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Good News in Columbus, Ohio – KnowledgeWorks Raises Graduation Rates

From the Columbus Dispatch, we’ve got some good news about success with the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative – thanks to the KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

Graduation rates improved from 62% to 82% and the graduation gap has narrowed. Perhaps the best news is not only that this model has positive effects, but that the Foundation says it’ll be cheaper to replicate.

Ohio High School Transformation Initiative

Program raises graduation rates

Poor districts succeed with smaller schools, rigorous classes

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 3:10 AM

By Catherine Candisky


More students in some of Ohio’s most impoverished school districts are earning high-school diplomas under an initiative focused on smaller schools, personalized instruction and rigorous curriculum.Those involved in the five-year-old Ohio High School Transformation Initiative say the results are significant and encouraging.

Since 2002, in the 35 participating high schools in eight districts:

• High-school graduation rates have increased from 62 percent to 82 percent.

• The graduation gap between participating schools and all Ohio high schools has narrowed by 77 percent.

• Passage rates for both reading and math on the Ohio Graduation Test improved, 89 percent of the districts reported.

“We now know how to transform failing high schools,” said Chad P. Wick, president and chief executive officer of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a Cincinnati-based organization which focused on education reform.

“We must apply what we now know towards ensuring all kids, regardless of their race or economic backgrounds, succeed in schools that help them succeed in life. No more excuses.”

Wick met last week with Gov. Ted Strickland, who will unveil an education-reform plan early next year, to discuss the effort. While the governor’s office declined to comment on the proposal, the relatively small price tag is a big plus as the state’s budget crisis threatens to undermine Strickland’s efforts.

KnowledgeWorks and other partners, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, invested $100 million to develop the high-school initiative, train teachers and launch a second effort aimed at getting more high-school graduates to continue on to college.

Wick said now that the models are in place, program costs will be minimal.

The initiative has focused on smaller schools, more autonomy for school administrators and teachers, personalized instruction and flexible schedules to allow students to spend more time as needed on difficult subjects.

Columbus school officials say the small-school concept led to improved performance among students at Brookhaven High School, the only school in the Columbus district participating in the initiative.

“We’ve learned a lot and it has worked well although we have not been able to fully implement it at Brookhaven as intended,” said Jeff Warner, spokesman for the Columbus City School District.

At Brookhaven, passage among first-time takers of the reading portion of the Ohio Graduation Test was 69 percent this year, up from 37 percent in 2004. That’s the highest jump of any participating school.

The smaller learning environment, Warner said, allows for improved relationships and understanding between students and teachers and more personalized instruction.

Harold D. Brown, executive director of EdWorks, a new affiliate of KnowledgeWorks focusing on high-school improvement, said it boils down to commitment and staying the course.

“We have shown that real improvements in student achievement are possible, even in our most distressed communities,” he said.

Partners, which include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, invested $100 million.

Spanish Teachers Unite to Tackle Serious Issue: NFL Player’s Jersey Number

chad ocho cinco

Apparently this was on Deadspin, but I read the education sites each day before I hit sports, so I’ll tip the hat to Mr. Russo.

The Bengals wide receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson legally changed his name recently to Chad Ocho Cinco to reflect his jersey number of 85 – and now “Ocho Cinco” will appear on the back of his jersey in place of the old “Johnson.” Cue the outrage!

Rubes like me don’t know much about Spanish. We just know that Teddy Roosevelt whooped the Spanish single-handedly and that a lot of people in California [like Spain, another foreign country] speak their language. I’ll do my best to sum up the gripes detailed by these scholars of the language – consider this testimony fair warning.

Here’s the meat:

Why is Carlson, and many other Spanish teachers so upset? “Ocho cinco” actually means “eight-five”, while “ochenta cinco” or “ochenta y cinco” would be the correct formations of 85 in Spanish.”

Yes. Yes, I follow. The question I’m having trouble with is…

… so what? Another scholar explains:

Aaron Carlson, Spanish teacher from Kearney, Nebraska explains: “Chad’s little prank is making it difficult for us to effectively teach numbers. Students think that we are teaching them wrong because this clown can’t use a dictionary.”"

I wouldn’t call a legal name change a “little prank,” but Kearney is entitled to his mouth-frothing.

Take a step back, Mr. Carlson. Is Chad Ocho Cinco’s football jersey the highest hurdle you face as an educator? If so, don’t let the education world know – your school will get about 40,000 applications for its next job opening.

Perhaps Kearney and others could use this as what the proper ed-school graduates and certified teachers – not me – call a “teachable moment.”

Really, how often does grammar in any language come up in pop culture? It’s a fairly interesting bit – taking 3 minutes to describe how “ocho cinco” reflects the “8″ and “5″ on his jersey and not the cardinal number “85.”

This might be one of the few times when I’d argue that the discussion would facilitate engagement among students, and that the engagement would be a valuable thing.

Chad Ocho Cinco seems to grasp the gravity of the issue:

“I really don’t care, you cant stop me either way,” related Ocho Cinco. “Maybe next year I’ll go with Acht Fünf. That’s some German right there.”"

As soon as these teachers pound out a solution to this intellectual rift, they might want to tackle two other problems in high school education.

1. High school teachers don’t know basic English, as evidenced by the mean GRE Verbal score of 484.

2. High school teachers don’t know basic math – algebra and geometry – as evidenced by their mean GRE Quantitative score of 576.

Both of these scores are well below the mean. Verify it here [PDF] at your leisure. I recommend you take solace in knowing that your bosses aren’t any better off.

Good job, guys. The grammar myth of The Ocho Cinco Jersey? Consider it busted.

Hell, the Spanish teacher article is probably a fake, but since I read 20 real education articles a day this ridiculous, I’ll treat it as true.

Time to Quit Education Blogging! We’re Useless!


Yipes. I had no idea how irrelevant we all were. I guess there’s always the patronizing suggestion that we do some good, noble work locally or in a tiny niche – which is the equivalent of sitting the Kids’ Table at Thanksgiving.

Richard Whitmire is guestblogging over at Eduwonk:

“… where the important education reform issues of the decade get debated. I maintain, however, that these debates would be greatly diminished absent indirect contributions from the thousands of sentinels out there expending shoe leather at local schools and school board meetings. Those would be our members at EWA.”

That’s the National Education Writers Association. Take a few minutes to browse their website – what they do, some of the EWA member stories, some of their events for members. Drop your jaw in awe after about 45 seconds [I've got to instruct you because it won't happen naturally].

Whitmire gives a few nods: Jeff Solochek’s Gradebook team in Florida [I say this because Ron Matus pumps out just as much good stuff], Scott Elliott in Ohio and Cathy Grimes in Virginia. I don’t know much about Cathy Grimes’ work in the Newport News area, but I’m well familiar with the other two papers, both of which do a solid job covering their state/local education scenes.

Elliott says:

“Richard has some kind words for Get on the Bus in the course of arguing that education coverage needs traditional media sources because free-standing education blogs could not provide the depth of coverage necessary for quality commentary on the issues without relying on traditional journalism.”

Eeep. No depth, lack of quality commentary. Touche, Elliott.

But it’s partly right – the education blogosphere, like pretty much all the blog sectors, depends on traditional journalism for their material. Why? Because it’s efficient – it’s there and ripe for the picking – not because we aren’t capable of doing it ourselves.

Think of it this way: EWA writers grind the flour [and apparently see themselves as soldier-sentinels with a penchant for gumshoe lore and professional martyrdom, admittedly odd pairings for flour-grinders but perfectly appropriate for writing about teachers] while more knowledgeable folks bake with it.

And, yes, I said it – more knowledgeable. The biggest problem in education writing is the biggest problem in education. It isn’t the budget, it’s the lack of practitioner knowledge.

The irony here is that the dismal state of education writing is evidenced by the lack of depth in education stories. Most education writers – yes, even some of the darlings at the EWA! – haven’t a clue about the curricula they write about. If you want surface-only, uncritical, simplistic coverage, pick up a newspaper and flip around until you find the education stories.

Now that I’m thinking of it, how would your local education reporter fare in the Third World Challenge? And would he/she report his results candidly in the local paper?

It’s the unique depth that I appreciate from the blogosphere – and it’s that depth I don’t get from the bulk of the education media. The content in the education blogosphere simply has more relevance both nationally and on your block than the weekly updates on bus fuel prices and lawsuits/bickering amongst school officials.

Solochek says:

“Could bloggers take up the slack as papers cut education reporters? Not unless the bloggers are education reporters themselves.”

I want to understand that line better than I do right now – I’ve got to be missing something – so if anyone, including Mr. Solochek, can elaborate,  it’s most welcome. He goes on:

“But more mainstream readers like the ones we write for want to know about the local schools and the state’s policy directives, and these reports don’t just materialize out of thin air. That’s what we as education reporters provide, and blog about.”

I’m a little puzzled. Help me understand?

UPDATE: 08.20.08, 6:23pm:

Still waiting… will anyone address this? If there’s something I don’t understand here, lay it out for me.

Vocational Education in Public Schools

welding in shaker heights

The edublogging technocheerleaders say ad nauseam that the most important part of not just blogging but Web 2.0 as a whole is the “conversation.”

One of the many delights I’ve experienced with this site is coming into contact and corresponding with people I’d otherwise never find. I have to assume this is the “conversation” about which I read literally hundreds of articles a month.

Gary Stager of District Administration is largely the black to my white, but I’ve found that fewer – if any – education professionals are more willing to engage in real debate. And the absolute best part is that he’s secure enough to disagree completely in a blog thread or e-mail and not take it personally. After all, education isn’t about us.

Sometimes we match up philosophically – he raised an eyebrow at the Ed in ’08 Kanye Kampaign, too – but in many matters he’s the Douglas to my Lincoln [I couldn't help but choose the better side].

But we’re at philosophical odds again. This time the issue is the value of vocational/technology education.

In “I’m Worried About America,” Stager comments on three current news stories:

  1. Yesterday’s Cleveland school shooting;
  2. Racism and the Jena 6 crimes;
  3. The debate surrounding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program [SCHIP].

I’m not going to comment on 1, 2 or 3 – plenty of other sites address those issues adequately. I’m going to address Stager’s criticism of vocational education.

The shooting in Cleveland took place at SuccessTech Academy, a school in the Cleveland Municipal system that offers technology and vocational training. Stager said:

I do not wish to disparage the SuccessTech Academy where today’s shooting occurred, but it’s a safe bet that few affluent parents in Shaker Heights would choose to send their children there. Many urban schools are being turned into “specialized” career academies where students are “trained” for trades and low-paying jobs never contemplated for children in the suburbs. How many SuccessTech students do you imagine go on to Ivy League universities? (Note: USA Today reports that the school has a 94% graduation rate.)

Affluent parents tend not to choose vocational tracks for their children. That affluent parents insist on a wholly academic track – or that they don’t contemplate the option in the suburbs – does not legitimize it as a better option; it’s simply what they prefer for their kids.

Career academies are on the rise for many reasons, one of which is a failure of urban schools to deliver academic tracks through the 12th grade successfully. Vocational programs build on a curriculum of basic skills to offer a student expertise that guarantees them gainful employment after high school graduation.

I’m not sure why Gary put “trained” in scare quotes as if there is a difference between trained and trained. There’s nothing to suggest that SuccessTech Academy’s vocational education programs are illegitimate or substandard. As far as we can tell, a student leaves SuccessTech prepared to develop that trade further once he graduates. A 94% graduation rate is certainly not low, especially in an urban setting.

Stager’s characterization of trade skills as leading to “low-paying jobs” is also grossly inaccurate – I’ll get to that shortly.

After pointing to the school’s typically-vague mission statement, Stager continues:

A slideshow of images is prominently featured on the home page. The following photos represent one-fourth of the images presented. One shows a student welding and other depicts two African American students grooming a dog. DOG GROOMING! That sure is one ambitious educational objective.

Vocational education? An ambitious educational objective indeed.

Dog grooming is a bit suspect, but as Boris Johnson told the world weeks ago, the market has deemed seemingly-odd tracks both economically viable and worthy of study. I’d like to focus on welding.

I received training in welding in high school beginning in the 10th grade. It was one of the most valuable skills I learned in my public K-12 education and it was not training to which I had access or could otherwise afford outside of school. I spent weekends learning fine woodworking and during the week augmented that with metalworking in my school’s technology department. I was able to begin working/teaching welding literally within 48 hours after my high school graduation because of those classes.

I graduated on June 25th, relaxed on my 18th birthday on the 26th and was on a plane to Northern California on the 27th to work. Again, I got that job based on the metalworking education I received in high school.

Stager and others may or may not believe this, but it’s possible to mix technical/vocational education programs like welding with a wildly varied and rigorous academic program.

With students aged 8-16, I used welding as a means to look at everything from chemistry/physics, geometry/trigonometry, principles of design, basic principles of engineering and basic concepts in intellectual property [yes, all of these can be introduced properly to a child as young as 8]. I do wish that Stager and others had the opportunity to sit in on one of the sessions where I explained to 10-year olds the chemical differences between MIG welding and arc welding and its consequences on designing the project we were working on.

Educators are keen on assessment, so it’s important to note that after the design phase of the lesson, not a tyke put forth a proposal for an iron candle-holder that wouldn’t tolerate the weaker joints of a MIG weld. Might that be a 100% success rate using authentic assessment? The Ridgewood administration would approve.

And yes, that came from vocational training in welding, that “low-paying,” shoddy, non-rigorous discipline that a Shaker Heights parent wouldn’t be caught dead suggesting their child explore.

As I developed my skills in high school, I saw with the aid of two solid teachers that welding played quite well with the New York State Regents chemistry curriculum. The connections between that trade and academics somehow managed to penetrate my grimy blue collar and seep upward to mix with the knowledge that one receives as he earns a Regents diploma. I realize only now with Stager’s help that it was nothing short of a miracle.

Though Stager seems to think that a student putting time into vocational study hasn’t a notion of the Ivy League, I stumbled on that, too. After a year of welding one period a day and 3 hours a week afterschool in the Technology Club, I spent a semester studying history and economics at Harvard. If Stager needs an example of one who has sprinkled the salt of the earth on the forbidden fruit that is an Ivy, he need look only as far as the photo on the right sidebar of this site.

Oddly enough, Stager’s argument reminds me quite well of the attitude I encountered time and again on that campus that semester. The other residents of Winthrop House called me “Rube.”

Again: Ambitious educational objective indeed.

Snark aside, the truth is that many trades position those without a college education to earn an excellent wage as they contribute to their communities and the economy as a whole. The average urban high school graduate is, as Stager says, relegated to low-paying positions. There’s simply too much competition for better jobs that require skills many high school graduates don’t have. Trades are an avenue to contributing meaningful, sought-after labor that yields good compensation.

Take a look at this thread on the American Welding Society’s forum – it discusses the pay scale for welders. Although pay varies regionally, this discussion shows the range of wages a welder is likely to earn based on his skills. A quick glance at the discussion shows that a certified welder starts around $12-14/hr. – a solid gain from a minimum wage, “low-paying” job – and a skilled, experienced independent welder pulls ~$70/hr. Shops can charge a bit more and, of course, safety incentives come into play for more demanding jobs.

I’m not sure how much Stager makes, but I’ll freely admit that a welder with as many years of professional experience as I’ve been out of high school makes quite a bit more per hour than I do.

There’s no reason to discount vocational education, consider it a replacement for an adequate high school curriculum or to unfairly categorize trade skills as inferior. It does a disservice to education and ignores the practical application of much of the curricula in which those in Shaker Heights and the suburbs place their unwavering trust.

Those who practice a trade won’t mind if you do, though. They make a good living striking arcs, fixing plumbing and repairing the cars of the pointy-headed. Who did you think pays those $70/hr. bills?

Welders may not be Kant scholars, but they understand that a snob’s dollar spends the same as any other. Then again, they might just be Kant scholars.