By Mike Myslinski
Students and staff of Harmon Johnson Elementary
Public schools reap what they sow in education reform. The good news is, something special has taken root in California’s disadvantaged classrooms. The school improvements planted by the CTA-sponsored Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006 are producing academic success stories featuring students of greatest need.
This teacher-driven school improvement effort is the largest school turnaround project of its kind in the nation — and they’re making a lasting difference despite deep cuts to education in recent years.
“With QEIA, we are finding new and effective ways to help our vulnerable students and to discover practices that all teachers can learn from,” CTA President Dean Vogel says. “New research shows that these proven reforms are leading to positive impacts in achievement, school reputation, school climate and parent engagement. This is exciting to see.”
QEIA is getting noticed, too. Last year, the program received international acclaim in a book, The Global Fourth Way, by education researchers Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley. It was showcased as “the” U.S.-based reform program to watch.
While raising test scores is not the primary purpose this reform program, the Academic Performance Index (API) scores for many QEIA schools now exceed the state’s goal of 800 set for all public schools. The academic gains made and best practices discovered come at targeted schools where students are overwhelmingly from low-income minority families, and many are English learners.
Some 400 schools remain in the program today after many failed to meet strict benchmarks along the way. The eight-year program ends June 30, 2015.
Here are five schools where QEIA is making a significant difference.
Award-winning school inspires parental involvement in Sacramento
QEIA School: Harmon Johnson Elementary
- District: Twin Rivers Unified
- Success factor: Parental involvement
- API Score in 2013: 772
- Student demographics: 582 students; 70 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 9 percent African American; 98 percent qualify for free or reduced price-lunches; 69 percent are English learners.
“The investment we are making with the parents will continue to pay off once QEIA funding stops. Once you grow these parent connections, they keep going. We can sustain them,” says student learning coach Marc Moorehead, whose position is funded by QEIA.
What’s working: Harmon Johnson educators meet with parents the first Friday of every month at a forum to hear their priorities and stay connected. Parents use two QEIA-funded computer labs in night classes. Parents serve as bilingual instructors in parenting classes for adults, and take nutrition and cooking classes on campus. They even do some cafeteria tasks that older students do in some schools so that sixth-grade students don’t miss instruction time. Parents gather at the end of each school year to see if their priorities were met by staff. Teachers designed a program called “What I Need” or WIN to help students achieve, and test scores jumped. Students take a weekly exam, and if they don’t pass, they get tutoring about specific state standards after school from their teachers, paid for with QEIA funds.
They’re proud: Parent volunteering soared. Located in a high-poverty neighborhood plagued by drug crime, Harmon Johnson is a safe haven and a community hub where parents can take classes at night and feel part of the team working together for their children. Principal David Nevarez notes the school is one of only three in the U.S. to receive a National Award for Excellence from the respected Coalition for Community Schools in Washington, D.C. “Our kids and parents take ownership of what’s happening in this school. We’ve created a school that reaches beyond the school walls and into the community.”
State Honors Title I School Achievement in Chula Vista
QEIA School: Lauderbach Elementary
- District: Chula Vista Elementary School District
- Success factor: Teacher collaboration
- API score in 2013: 845
- Student demographics: 817 students; 89 percent Hispanic; about 80 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; 70 percent are English learners.
“It’s the QEIA funding that makes it possible for our teachers to have time to plan, collaborate and analyze students’ work. Collaboration time is significant. It helped us improve student achievement,” says literacy coach Evette Ramirez, whose position is funded by QEIA.
What’s working: Teachers spend hours every week in brainstorming sessions assessing student data, planning lessons together, or watching one another teach and giving feedback. In her literacy coach job, Evette Ramirez helps model lessons for colleagues and promotes quality professional development. While QEIA also ensures smaller class sizes and other resources, she says, the collaboration QEIA allows by funding substitute teachers to free up colleagues is vital. “It’s been very powerful for us.”
They’re proud: Lauderbach Elementary is one of 56 California public schools to earn a Title I Academic Achievement Award earlier this year from the California Department of Education. To win, schools must have doubled the achievement targets set for them for two consecutive years. Title I is the largest federal program for K-12 public schools and assists students living at or below the poverty line.
High school transforms learning culture in Bakersfield
QEIA school: West High School
- District: Kern High School District
- Success factors: Schedules and incentives
- API score in 2013: 746
- Student demographics: 2,200 students; 62 percent Hispanic, 18 percent white, 15 percent African American; about 60 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; 6 percent English learners.
“We have changed our school culture. Students want to succeed. It used to be not cool to be smart, but now it is cool. The peer pressure now is to be successful in school,” says Trent Combs, business teacher, site rep, and site council chair.
What’s working: West High School teachers in Bakersfield noted students were not showing up for remedial or intervention work during lunch or after school. Now this is mandatory during the school day, an idea borrowed from a QEIA professional development training. Four years ago, two periods were extended from 50 to 85 minutes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, to help students catch up. Remaining periods were shortened. Teachers can “do intervention work, reteaching or labs if they want,” says educator Trent Combs. “Students who are not behind get enrichment instruction.” Another program, “Think Gold,” rewards students who stay on track with an extra five minutes of lunch time, social events, T-shirts, and a chance to be named to the campus academic “Hall of Fame.” These incentives are based on standardized test results, so the tests become more important to students. “The extra five minutes of lunch really motivates the kids, and it costs us nothing to do that,” says Combs.
They’re proud: The whole school culture changed, thanks to the strong support of Principal Dean McGee. School discipline problems and suspensions declined sharply. The graduation rate of nearly 84 percent in 2011-12 was higher than the districtwide rate and the statewide figure. Smaller class sizes and more resources mandated by QEIA also made a difference. “QEIA allows us to do all these things sooner,” Combs says. “It shows you what you can do and accomplish with all of these resources.”
Bay Area teachers understand the power of good professional development
QEIA school: Marylin Avenue Elementary
- District: Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District
- Success factor: Better professional development
- API score in 2013: 833
- Student demographics: 500 students; 74 percent Hispanic, 12 percent white, 4 percent Asian, 4 percent Filipino; 83 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; about 60 percent are English learners.
“We turned the corner with the help of QEIA, and then other schools started looking at us. We’ve had teams from several school districts visit our school to see what we are doing,” says Noah King, third-grade teacher.
What’s working: Colleagues began discovering better practices at quality professional development trainings around California, including CTA trainings. Teacher Noah King says some stick out as gems, like a “Professional Learning Communities Summit” in Anaheim, a “90/90/90” school improvement conference in Los Angeles, and an “Education for the Future” gathering in Chico. “We chose the best parts of these trainings and brought them here to benefit our teachers and students.” One recently adopted practice is making student data analysis part of an extensive teacher collaboration culture.
They’re proud: The school’s API score gained about 170 points in the past several years to hit 807 last year. With the backing of Principal Jeff Keller, morale is high and classrooms are full of energy and promise. “QEIA gave us such a better ability to move more quickly along the path of student success that we were on.”
A Los Angeles middle school benefits from smaller class sizes
QEIA school: Francisco Sepulveda Middle School
- District: Los Angeles Unified School District
- Success factor: Smaller class sizes
- API score in 2013: 731
- Student demographics: 1,700 students; 84 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Filipino, 5 percent white; 88 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; about 23 percent are English learners.
“Having lower class sizes thanks to QEIA has decreased the disruptions. It’s amazing. I can help every student who has their hand up. When our regular classroom sizes were up to 40 students, then you could never get to do that,” says Sue Crosby, QEIA site contact for CTA.
What’s working: Being in the nation’s second-largest school district serving about 662,000 students means overcrowded classrooms. QEIA mandated no more than 25 kids can be in subject-specific classrooms for grades 4-12. “I used to have children who had to sit on the counters because there were no desks,” says Jenn Childers, who teaches science to eighth-graders from a low-income area of San Fernando Valley. “Discipline in my class is awesome now. It’s great what you can do with fewer kids, the one-on-one. Science is so hands-on. And with fewer kids you have more supplies to go around.”
They’re proud: Sue Crosby has time now to go into more lesson details with her seventh- and eighth-graders. “Students can develop more critical thinking skills,” says Crosby. Her comments mirror those from other educators at QEIA schools around the state, concludes the new QEIA research report: “With fewer students to teach and manage, the overall workload of teachers was reduced, providing more time to attend to other tasks and activities. With more time, teachers felt more willing to innovate and try something new.”
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