Education Chat

'Academic Success in Unexpected Schools'

Karin Chenoweth, author of It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools, and Barbara Adderley, the principal of one of the schools profiled in the book, took questions from our readers.

May 7, 2007

‘Academic Success in Unexpected Schools’

Jeanne McCann (Moderator):
Welcome to our live chat with Karin Chenoweth, the author of It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools, and Barbara Adderley, the principal of M. Hall Stanton Elementary School in Philadelphia. Stanton Elementary was one of the successful schools Ms. Chenoweth profiled. We have a large volume of questions so let’s get started.

Question from Gwendolyn Smith, Prince George’s County Public Schools:
What was the most difficult hurdle your school had to overcome before success was realized? How did you overcome it?

Barbara Adderley:
We had several hurdles to overcome. One was a safe, orderly climate. The next was a belief that all children can learn at high levels-that was my vision. Let’s address the first hurdle. I arrived a MH Stanton six years ago and witnessed a great deal of chaos. We were identified as a Restructured School which was still under the leadership of the School District of Philadelphia (by then there had been a state takeover of all schools except the 21 Restructured Schools) This afforded us the support of two academic coaches for both literacy and math who alternated weeks. We were able to meet in Instructional Leadershiip Team Meetings and design a plan for both climate and teaching and learning. I was able to look at trouble spots and decided to reconfigure the school. We are now K-6 on each floor called academies. This allows for ongoing and sustained articulation among teachers and the design of a family atmosphere. Next, as a professional developer in another part of my career I was able to design a plan that would help teachers reflect on their own vision for students in addition, each academy has their own “mission statement”. Of course relying on a careful review of data that included not only academic achievemnt but also staff and student attendance (including lateness), suspension rates and health and wellness of students. We included all stakeholders when looking at this data ie, nurse, counselor, parents, literacy and math leaders, then a community relations liaison, building engineer, representative from a behavioral health organization, several block captains, assistant principal and principal.

Question from Sonia Woodbury, Director, City Academy:
Karin, you write that in schools whose students unexpectedly achieve academic success it is an intentional focus by teachers on expecting excellence and supporting each individual learner in order to achieve these results. Are there other more specific strategies or structures that these secondary schools use that you could tell us about? Some specific “do’s” and maybe “don’ts”?

Karin Chenoweth:
Well, the key is the very close attention in these schools to classroom instruction. The first question answered is what should students learn? So they pay close attention to curriculum and scope-and-sequence questions. The next, closely related, question is, How can we tell if the students learned it? So the teachers develop common assessments that they often score together so that they ensure they have a common set of expectations. They then study the results carefully to see which teachers were more successful with which topics, and then use that knowledge to spread the expertise. When they identify a department-wide or school-wide deficit, they try and learn more about that. Several schools have identified vocabulary as an area that needs greater attention, for example, so vocabulary-acquisition is a hot topic in several schools.

Question from Janet Jones, Reading Resource, Smallwood Middle School:
What challenges do you find when transitioning your students from successful elementary experiences into middle school? Do the students continue to achieve and grow? How are they supported at the next level?

Barbara Adderley:
Many of our sixth graders go to Charter or Magnet Schools and not to the middle school that we feed into. Parents are very concerned about our feeder school and try to find alternate choices. I did, however, speak to a teacher at the middle school that I am referring to and he stated that one of our students who was quite bright went to the state level on our Math 24 Contest! He stated what a fine young man he is and that he is doing very well. Most of our children who attend this particular school come back throughout the year to share and they are okay.

Question from Germaine Ingram, Former School District Administrator, Charter School Board Member:
For Barbara Adderly----Congratulations on the remarkable work you’re doing at M.H. Stanton. The School District of Philadelphia is facing a bruising deficit which will require substantial budget cuts in both central office and individual schools. Furthermore, District CEO Paul Vallas recently announced his resignation, effective at the end of the current school year. What impact will these circumstances have on your school’s progress? What are you, your staff and the rest of the school community doing to brace yourselves against the impact of shrinking resources and to maintain focus despite changes in district leadership and levels of support from central office?

Barbara Adderley:
Well hello and it’s great hearing from you! We will miss Paul Vallas, CEO tremendously at Stanton (I can only speak for us). He has made a great impact on this school district. I think each Superintendent brings his or her own style and vision that has a lasting impact on the students they service. I believe that he strongly supported NCLB and insured that we were all accountable to the students and parents we service each day. Certainly, this school district has made a great deal of growth over the past few years.

Money-well that’s another issue isn’t it! I don’t dwell too much on the lack thereof. Can’t do anything about it. I will not allow staff to dwell on where children come from (their community) because we can’t change that. So I guess we won’t dwell on the money factor. Sure, we would all like to have a budget that would allow us to have a full time librarian, additional teachers to reduce class size significantly, more technology in every classroom to meet the demands of the 21st Century on so on-but we will continue to look at what the data tells us about those students who are not meeting the desired outcomes and how we are going to insure that they do. Continued success to you.

Question from Dale DeCesare, Senior Associate, APA Consulting:
How big a role did management of teacher turnover play in the schools you visited, and were these schools doing anything innovative to attract and retain quality teachers or to manage teacher turnover so that it does not affect student performance?

Karin Chenoweth:
I think the main thing that all the schools do to manage teacher turnover is to create the conditions under which teachers can succeed. Success makes teachers satisfied with their work. As a result, for the most part the schools I visit do not have high turnover rates. They of course have the obligatory “spouse transfer,” retirement, and promotion to central office, but for the most part they do not have teachers who flee to teach in “easier” schools.

To create those conditions, they provide high-quality professional development that is immediately helpful to teachers; time to collaborate with colleagues, with a structure to make sure that time is well used; and the materials the teachers need.

Once the schools have become successful, they usually have less trouble recruiting high-quality teachers. They become sought-after places to teach, mostly by word-of-mouth through teacher grapevines. But early on the principals sometimes have a difficult time recruiting teachers.

One innovation that I think is very promising is that a foundation in Chattanooga has agreed to pay for a master’s degree program for any teacher who is willing to stay in one of the focus schools for a few years after earning the master’s degree. This is one of the things that has stabilized the teaching staff in those schools.

Question from Karen Mitchell, Principal, Shelby Elementary School:
We have tried everything from a Comprehensive School Reform Grant to students having intervention 3 times a day. We have seen some progress, but it is not as much as we have expected. State test scores just barely make the “mandated” scores each year. We would like to see more progress and are looking for ways to help us achieve this goal. Any suggestions or ideas that are “outside the box” that we may not have tried would be appreciated.

Barbara Adderley:
Wow, I don’t have a magic bullet, but I tell you what I do know that works and that is first of all believing that all children can achieve at high levels. This must be the fiber that reverberates throughout your school. This comes through sustained and ongoing professional development that comes from looking at data that informs what is needed to meet these outcomes. Keeping data at the threshold of everything you do will move your instructional program and help to define your needs and priorities. You must also have a schedule that insures that teachers and principal (along with key people on the team) meet each day to discuss this data. It could be looking at student work, reading current pedagogy, talking about your benchmark/Dibels results, how to insure turn around in the classroom.... We do this each day at Stanton. If I meet with kindergarten teachers on Monday then Tuesday it’s 1st etc. I also believe that words mean a great deal so we call our meetings “Professional Learning Communities” because it is there that we learn from one another. This year we have also instituted K-3; 4-6th Professional Learning Community Breakfasts. We meet at 7:30 until 9:00 once every two months to discuss books that we have purchased for staff and because we meet in a teacher’s classroom she/he will demonstrate “best practices” so that we can learn from each other.

Question from Claire J. King, School and Community Resource Facilitator, Indiana University Center for Research and P-16 Collaboration:
1) In the 15 schools that you showcase, what has been the presence, role and impact of the teacher associations (unions) within the successful transformations? 2) What were the distinguishing characteristics of the pre-service training received by the teachers in these schools that enabled them to create or recreate the school culture and climate so dramatically?

Karin Chenoweth:
1) This has varied quite widely. In some schools there is very little union involvement. But, for example, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers worked with the district of St. Paul to set the ground rules for the reconstitution of Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary School. A new principal was brought in and all the teachers had to re-apply for their jobs, which included extra days of training. If I remember correctly, only about 30 percent were rehired (the rest were guaranteed jobs elsewhere in the district).

In Hamilton County, Tennessee, the union (affiliated with the National Education Association) worked with the district to change the transfer provisions of the contract. Previously the contract had had fairly standard language that required that every new opening had to be posted for, I think, ten days. What that meant was that if a high-status school (usually white and middle-class) had an opening and hired a teacher from a lower-status school, which then hired from a lower-status school, eventually the lowest-status schools--usually the poor, African American schools in Chattanooga--were left with many openings at the beginning of school. This meant Chattanooga schools were too often forced to hire just-out-of-college teachers and those teachers who no one else wanted. The union agreed to a provision that meant that anyone who wants to transfer lists which schools they would like to transfer to and now just about all schools hire at the same time, which allows the Chattanooga schools to be on a relatively even hiring plane. This has done a lot to help stabilize the school staffs.

2) In general I’m not sure that pre-service training is exactly what makes the difference, though that would be an interesting question to study. Pre-service helps acclimate teachers to the particular school climate and gets them on the same page in terms of discipline policies and curriculum and how to read and assess student achievement data--all of which are important. But it is the on-going nature of the training and support that teachers receive, it seems to me, is the essential point in these schools. Teachers are not just pointed to their classrooms and observed once or twice a year. They are continually observed, by administrators and their fellow teachers, mentored and supported.

Question from Julia Zecca, Guidance Counselor, Belle Glade Elementary, Belle Glade, FL:
As a Guidance Counselor what could I do at my school to help the students be successful? What are some things that Guidance Counselors do at successful schools? Ms. Adderley, is your Guidance Counselor on the Fine Arts wheel or does she teach part of the day?

Barbara Adderley:
We have a counselor at our school who works in several capacities. She is our special education liaison and support staff for students who need to meet with her when recommended by our CSAP team. The CSAP team meets 3 x a week to discuss students who may be experiencing difficulty in academics, behavior, attendance, lateness or may be recommended for the mentally gifted program. The counselor seldoms, if ever teaches during the week although she has supported our C&E (consultant and educational specialist) developing anti bullying programs, good touch/bad touch lessons..... I believe that it takes all stakeholders in a learning community to increase the achievement levels of our students.

Question from David Garratt, Principal, Daramalan College,Australia:
What was done to change the culture and achieve such success, especially in so short a time?

Barbara Adderley:
Believing that all children can learn at high levels. Knowing what the data tells you and reviewing that data on an ongoing basis. Using that data to design your professional development for teachers. Insuring that all stakeholders are held accountable (NCLB). Principal monitoring data-walk throughs daily & looking for rigor; lessons plans; grade books; looking at student work at grade group meetings and in classrooms; insuring that students/staff attendance is at the advanced level on the rubric (95%); accountable talk in meetings that has at its core “high expectations” for students; including parents in meetings as much and as often as possible. Reconfiguration of the school into academies K-6 (insures cross articulation) We’re not where we should be, because we still have students who have not met the challenge. It’s a journey but one that will result in success for all students.

Question from Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, National Staff Development Council:
Please speak to whether and how professional development played a role in the schools’ successes. If so, in what ways did the schools’ professional development differ from other schools with similar demographics but much lower levels of student performance?

Karin Chenoweth:
Professional development is a huge part of how many of the schools have improved. In general, the professional development is data-driven, by which I mean that the folks in the school study the data to see where their students are weakest, and then figure out what professional development the staff needs. Often they use in-house expertise. For example, if one particular teacher has been very successful in teaching students a topic, then that teacher will demonstrate to the other teachers how they approach that topic and what they do. Often other teachers go and observe that teacher. But if the whole student body is weak in a particular area, then the schools will often look to an outside source of expertise.

This data-driven approach to professional development is part of what distinguishes these schools from lower-performing schools, where professional development often consists of something the principal or superintendent happened to see at a conference somewhere and doesn’t necessarily relate directly to the needs of the teachers or students.

I hope Ms. Adderley will comment on this question, because Stanton first was the recipient of district-directed professional development and now she and the rest of the staff are in charge of their own professional development, and how she thinks about this quesiton is very interesting.

Question from Stacey Kannenberg, Author of Let’s Get Ready For Kindergarten! and Let’s Get Ready For First Grade!:
Ms. Adderley: How can other urban schools follow your example? How did you get your parents involved in this process?

Barbara Adderley:
I cannot answer for other urban schools, but I can share a little of what we have done to move our students to advance. We have a schedule that meets the needs of our instructional program ie I can meet with grade groups each day usually from 2:00 to 3:09. In other words if I meet with Kindergarten teachers on Monday it’s 1st on Tuesday.... We also meet 3 days per week (CSAP) to discuss students needs according to their academies (and we have 3). This is a time spent solely for collaborating about student’s strengths, weaknesses, behaviors and attendance. Data drives our conversations at ALL times. We review individual student results on various assessments (Terra Nova, PSSA, DRA, Dibels, Student Work -we use rubrics for this). Our professional development is designed around the results of data. We must insure this practice so that these interactive PD’s meet the needs of the students and staff. Many of our PD sessions are not held on site either. We have spent the day at The Kimmel Center, Franklin Institute, The Zoo, The National Liberty Museum and walks in the neighborhood which was focused around The Math Trail-finding math in the community and designing lessons for students. We also post results in the hallways and classrooms so that all stakeholders are aware of progress made on Benchmark Assessments and results across the district. Lastly, I consider myself an Instructional Leader and not a principal. I hope that I share my vision for teaching and learning to all and stay abreast of current pedagogy. I am usually never in my office but visible throughout the building each day. I have two support personnel that were purchased out of our budget, Math and Literacy Leaders who are instrumental in moving teachers instructional program which consequently has a direct effect on increased achievement. Lots of “Walkthroughs” looking at student engagement (hopefully seeing academic rigor) and giving teacher feedback. Monitoring grade books, lesson plans, students work, .....

Question from Ellen Schiller, Senior Policy Researcher, SRI International:
Were students with disabilities receiving services in the schools? If so, what types of disabilities were served? How well did these students perform?

Karin Chenoweth:
The schools I write about are all neighborhood schools, which means that for the most part they have the normal distribution of students with disabilities, although some students (for example blind or deaf students) siphoned off into special schools. One exception is University Park Campus School--it’s buiding was built in 1885 or so, and really can’t be adapted to wheelchairs. So it doesn’t have students with orthopedic disabilities.

In some of the schools I report on, 100 percent of students meet state standards, and that includes students with disabilities. Some of the schools are still struggling with how to help students with disabilities meet state standards, but they often have proficiency rates that are far above those of the rest of the state.

Question from Corinne Gregory, President, The PoliteChild:
To what degree do you find good social skills, -- and the related factors of student behavior, classroom discipline, and teacher/student morale -- to be an important contributor to academic succss in the schools studied and profiled?

Karin Chenoweth:
As I write in the book, the schools rarely focus on discipline in the sense of punishment. They do focus on discipline in the original sense of leading (think of the word disciple).

Most spend considerable amount of time encouraging students to behave well and some explicitly teach students how to disagree with someone without losing their temper and fighting. They all have carefully worked out discipline policies, and the kids know exactly what steps they themselves are supposed to take (take a break, make a plan, etc.)

These are very pleasant places to be. The principals don’t bully and browbeat the teachers, and that sets a nice tone--as a result, the teachers don’t bully and browbeat the students.

Question from Pam Letourneau, Instructional Coach, Moriarty Municipal Schools, Moriarty, NM:
I assume a shift took place in the attitude of the staff towards students in poverty to bring about the change. What helped them move from “These kids can’t learn because of their home lives.” to “Yes, they can.”? I’m interested in the who, what and how of this shift.

Barbara Adderley:
I must begin by stating that we do not talk about “these kids” and “where they come from” We can’t change where they live or what has occurred in their lives to this point-but we begin where they are once they enter this school. We have a clean, safe environment that I believe is aesthetically pleasing. We look at teaching and learning and a tool and the umbrella that ensures success. We keep the data that moves instructional practices at the core of what we do at this site. That includes but not limited to attendance (staff/students);suspensions rate; serious incidence; test results; the use of an Assessment Wall in conference room; posting results in hallways for all to see and staying abreast of current Pedagogy (we have read this year many articles from ASCS and two books “Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males-Closing the Achievement Gap” by Alfred Tatum and “The Excellent 11" by Ron Clark. Reconfiguration of school into academies (we have 3) for cross articulation and supports such programs as “reading buddies” ... Each academy also has posted their own “Mission Statement” - what they expect to happen for students under their watch. We hold ourselves accountable for what happens here. NCLB has been the vehicle to help us move but schools must use this law as the underpining of increased achievement for all students to advanced. We have instituted a “Parenting Plus” group that has 33 members this year. They meet once a week: look at how you talk to your child; financial support (opening a bank acct) how to purchase your first home; going to the Pathmark to select nutritional foods to have a healthy family.... We also have on site three times a year The Eagles Eye Mobile (glasses for students) and the Colgate Van that comes to us from New York to support good dental hygiene. I mentioned the parent piece, because they must be a part of the movement in schools.

Question from Don Alafa Jr., Credentialing Student/Teacher, Cal State Fresno (Fresno State):
Is the influx of Non-English speaking students disrupting traditional classroom rhythm, statististically speaking? I know this is a touchy subject, but I would like to see what results longitudinal studies have given us. Thanks. Concerned future teacher.

Karin Chenoweth:
I have not done a statistical analysis on this question. Some of the schools I report on -- Oakland Heights in Arkansas, East Millsboro in Delaware, for example--are experiencing a rapid increase in students whose parents are agricultural and poultry workers from Mexico. The schools are keeping their focus on helping each individual child, and are achieving very good results.

Question from Leslie Riley, Instructional Coach, Grand Rapids Public Schools:
Teachers continue to use factors that they have no control over such as parent involvement, large class sizes, disrespect from students, lack of resources, as the reasons for our students to continue scoring below the state performance scores. Even though I acknowledge that the very elements the teachers mentioned above are valid, I ask them to look at those things that they can change or affect a change. They still feel that what we are telling them is that they are ineffective teachers! What are the incremental or critical steps to not only increase teacher efficacy, but increase student achievement along side of that?

Barbara Adderley:
I know without a doubt that the achievement gap is beginning to close across this nation and I know that the reason for this is the accountability factor that results from No Child Left Behind. I wrote this out because I feel that we need to say those words to our staff. What a strong statement that suggests. We are accountable to the students we service many of them who come to us with all they have each day looking for hope. I believe that NCLB has created a climate where healing can take place for those children who have been historically left behind. Teachers, staff and parents should no longer believe that children can’t because of the socio economic conditions. We as educators cannot allow staff to articulate those kinds of words in the school building-I believe what you say is what you believe. In Philadelphia are drop out rate is not as great as it use to be but no where near where it should be. I share with teachers all the time that the drop out rate can occur right before your eyes. Children drop out in the classroom if there is no rigor, improved instructional practices that meet their needs, assessment and data recognition that is not sound and used to move students to advanced. We incorporate state standards at Stanton everyday. Our children are aware of the standards by which they learn and can articulate them to you and know what they mean. Professional development which is designed around real data will drive instruction and increase instructional practices-in effect have increased student achievement. We will never control the community issues in our schools so let’s look at what we can control and be about the business of educating children at high levels. I do believe an safe, clean and productive climate is essential to moving students to advanced!

Question from Claudia Crase, teacher, Helena Middle School:
What advice do you have for failing students who are not engaged in learning? We have no consequences in place for failing students at middle school. What do we need to do first?

Barbara Adderley:
Over the last summer I designed a new strategy that we now have in place called a “Diagnostic Tool Kit”. Teacher have always kept authentic/alternative assessment data on children in portfolios in the classroom. I don’t feel that many staff members referred to those assessment portfolios to stay abreast of data that moves students to advanced. Now they bring the tool kits to grade group/CSAP meetings. They have a hanging folder for every student, but those failing students have a worksheet that was designed by us that is completed monthly by teachers to look at strengths/weaknesses, attendance, behavior and the strategies that they use to increase or support the desired outcomes. These plans are updated and discussed by the team. This is only for “failing students” eventhough all children have data folder in the Toolkit. In other words it is extremely important to have ongoing and sustained dialogue on children who are not meeting advanced on the rubric. We do engage in dialogue with all grade groups each week. There are also support systems in place for teachers: New Teacher Meetings with me once a week for 8 weeks at the beginning of the school year (7:30-8:30); Professional Learning Community Breakfast Meetings (once every 2 months- 7:30 - 9:00); grade group everyday; PD; Critical Friends; cross articulation in Academies and many other supports.

Question from Sara Lee, Teacher, Lamar Elementary:
When you talk about successful schools are you identifying their success with standarized tests or is a different measure you’re looking for??? I don’t think standarized tests tell the whole story at all, they are not even a real way to see a school success.

Karin Chenoweth:
I identified schools through standardized test scores. I do consider them a real way to see school success.

But what is interesting (to me, at least) is that in order to get the kind of test scores these schools have achieved, they have done a whole slew of things that most people would consider good practice--they identify indivudal students who need help, make sure the teachers understand the material and know how to teach it, make sure students are exposed to as much literature, art, and music as possible, and so forth.

Question from Bob Zager, School Site Council, Saratoga High School, CA:
Please address issues of stress, AP/Honors classes, and pressure to perform. For example, “Doing School” and the ideas of Denise Clark Pope of Stanford.

Barbara Adderley:
I smiled when I read your statement-I think the stress we have here is insuring that all of our children reach high standards and move towards advanced on the rubric. That is the stress that we all have I guess and insuring that children meet the standards to that they can be life long learners and productive citizens of this society we live. We share our successes with all stakeholders here, staff, students and parents. It’s posted for all to see. Children know where they are as far as reading levels, math achievement and writing across the content areas. We post Benchmark Scores (math and reading) which helps to insure a bit of competition among grade groups-but it’s healthy competition. I have not read “Doing School” so can’t respond to the books.

Question from :
Hello Ms. Chenoweth and Ms. Adderly, First of all, I want ot express my sincere admiration and respect for you, Ms. Adderly for the hard work you are doing on behalf of the children in your school. You give hope to all of us working with underserved and underrespresented children around the nation. Ms. Chenowith, in your research did you find that the schools who achieved the test-score successes had to sacrifice arts programs that may have been in place? Especially, in the elementary schools you studied, was there a specific redesign in curriculum or reprioritization that precluded fine or performance arts instruction? Also, did you find that (like the Success for All programs or KIPP) the school’s social climate had to be changed with the addition of ethics or character-development inititatives (such as positive affirmation chants, a more specific and enforced dress-code and the manditory involvement of student’s family) that may have been designed to fit into the academic day?

Karen Minette Weinstein Art Teacher Roxbury Elelemntary School Stamford Connecticut

Karin Chenoweth:
In the schools I discuss in the book, the adults in the schools understand that their students need a lot more than narrow reading and math skills in order to succeed in the wider world, and they are anxious that their students have as broad an education as possible. They are not cutting out art, music, science and history. They know that those are part and parcel of being educated citizens.

Having said that, sometimes in the early years of change it is sometimes necessary for schools to focus in on improving the skills of teachers in one particular area (early reading instruction is often first in elementary schools) and it takes a while for the schools to bring such a concentrated attention to all subjects.

School environment is unquestionably important, and some of the schools have formal character education programs and some require uniforms, but not all do.

Question from John Tapper, doctoral student, New York University:
What instructional practices - in mathematics, specifically - are associated with schools that succeed with at-risk populations?

Karin Chenoweth:

That’s a bigger question than I can answer from my reporting. I will say that I was interested that quite a few of the elementary schools I write about in the book use the Everyday Mathematics program. Teachers receive quite a lot of training in both the concepts and the methods, and they often supplement with quick “minute math” kind of math drills to ensure that students memorize their math tables, which I understand is not particularly well emphasized in Everyday Math.

Question from Alan Schultz, teacher:
Can you explain the role of rules, discipline and how student refusal to do work is handled in successful schools.

Karin Chenoweth:
For the most part, the schools exemplify what one principal (Arlene Snowden, of Capitol View Elementary in Atlanta) says: “When you focus on discipline, that will be your focus.” She goes further: “When kids are fully engaged, they don’t pose discipline problems. We focus on rigorous, engaging, hands-on activities.”

Obviously there are rules in these schools. But the main focus at all times is on instruction.

Question from Eve Lynn Smith, Teacher, Stroudsburg Middle School:
Does the reading program at Stanton provide authors or characters that our representative of the students cultural, ethnic, and socioeconmic experiences? If so, is there any availabe data that correlates student achievement with a multicultural literacy program?

Barbara Adderley:
The School District of Philadelphia purchased the Trophies Series from Harcourt for all schools K-5; in addition grades 6-12 use Elements of Literature. These books are multicultural but at M. H. Stanton we purchased the National Geographic Series for all students K-7 in both reading and math. Our focus here is “Reading & Writing Across the Curriculum” so you will see students using literature across the content. We have a Teacher Resource Room where we now have over 5000 books for teachers to use for guided reading, read-alouds, shared reading and they are all multi cultural. In addition, we have been identified as a PYO Years IBO school (International Baccalaureate) and we have been painting murals throughout the school that are learning areas-they depict cultures across the world ie the Bedoins in African; Amish in Lancaster County; Inuits in Alaska. I am not sure about the data that correlates student achievement/multicultural program, but we use current pedagogy to know how students learn best. One is a book by Alfred Tatum “How African American Boys Learn to Read” also Ron Clark’s book “The Excellent 11" are excellent sources and two books that my staff has read.

Question from Joellen Killion, Director of Special Proejcts NSDC:
Across all the schools, what are the top three contributing factors to their success?

How replicable are these results?

Karin Chenoweth:
If I had to pick three (I list more than 20 factors in the book) I would have to say: 1) high expectations 2) thoughtful instruction 3) careful organization of time and materials

Question from Carla Williams, Doctoral Student, Georgia State University:
1. What did you find that these 15 schools had in common?

2. Based on your research, what would you recommend for school systems who are struggling to close the achievement gap for minority students, and particularly, for Black males?

Karin Chenoweth:
1) What was interesting to me was how different these schools are in all kinds of external characteristics--they are big and small, rural and urban, in big districts and small districts, racially isolated and integrated. Some have uniforms, some do not.

But, as John Capozzi said, when he met some of the other featured educators at a conference, “we all speak the same language.” By that he meant that they all have high expectations and care deeply about good instruction and identifying kids who need help and providing that help.

2) I’m a reporter, not an educational consultant, but I think the first thing folks have to do is assume that minority students, particularly Black males, can achieve at high levels--and then make sure they know what that entails.

Question from David Graves Parent Hubbard Middle & PHS:
I would like to if what works for that school would work in a middle school in two years. How do I get my hands and eyes on the best practice of that model?

Barbara Adderley:
Wow David-read Karin’s book (smile) She has been to many school across this country that have shown marked improvement in achievement for boys and girls that historically no one thought could make it. Reviewing data, data, data. Believing that all children can learn at high levels. I believe that NCLB has pushed all of to the edge, it’s a conduit that insures that children must achieve because it makes us accountable. We have even used the Inclusion Model at Stanton for our LS students and they are achieving, too. Seven have exited out of special education and moved into the regular mainstream.

Question from Marsha Wynecoop, Language Program Manager, Spokane Tribe of Indians:
Who do you determine as being successful, a handful of students? What do you define success to be? Is your definition of success the same as the local community. If you asked Tribal communities, the answer would be no, our definition differs greatly from yours. Education has been a terrible assimilation experience for our people for many generations and now our children and grandchildren have to suffer a 13 year sentence. I assume that your definition of success is Good Grades = Good Jobs = Good things. Our Tribe defines it as being proud of who you are and having internalized core Tribal values.

Karin Chenoweth:
I determine that a school is successful if just about all its students meet or exceed state standards in at least reading and math.

You might be interested in reading about Lapwai Elementary School on the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho. I profile it in the book.

Question from Angela Smith, Business Teacher, Toledo Public:
Libbey High School will have three small schools next year and is located in a low income urban area. Administration and the building committee spent many hours discussing and agreeing on discipline codes that have since been rarely enforced. This has negatively reinforced unwanted behavior. I beleive that despite the many obstacles placed before our students we are fortunate that many of our students choose to succeed. Unfortunately some choose not to succeed. Either way I believe we could do better as a faculty. How can my whole school achieve academic success while experiencing a great deal of disagreement between the small schools and follow through from the teachers?

Barbara Adderley:
You know I think it’s a process. Nothing occurs immediately but you keep your eyes on the prize that you believe that ALL of the children can achieve academic success at high levels. Negative behaviors tend to disappear when you have a solid instructional program that includes not only teacher delivery but performances, projects, research and constructive practices that are sound instructional programs for students. We just read a book “Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap” by Alfred Tatum. This book opened the eyes of many teachers at this site. We learned that African American boys and boys in general cannot sit still for long periods of time without reacting in some way (usually negative). Several days later I walked into a 6th grade classroom and the teacher had the boys on the floor tracing several students bodies to use as a Venn Diagram to talk about the Great Migration from the south to the north during the early 30’s. Several of the boys were doing the timeline on butcher block paper. The engagement was rigorous, demanding and meaningful. We have instituted this year Professional Learning Communty Breakfast Meetings ( once every 2 months). This has served as a vehicle for teachers to share, collaborate, read current pedagogy and see best practices from their peers. This session is where we read the aforementioned book. We meet from 7:30am - 9:00 and I provide coverage (K-3; 4-6 grades) I am always there to support the staff.

Comment from Margaret Sorensen, PhD Candidate, Walden University:
It seems as though examples of unexpected excellence are plentiful. What we have not been so successful at, however, is generalizing from these successes. Have you, as a “next step,” been able to identify any “most challenged” districts that have been able to demonstrate surprising success?

Question from Karen Morris, Education Head, Friends School of Atlanta:
What components of success were measured? (grades or test scores, behavior, self-confidence, number of books read independently, and so forth)

Karin Chenoweth:
The main criteria I used for selection of the schools were: 1) demographic--that is, many if not most of the students are children of color or low-income or both; 2) student achievement--that is, the school had to be high-achieving or rapidly improving, as measured by publicly reported scores on state tests.

Question from :
I am a native Philadelphian teaching teacher prep in a nearby University. What can people like me and my student-teachers do to assist in development of quality urban public schools? Diana B. Waters, Ed.D.

Barbara Adderley:
Answer is simple, insure that your student teachers come early to good (and there are many) urban area schools to get the kind of nurturing by great teachers and wonderful students. This could be done early on as Practicum students. At least they can make some decisions as to whether this is really their advocation or not. I believe strongly that the more “hands on, minds on” experiences people have the more understanding they have. Many new teachers come to schools to “fix the children” and not to be facilitators of learning. These early experiences can give them the needed training to become great educators

Question from Floris Wilma Ortiz, ELL teacher, Amherst Regional Middle School:
I have not read the book, so I do have many questions about the research, findings and interpretations: Is the question addressing the study “can students learn” or is it about the achievement gap? I do not think people question student’s ability to learn, rather if they can all attain the expectations required by standardized measures.

1. How is success defined in these schools? 2. How sustainable is the progress of the students/schools? 3. Who funded programs in the 15 schools? Who funded the researcher publishing the book? How many students,teachers etc. took part of the study? How were these schools selected? 4. Could the particular “formula” for improvement be replicated somewhere else? 5. What factors were identified as been the causes for students low performance and for constructing their identity of “hard to teach”?

Karin Chenoweth:
You’ve asked a lot of questions, most of which I answer in the first chapter and conclusion of the book.

I used state test scores to define success, and all the schools had funding from federal Title I, which helped the schools finance materials, training, and extra time. Some also had some additional funding from local foundations and other sources, but for the most part these schools are regular neighborhood schools with ordinary funding plus Title I.

The research for the book was paid for by The Achievement Alliance, which is a group of five organizations: Business Roundtable, Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, The Education Trust, National Center for Educational Accountability, and National Council of La Raza.

Question from Darlene Elsesser-Kovacs, Director of El. School Curriculum, Diocese of Erie, PA:
I note that you mention parent concerns. How do you involve and engage parents in the process?

Barbara Adderley:
For the last two years we have spent a great deal of time trying to get our parents engaged in the learning process. This year we have a “Parenting Plus” program that has approximately 33 parents involved once a week from 9-11:00. The experiences they are having are wonderful. I sat with the presenter and tailored a program that we felt would meet their needs ie How to talk to your child; using financial literacy to make you a better planner (went to Wachovia Bank and opened bank accts for the 1st time); going to the Pathmark (super market) and showing how you can take 4 lbs of turkey burger and getting many means instead of purchasing 3 steaks; having those experiences that will make you a better parent. We also have 35 parent volunteers this year who monitor our hallways, lunchroom, Parent Patrol in the AM; Safe Corridors (on street corners with walkie-talkies).... Many of our parents are quite young but they all want what’s best for their child-sometimes they just don’t know how to express it.

Question from Patricia Lauer, Evalaution Director, Rocky Mountain Center for Health Promotion and Education:
What role does health education and promotion play in these sucessful schools?

Karin Chenoweth:
I don’t know. I didn’t really look at that question.

Question from Jessica O. Ellis, Assistant Principal, Teachers’ Memorial Middle School, Norwich, CT:
Does the book include research and examples concerning demographically similar and successful middle and high schools?

Karin Chenoweth:
The book includes profiles of one middle and three high schools.

I would say two of the high schools are very successful, and the middle and other high school are rapidly improving.

Question from Elisabeth Hensley, Researcher -Berkeley:
Are the schools highlighted in “It’s Being Done” traditional neighborhood-serving schools, or are any of them opt-in models, e.g. part of a controlled choice system or requiring special commitments from families? What, if anything, have the districts they are part of done to try to scale-up these localized successes to the larger system?

Karin Chenoweth:
They are all neighborhood schools. None are magnet or exam schools or charter schools.

In a couple of cases the school has extra seats so accepts students from outside the neighborhood boundaries (e.g. Centennial Place in Atlanta) and in one case the school is too small to take all the neighborhood students so there is a lottery from applicants, but there are no academic requirements (University Park Campus School in Worcester, Mass.)

I know Philadelphia is trying to replicate the success of Stanton, but in some cases districts have yet to even notice these schools, much less try to scale them up.

Question from miriam lund, Education specialist , Dept of ED:
How do high-need, urban schools attract, hire and retain Highly Qualified Teachers. What in-service do you provide you educators with to better prepare them for the challenges of working in a high-need, urban school?

Karin Chenoweth:
This is a bigger question than I can answer from my reporting.

What I observed is that once schools have established themselves as places where teachers can be successful, they have less trouble attracting highly-qualified teachers. Until they have established themselves in that way, they are often left with hiring inexperienced but promising teachers and then training them to be good, successful teachers--who then tell their friends about what a great place the school is.

Question from Liam Goldrick, Policy Director, The New Teacher Center at UC Santa Cruz:
In your experience, how critical is quality teaching and leadership in schools that are successful in sustaining high achievement? What strategies have these schools used to create a professional culture that nurtures effective teaching practice?

Karin Chenoweth:
From my reporting what I would say is that quality teaching and leadership is absolutely critical.

They all have ways to create a professional culture, but I’ll just tell about Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School here. It is a big school with grades 7 through 12 and every new teacher is observed at least 7 times a year by either the department chair or an administrator who gives specific observations about what is good about instruction and what needs to improve. After a teacher gets tenure, the observations continue, but by peer teachers.

This is an extraordinary effort to improve instruction--and it shows in the classrooms.

Question from Zaline Roy-Campbell, Professor of Education, Syracuse University:
There are some teachers who genuinely do not believe that particular students have the capacity to achieve more than at a mediocre level, at best. How can one sucessfully change teachers’low expectations of students.

Barbara Adderley:
Through sustained/ongoing professional development. You need to form a committee of staff members (here it is our Instructional Leadership Team) who look at current data and then make some preliminary decisions about how to move students to proficient and above. We then take it back to the staff and through a design whether it be a Gallery Walk, Four Corners, ....we come to consensus on what the needs are for our staff. You know somethime we don’t really know each other-there is one design I use each year called the Medicine Wheel-Lakota Indian Tribe. At the end of this design we find out who we are and how we work best together. Eventually, we formed a schoolwide Mission Statement and teachers were able to form their own vision for themselves and the students they service. In addition, reading and staying abreast of current, relevant pedagogy whether from ASCD or books that share how children learn (Howard Gardner-Multiple Intelligences) we make determinations about students and the gifts they bring to the classroom.

Question from Lanette White, Visual & Performing Arts Administrator,Compton Unified S.D.:
What is the formula for a “good” school?

No one expects a “magic formula”, but is there one program/curriculum that marks a difference more than the others?

What is the level of commitment needed for a school to have marked success?

If the level of commitment is high by all stakeholders, how much time does it take to turn a school around?

Karin Chenoweth:
I am reminded of that old saying that “there are a lot of ways to heaven.” I think there are a lot of ways for schools to become “good.” Schools that really don’t know where to start can have some success with a thought-through program like Success for All, but it isn’t necessary to adopt a program like that. I have become a little bit of a fan of Core Knowledge, because I think it makes sure kids have a good foundation of background knowledge and has some terrific materials. But nothing is a turnkey operation--every program requires work and thought.

Question from Tom Robinson, NBCT, Washington State:
Each of these successful schools surely had a ‘tipping point’ moment that made it clear things were going to work. Are there any commonalities in these schools as to what that ‘tipping point’ was?

Karin Chenoweth:
What I heard over and over again from different schools is that a small core of teachers and principal worked together and when they were able to show some kind of success they pulled together more teachers and once 50 percent of the teachers were on board, the school “tipped.”

Question from Jan Haake, Administrator in Residence, CEMSE/Univeristy of Chicago:
What are your expectations for your teachers and your students the first day of school and how/when do you articulate them?

Barbara Adderley:
In June the previous year! We look at the end of the year data (from Terra Nova our district assessment which gives us our benchmarks) to determine where children are from the next school year. Teachers get a PLAN that gives pertinent data about the group of incoming students. There are suggested strategies, percentages for meeting these outcomes and results from the previous tested grade.

Question from John Wherry, President, The Parent Institute:
Dear Karin,

I read your “It’s Being Done” commentary in the April 11, 2007 issue of Education Week with interest.

In the schools where you observed academic success in spite of difficult circumstances, what can you tell me about the level of parent involvement at those schools? School leaders often tell us that parent involvement is too difficult in high-poverty, high-minority schools and that parents cannot contribute to academic success. Did you find that to be true?


John H. Wherry President The Parent Institute

Karin Chenoweth:
Some of the schools have more successfully engaged parents than others. One of the more successful in this question is Granger High School in the Yakima Valley of Washington. 80 percent of the students are Latino, mostly the children of agricultural workers, about 10 percent are American Indian, and the rest are white. The principal, Richard Esparza, instituted a system whereby every professional adult in the building meet with about 18 students four times a week. Those kids are the adult’s responsibility for registering for classes, keeping on track for graduation, etc. The mentors are responsible for meeting with every student’s parent or guardian, and the school just celebrated its fifth or sixth year of 100 percent attendance by parents and guardians. The graduation rate of the school last year went to 95 percent, which is quite extraordinary.

Question from Jose Ortega, Consultant, California Department of Education:
In the schools you visited, what systems are in place to assure sustainability of the progress achieved so that progress is not dependent on one administrator, or a few teachers that drive change?

Karin Chenoweth:
The principals are all worried about this issue--they all know of schools that improved only to fall apart again after the principal left. For that reason, they have all instituted some version of what I think academics would call “distributed leadership.” Teachers and sometimes even parents and community members make important decisions about how Title I funds are used, school procedures, and all kinds of other things.

Elmont is on its third change principal, Capitol View is on its second. This is something that will have to be watched very carefully.

Question from Lauran Sattler, CIS , Ivy Tech Community College-Warsaw:
What can higher education do to assist and/or partner with k-12?

Barbara Adderley:
Have ongoing and sustained articulation with K-12 teachers and principals about what is expected in schools. We find that many new teachers are bright but do not know how to deliver crucial instructional practices such as guided reading, using reading behaviors to determine grouping of students in these groups, etc. It would be a great idea to see the Core Curriculum that we use in Philadelphia to understand what the performance content descriptors state that a student should know at the end of say grade 4. They should be aware of the state standards and how they a presented in K-12 schools. I believe that they should be aware and be able to demonstrate the instructional models that this or any school district has in place.

Question from Lee R. McMurrin,Retired Supt.,Milwaukee Public Schools:
Why does the press give so much attention to failure rather than reporting academic successes both great and small in puplic school? Even though there are academic successes in public schools the so called experts are prone to disgard them and question the validity? I could give you several examples but there is not space. But Willian Bennett visited an inner city school at my urging in Milwaukee and refused to accept the principal and teachers explanations and data drawn from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Believing that was an easy test. Lee

Karin Chenoweth:
I think there’s a lot of mixed press. My complaint about most press attention is not that it’s more interested in failure than success but that it often doesn’t go deeply enough into whether success is success for all students or just a narrow band of students.

Question from Marvin B. Austin, Prinicipal Consultant, Legacy Enterprises, Inc; Battle Creek, MI:
When I hear of examples of schools that “are getting it done” it’s always seesm to be one or two schools within a school district or system. I wonder if there is a continuum for the children who attend a high performing elementary school where they move into a similar middle and high school.

It often seems that the high performing school is an oasis in the desert.

Do you have examples of districts that are accomplishing high achievement among African American students at all grade levels or throughout their district?

Karin Chenoweth:
I’m looking for that kind of example. If I find it I will write about it. You can check in on in a few months and see if I’ve found something along those lines.

Question from erika harford county public school:
What supports are available for new teachers?

Barbara Adderley:
I meet with new teachers every Tuesday morning from 7:30 - 8:30 to share reading, math and other content areas as it pertains to the Core Curriculum. We go through the curriculum and highlight strategies and activities that should be taught from the picture page. We discuss using data and what kind to insure increased achievement levels; discuss lesson planning as pertains to this site; attendance expectations; basic record keeping.... Each teacher is assigned a Critical Friend and are shared the Mission Statement for their academy. We have a fully released literacy and math leader who give ongoing supports to all staff. They can also visit classrooms to observe best practices during the school year. There are also, grade group meetings everyday (one per wk for grade level) and morning breakfasts (1 x every two months) The School District also has in place two observations days a year wher they can go to other schools and the region suports new teachers with PD and the School District

Question from JOHN A. WALSH,Board Member:
What did the administrations of the 15 schools do, to be highlighted in your book? What specifically was initiated to bring those school communities together to accomplish these results?

Karin Chenoweth:
I identified the schools based on test scores and then went and found out what the schools had done. That is, I didn’t start with a predetermined idea of what would work (i.e., cooperative learning, or co-teaching, etc.) and then find examples of them. I started with high academic achievement of students and then looked to see what had produced those results.

Question from Kay McSpadden, teacher, York Comprehensive High School:
Is middle school really the “last best hope” for students, or can high schools show the kinds of gains you see with younger kids? How important is teaching “school culture” vs. teaching specific skills?

Barbara Adderley:
I’m going to horn in on this one--Richard Esparza, principal of Granger High School, is adamant that people not dismiss the possibility of kids turning around in high school. His students typically come in to 9th grade reading and doing math at very low levels, and he gets the majority of them reading to state standards by 10th grade. He doesn’t want anyone writing off his kids.

Jeanne McCann (Moderator):

Thanks to everyone for joining us for this fascinating look into finding success in unexpected schools. And a special thanks to our guests for taking the time to answer such a large number of questions. This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on

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