In the Classroom

College Summit leaving Indiana after fundraising, expansion woes

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam addresses lawmakers Feb. 2 during a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The governor delivered his State of the State address on Feb. 9.

Trenee Lambert didn’t think she was destined for college. Instead, the Manual High School student was preparing for a life of working in retail or the fast food industry.

“That was as far as I thought I was going to go,” Lambert said. “My parents didn’t have an education. They were bare minimum getting by. I thought that was an OK lifestyle.”

But the summer program that helped her, and other students like her, navigate the way to college is pulling out of Indianapolis. College Summit, a national program that helped more than 10,000 high school students make it to college who otherwise might not have gone, is suspending its operations in the state.

“I kid you not, I cried,” Lambert said of her reaction when she heard the news. “I started to think about all the kids we could have impacted this summer. They’re losing out on relationships, skills, mentors. It’s a lot.”

A combination of fundraising woes, expansion setbacks and leadership changes at the program’s various schools caused the organization to make the decision to pull back, said Allen Goldberg, College Summit’s chief marketing officer.

“What happened was a confluence of events more than anything else,” Goldberg said. “There are a lot of changes at the schools that we currently serve and we weren’t adding the number of schools that we needed for our operational model. It just didn’t make sense for us to be there next year.”

Affected schools — including George Washington, Broad Ripple and Arsenal Tech high schools in Indianapolis Public Schools; 21st Century Charter School in Gary; and Cascade High School in Clayton — learned about the group’s decision last month.

Susan Sparks, a newly retired teacher who led College Summit classes at George Washington, said it opened up new doors for kids. College Summit was aimed at promising students who would be the first in their families to go to college. The program taught them how to seek financial aid, how to apply and even how to reflect on their lives to find material for compelling college essays.

The program also featured a week-long summer camp on college campuses to help students better understand the college experience.

“I think it’s a terrible loss for all those kids,” Sparks said. “I think College Summit is a tool that our kids need. They don’t have parents at home who have attended college.”

Just under 61 percent of students graduate in four years at the West side high school, nearly 30 percentage points below the state average.

The Mind Trust CEO David Harris, whose organization brought the program to Indianapolis in 2007 by creating a pilot at Manual High School, said its fundraising troubles represent a new challenge in Indianapolis.

“The education reform space here has gotten very crowded,” Harris said. “We’re a little bit a victim of our own success.”

Goldberg said the organization hopes to resume operations again in Indiana one day. The state still needs better support to get vulnerable kids to college.

“We’re looking at it as more of a temporary suspension of operations,” Goldberg said. “We are definitely winding down with this school year but our desire is to come back as soon as possible.”

To make up the deficit in the meantime, Harris said schools need to “build their own capacity” and get serious about providing low-income kids a path to college.

College Summit changed everything for Lambert, she said.

She never thought she was the kind of person who could go to college. She had been working much of her life, helping care for younger siblings after her father died when she was in elementary school and then in fast food during high school.

Even though teachers thought she was bright, Lambert’s goals were limited. She hoped simply to be a fast food manager some day.

“I realized it wasn’t OK to think that’s all that was out there,” she said.

But College Summit helped Lambert realized she not only could go to college, but that her life story was far from ordinary. In fact, colleges wanted students like her.

“It should be mandatory for every high school student,” said Lambert, who worked in College Summit summer camps.

She eventually graduated from Indiana University with an education degree and became a teacher, now at Indianapolis Public School 19.

In 2011, the Indianapolis Star wrote about her transformation after College Summit in a profile of the program.

Lambert pulls out the article to re-read it from time to time.

“I read it sometimes when I think about it how far I’ve come,” she said.

yeshiva findings

After 3-year probe into yeshivas, city admits it was blocked from visiting many schools, found little instruction in math and English

PHOTO: Jackie Schechter
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been accused of delaying an investigation into whether yeshivas provide an adequate secular education.

At some of New York City’s yeshivas, attendance was voluntary when it came time to learn secular subjects like math and English. Students said they didn’t learn math beyond basic division and fractions. None of the students reported receiving steady lessons in science. 

That’s according to a long-delayed probe by the New York City education department into whether some of the city’s private Jewish schools are providing an adequate secular education for students. But even as the city released findings on Thursday, it admitted that it was never able to go inside any high schools and never received a full set of curriculum materials to evaluate — significant gaps for a report that took three years to be released.

In a letter sent to the state education commissioner on Aug. 15, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza asked the state for guidance on how to proceed after a recent change in law that put the state education commissioner in charge of evaluating the schools. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the letter. 

“We deeply believe that all students — regardless of where they attend school — deserve a high-quality education. We will ensure appropriate follow up action is taken based on guidance provided,” Carranza said in a statement.

The letter marks a new phase of an investigation sparked by current and former students and parents who complained they received little instruction in math or English while attending the schools. The city has been accused of delaying the investigation to avoid angering a politically powerful community.

New York requires private schools to provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to public schools, and that allows the schools to access public money for things like school security. Students and parents who were interviewed for the probe said they received instruction in math and English for only 90 minutes for four days out of the week, and all but two said they received “little to no” history lessons, according to the city’s letter.

The report finds that some schools have adopted new curriculums in English and math, but officials have not been able to evaluate the new materials because they haven’t received a complete set.

The city also said that officials at eight of the schools they were unable to visit recently gave word that they would schedule meetings.

Read Carranza’s full letter here.

In the Classroom

Carranza aims to speed up anti-bias training for educators, calling it a ‘cornerstone’ of school improvement

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Chancellor Richard Carranza, bottom right, joined New York City principals and superintendents for an anti-bias training in Brooklyn.

After bending fluorescent pipe cleaners into loopy and angular shapes, a group of about 100 New York City principals and superintendents paired up for a chat. Their assignment: to recount their childhood aspirations of what they wanted to be when they grew up.

This was no arts and crafts class — and no ice breaker, either. The Wednesday morning session at Brooklyn Law School was an example of anti-bias training that the education department will now require for every employee who works with students across the country’s largest school system.

After committing $23 million to the work this year, Chancellor Richard Carranza announced at the session that the trainings will be mandatory, and that the city aims to speed up how quickly they happen. The goal is to compress the original four-year roll out to two.

“It’s about us as a community saying we want to change systems so that it privileges all of our students in New York City,” Carranza said. “The evidence right now, I will tell you my friends, is that not all students are being served well.”

Advocates had long agitated for the training, citing disparate rates in school discipline for black and Hispanic students, and high-profile incidents of schools accused of teaching racist lessons in the classroom. They argue that teachers need to be better equipped to serve diverse students as the city moves forward with plans to integrate its starkly segregated schools.

“We have to make school environments the most welcoming places possible for our young people. That includes adults doing personal work,” said Natasha Capers, a coordinator for Coalition for Educational Justice, a parent organization that lobbied for the training.  

Their advocacy has gotten a boost since Carranza became schools chancellor in April, bringing an approach that is bolder and more frank than his predecessor when it comes to addressing the system’s racial inequities. On Wednesday, he spent more than an hour participating in the training session just like the other school leaders, calling it “God’s work.”

“This is going to penetrate everything we do,” he said.

Wednesday’s session was lead by experts from the Perception Institute, a research and training organization, and Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs), which provides leadership training. The pipe cleaners helped bring to life a metaphor about “bending” expectations for what educators might learn throughout the day. The one-on-one conversations were a way to “interrupt” stereotypical assumptions about other people by having sustained conversations with them, said trainer Dushaw Hockett.

“This isn’t some touchy-feely, get-to-know-you exercise,” he said.  

There is some evidence that, when done right, anti-bias trainings can work — and improve outcomes for students. But there is also research that shows it can often be ineffective.

Carranza said the city is committed to doing the work for the long-term, with the trainings designed to be ongoing and build on each other. He also said the department will keep an eye on measures such as student attendance and whether teachers report improvements in school climate to gauge whether it’s having an impact.

“This is going to be one of those cornerstone pieces in terms of, how are we going to continue to transform this immense system to really, truly serve all students?” he said. “This is going to be something that’s not going to fall off the radar. We’re going to keep pushing.”