the common sounds at the beginning of a series of words (alliteration).
• Isolate the beginning sounds in familiar words.
Here are some things that you can do to help your children learn about the sounds of spoken language:
• Choose books to read aloud that focus on sounds, rhyming, and alliteration.
• Have the children sing or say a familiar nursery rhyme or song. Repeat it several times, raising your voice on words that rhyme. Then have the children join in, saying the rhyming words with you.
• Invite the children to make up new verses of familiar songs or rhymes by changing the beginning sounds of words.
• Let's say "Humpty Dumpty" again, but this time I want you to make it "Lumpty Gumpty."
• Play word games with the children. When possible, use children's names in the games.
• How many words can you say that rhyme with clock?
• Which of these words rhyme: snow, lamb, and go?
• Pat, can you say a word that rhymes with your name?
• Would everyone whose name begins with the same sound as happy please stand up.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.
We need to put to rest the old saying, "Children should be seen and not heard." Research shows beyond question that it is through having many opportunities to talk as well as to listen to teachers and peers that children gain language skills so valuable for their success in reading and writing.
It is important for young children to be able to:
• Listen carefully for different purposes, such as to get information or for enjoyment.
• Use spoken language for a variety of purposes.
• Follow and give simple directions and instructions.
• Ask and answer questions.
• Use appropriate volume and speed when they speak.
• Participate in discussions and follow the rules of polite conversation, such as staying on a topic and taking turns.
• Use language to express and describe their feelings and ideas.
It is important for teachers to:
• Ask open-ended questions that invite children to expand upon their answers.
• Present new words to children to expand their vocabularies.
• Respond to questions and let children take the conversational lead.
• Respond to children's questions and let them build their language skills.
Here are some things that you can do to help develop and expand your children's listening and speaking skills:
• Engage children in conversation throughout the day.
• Why did you color the house orange, Rana?
• Look at all the birds at our birdfeeder this morning. What different ones do you see?
• When reading aloud to the children, encourage them to predict what will happen in the story, to comment on the story, and to make connections between the story and their personal experiences.
• What do you think will happen when Boomer gets on the school bus?
• What did you like best about Boomer's day in school?
• What's the funniest thing your pet does?
• Play games that will focus children's attention on the importance of listening carefully.
• Put your heads down and close your eyes. Listen very carefully. Can you hear the lawn mower outside? Can you hear water dripping in the sink? What else do you hear?
• Gently reinforce the rules of good listening and speaking throughout the day.
• Connor, please don't talk while Yi is asking a question. You'll get your turn.
• Tyler, thank Joann for helping you with your drawing.
• Ask before you take a book. Someone else may be using it.
• Only ask questions about the book right now. We'll talk about other things later.
• Capitalize on routine opportunities to have the children follow or give directions.
• It's time for snack. I want the boys to come to the round table and the girls to come to the square table.
• Kaylee, please go to the bookrack and bring me the book with the red flower on its cover.
• Mitch, go to the block box. Get two green blocks. Okay, please take them to Julio.
• Tanya, will you tell Howie how to put this puzzle together?
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.
In the landmark 1986 review Becoming a Nation of Readers, the Commission on Reading, called reading aloud to children "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading." The best time to begin reading books with children is when they are infants—babies as young as six weeks old enjoy being read to and looking at pictures. By age two or three, children begin to develop an awareness of printed letters and words. They see adults around them reading, writing, and using printed words for many purposes. Toddlers and preschoolers are especially ready to learn from adults reading to and with them.
Reading aloud to young children is important because it helps them acquire the information and skills they need to succeed in school and life, such as:
• Knowledge of printed letters and words and the relationship between sound and print.
• The meaning of many words.
• How books work and a variety of writing styles.
• The world in which they live.
• The difference between written language and everyday conversation.
• The pleasure of reading.
Here are some suggestions for reading aloud to children.
• Make reading books an enjoyable experience. Choose a comfortable place where the children can sit near you. Help them feel safe and secure. Be enthusiastic about reading. Show the children that reading is an interesting and rewarding activity. When children enjoy being read to, they will grow to love books and be eager to learn to read.
• Read to children frequently. Read to the children in your care several times a day. Establish regular times for reading during the day, and find other opportunities to read:
◦ Start or end the day with a book.
◦ Read to children after a morning play period which also helps settle them down.
◦ Read to them during snack time or before nap time.
• Help children to learn as you read. Offer explanations, make observations, and help the children to notice new information. Explain words that they may not know.
Point out how the pictures in a book relate to the story. If the story takes place in an historic era or in an unfamiliar place, give children some background information so that they will better understand and enjoy the story. Talk about the characters' actions and feelings. Find ways to compare the book that you are reading with what the children have been doing in the classroom.
• Ask children questions as you read. Ask questions that help children connect the story with their own lives or that help them to compare the book with other books that they have read. Ask questions that help the children to notice what is in the book and ask them to predict what happens next.
• This story is about Gregory, a little goat that didn't like to eat what his parents thought he should. Do you feel this way sometimes?
• Does this book remind you of any other books we've read? Yes, we've read other books about Clifford, the big red dog. Do you remember Clifford? What do you remember about him?
• What is similar about Gregory and Clifford? What is different?
• Encourage children to talk about the book. Have a conversation with the children about the book you are reading. Answer their questions. Welcome their observations, and add to what they say. Continue to talk about the book after you have read it. Invite the children to comment on the story. Ask them to talk about their favorite parts and encourage them to tell the story in their own words.
• Why do you think Max asked his grandmother if he could play outside? Could it be because he wanted to throw a ball? Sometimes it is better to throw balls outside because things could be broken inside. What are some other games that are better to play outside?
• Yes, that bird in the picture does have a seed in its mouth. It's probably going to eat it.
Reading Aloud with Children
In this example, a teacher reads Eric Hill's "lift-the-flap" book Spot's First Walk. Notice how the experience is like a conversation. The teacher invites the children's comments and answers their questions. She builds on what they say and encourages them to make sense of what is happening in the story. She tells the children new information that will help them to understand and enjoy the book more.
Teacher and Children
Not in there, Spot.
T: Where's Spot going?
C: Out there.
T: Yes, he's going through a hole in the fence.
C: What's he going to do?
T: I don't know. Let's read and find out. (lifts flap)
T: Who's saying "hello"? Do you know what that is?
T: It's a snail. . .a little animal that you might find in a garden. See the shell on its back?
(points to shell)
T: Who's saying, "watch out!"?
C: That bird (points to bird).
T: That's right! The blue bird that's sitting on the shovel is telling Spot to watch out.
T: Maybe Spot could get into trouble if he goes in that little blue house. Let's see what happens. (lifts flap)
(Picture of angry-looking cat with "!!!" in speech cat balloon)
C: Oh, it's a cat!
T: Yes, a cat that looks as big as Spot. Does that cat look happy to see Spot?
C: He looks like a mean cat.
T: Yes, he looks mean to me, too. I don't think he's happy to see Spot. That's probably why the bird told Spot to watch out.
C: I'd be scared.
T: Me, too!
C: What's this? (points to exclamation marks in speech balloon)
T: These are called exclamation marks. Cats can't talk, but they make a hissing sound when they get angry (makes a hissing sound). I think that's the writer's way of showing us that the cat is hissing at Spot and telling him to get away.
• Read many kinds of books. Children need to be read different kinds of books. Storybooks can help children to learn about times, cultures, and peoples other than their own; stories can help them understand how others think, act, and feel. Informational books can help children learn facts about the world around them. These books also introduce children to important concepts and vocabulary that they will need for success in school. Read books that relate to the children's backgrounds: their experiences,
cultures, languages and interests. Read books with characters and situations both similar and dissimilar to those in the children's lives so they can learn about the world.
• Choose books to help you teach. Use alphabet books to help you teach the names of the letters and the sounds that each letter represents and use counting books to teach children how to count and to recognize numbers. Use poetry or rhyming books to support your teaching of phonological awareness. Use big books (oversized books that your children can easily see) to point out letters, words, and other features of print and to teach book handling. Choose stories that help children learn about social behavior, for example books about friendship to help children learn to share and cooperate. Also choose stories that show children how the world around them works for example, what is happening with the eggs that are hatching in your science area.
• Reread favorite books. Children love to hear their favorite books over and over again. Hearing books read several times helps children understand and notice new things. For example, they may figure out what an unfamiliar word means when they have heard the story several times. They may notice repeated sound patterns. If you point out some letters and words as you read the book repeatedly, children also may pick up specific words that are easily recognized and specific letter-sound relationships.
Types of Books for Reading Aloud
Alphabet books. Alphabet books usually feature the capital and lowercase forms of a letter on each page and one or more pictures of something that begins with the most common sound that the letter represents.
Counting (or number) books.
In these books, each page usually presents one number and shows a corresponding number of items (two monkeys, five dinosaurs, and so forth).
Concept books. These books are designed to teach particular concepts that children need to know in order to succeed in school. Concept books may teach about colors, shapes, sizes (big, little), or opposites (up, down). They may focus on concepts (farm or zoo animals, families around the world, trucks, or places to live).
Nursery rhymes. These books often contain rhymes and repeated verses, which is why they are easy to remember and recite and why they appeal to children.
Repetitious stories and pattern books. In these predictable books, a word or phrase is repeated throughout the story, forming a pattern. After the first few pages, your children may be able to "read along" because they know the pattern. This ability will let them experience the pleasure of reading.
Traditional literature. Traditional literature includes fairy tales, folktales, fables, myths, and legends from around the world and across the ages of time. Through these beloved stories, children become familiar with many different times, cultures, and traditions. Some stories, such as Cinderella, vary slightly from culture to culture and it is interesting to compare their differences.
Wordless picture books.
These books tell stories through pictures, without using words. Wordless picture books give children the opportunity to tell stories themselves as they "read," an activity that most children enjoy. In telling their stories, children develop language skills; they also get a sense of the sequence of events in stories.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.
Everyone who interacts with a young child is a teacher. As preschool teachers and child care providers, you have both the wonderful opportunity and the important responsibility to teach and nurture our youngest children. The years from birth through age five are a time of extraordinary growth and change. It is in these years that children develop the basic knowledge, understanding, and interests they need to reach the goal of being successful learners, readers, and writers. All young children deserve experiences that will help them to achieve this goal.
You play an important role in ensuring that "no child is left behind." You spend many hours with children and the right kind of activities can help them tremendously. You can be especially helpful to those children who have limited learning experiences at home.
This booklet draws from scientifically based research about what you can do to help children to develop their language abilities, increase their knowledge, become familiar with books and other printed materials, learn letters and sounds, recognize numbers, and learn to count. Many examples of strategies you can use for teaching these skills are included here. Also included are examples of ways to create an environment in your preschool classrooms that will nurture children's natural curiosity and their zest for learning.
Remember, you hold the key to the future academic success of the young children in your care.
CREATING A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Effective preschool classrooms are places where children feel well cared for and safe. They are places where children are valued as individuals and where their needs for attention, approval, and affection are supported. They are also places where children can be helped to acquire a strong foundation in the knowledge and skills needed for school success.
Young children need teachers who welcome all children to their classrooms, including children from various cultures, whose first language is not English and children who have disabilities.
Young children need teachers who take time to work with them individually, in small groups, and sometimes with the entire class–to help them develop their cognitive and social skills, their language abilities, and their interest in learning new things about the world.
Young children need instruction to develop the thinking, language, and early literacy skills needed for continued school success.
Effective preschool teachers and child care providers:
Know when children can figure out new ideas and concepts on their own and when it is important to explain things to them step-by-step.
Encourage children to participate in classroom activities and to honor the classroom rules.
Listen to what the children say and expand upon their language, building their vocabulary and background knowledge.
Know when to teach directly, when to provide time for exploration and discovery, when to practice skills, and when to encourage creativity.
Plan activities that have a purpose and that challenge children.
Know how to help children learn to work together and to resolve their conflicts.
Encourage children to respect each other's time and personal belongings.
Provide many opportunities for conversations between and among children and with adults.
Know how to establish and maintain order in a classroom but in a manner that permits the children to learn how to participate in and enjoy learning.
Arrange the classroom in a way that enhances their work with children and how the children spend their time.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.