Last week’s New Schools Venture Fund-Aspen Institute Summit in Burlingame provided another example of the incredible work being done across this nation by educators, thinkers, academics and entrepreneurs.
There is absolutely no doubt that if jaw-dropping increases in academic achievement can happen in Denver, New York and Houston, they can also happen here in the Valley of Hearts Delight, irrespective of income or the color of a child’s skin. The list of tenets that will help us reach the goal of SJ/SV2020 is actually embarrassing simple.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, plenary session speaker and “closer” of the Summit said the single most important driver of economic growth is the public school system. Emanuel said, “We’re not about reform, we’re for results.” Harvard economic professor and innovator of Harvard’s EdLabs Roland Fryer, a conference presenter, gave us the “game plan” for how to get different results than what we currently reap in schools. He urged all assembled to change the odds for poor kids in America. Equalized test scores for all income and racial subgroups by the end of 8th grade are critical and doable, according to Fryer.
Another speaker that told the bare truth was Kaya Henderson, the new chancellor of Washington D. C. schools. She told the 900 invitees, mostly charter school advocates, that the choice movement is a false dichotomy between traditional public/district schools and charter schools.
Chancellor Henderson said we must be able to innovate in district schools, as the charter choice movement is able to do. Professor Fryer said there is no magic bullet about charters, and the three most seminal studies on this issue demonstrate that charters are not better and sometimes worse than the traditional district schools they replace. Many should be shuttered, he said. Yet, we are learning form the work of high quality charters across the nation, he added.
Most Summit speakers agreed that we know what to do, we just need the courage to do it. Is Silicon Valley ready to embrace the large-scale changes needed, so we can say in year 2020 that we have climbed the mountain, and the achievement gap has been eliminated?
Here is what Professor Fryer did with his Apollo 20 schools in Houston, where he got the results Mayor Emanuel asserts are necessary for economic viability in America. Fryer’s list of necessities for successful and effective schools systems is as follows:
Find a way to replace teachers from the system whose students test poorly and replace ineffective school leaders. In the Houston Apollo 20 project, 50 percent of teachers were replaced and all of the principals. The results have been encouraging, but, as Fryer said, the project is only on the 30-yard line with 70 yards to go.
According to Fryer, the five critical tenets to success are:
• Provide teachers with quality feedback.
• Use data to drive instruction.
• Employ high academic expectations for all.
• Tutor, tutor, and tutor each student at least on a 2-1 ratio.
• Increase instructional time.
Fryer says there is no correlation of improved student achievement when the typical school change initiatives are employed:
• Class sizes are reduced.
• Teachers are certified.
• Per pupil expenditures increase.
In some cases, according to Fryer, the aforementioned negatively correlated with achievement in charter schools.