study says...

Students in high-tech math program saw big gains, report says

Students in New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. schools in a program called Teach to One made better-than-average math gains.
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Students in New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. schools in a program called Teach to One made better-than-average math gains.

Students in a high-tech math program that features computer-generated student work schedules, virtual tutors and live teachers posted above average math gains last year, according to a new study.

More than 2,200 students in seven middle schools in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., that used the Teach to One learning model made an average of 1.2 years of math growth, according to the report by researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University. That was 20 percent more progress, on average, than other students made on an optional test used in school districts across the country.

But the gains varied across schools, according to the report, which follows an inconclusive study that was released last year. Students at five of the schools gained less ground than the national average in at least one grade, the report found.

Teach to One, which has expanded to 15 schools in seven cities in its second year, grew out of a city Department of Education program called School of One, which enjoyed national attention and federal funding before its co-creators left to start their own nonprofit.

“Our big takeaway [from the study] is that it looks like, at least so far, we’re on the right track,” said Joel Rose, the former city official who helped build School of One before co-founding New Classrooms Innovation Partners, the nonprofit behind Teach to One.

The report cautions that it cannot attribute students’ math gains to the Teach to One program, since it was not an experimental study that could control for various factors. The report was prepared for New Classrooms using students’ fall and spring scores on the Measures of Academic Progress test.

The report notes that the sixth- through eighth-grade students in the program last year — its first in operation — were more likely than the average test-taker to be non-white, English language learners, and from low-income families. They are also more likely to receive special-education services.

“Given that this was a first-year initiative implemented with an underserved population, the early data are encouraging,” the report said, adding that the model deserves “continued exploration.”

Schools that use Teach to One’s math model gather several grade-level classes — for instance, five classes of seventh graders — into a single open space with about a dozen learning stations and multiple teachers and assistants. Students find their stations listed on large monitors, then pull up their daily agendas, or “playlists,” on laptops.

Algorithms use diagnostic and daily assessment results to select the skills — which are pulled from multiple grade levels — that students will target for the whole year and each day. Students complete computer activities, work in small groups, chat with remote tutors through headsets, or sit for teacher-led lessons based on plans from a vast digital trove.

The model is meant to maximize class time by customizing what each student is learning to reflect only areas where he needs to improve.

“We’ve been doing school the same way with one teacher and 30 kids for 150 years,” Rose said. “There are just limits to how successful that model can be — even with the best of teachers.”

This model is similar to what School of One offered when it started in three city schools in 2009. The updated model includes changes such as regular applied-math projects and content aligned with the Common Core standards.

School of One students speak to remote tutors at the program’s kickoff in 2009. (GothamSchools)

A study last year by New York University’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools found mixed results for School of One. Of three pilot middle schools that used the model in 2011, one saw a positive impact, one saw a negative impact and one saw neutral results, according to the study. (Two of the schools are no longer using the model.) The researchers said the first-year study was not definitive, but offered “initial feedback.”

School of One was built for the city using a mix of public and private funds. In exchange for the rights to use elements of that model in Teach to One, New Classrooms runs the program for free in the six New York schools that use it, according to New Classrooms co-founder and city Department of Education veteran Chris Rush. Department officials said the city’s ethics board cleared the arrangement.

Rush and Rose’s departure raised questions about whether innovations incubated by the school system — especially under the technology-minded former chancellor, Joel Klein — would persist across administrations or spin off into private ventures, like Teach to One.

The co-founders said the move enabled them to attract investments from donors who want to see the model expanded nationally and to “insulate” it from political forces.

Those political forces include a new mayoral administration that will decide whether to renew its contract with Teach to One, which expires in June.

“Time will tell if the new mayor and chancellor are interested in continuing to be leaders in education innovation,” Rose said.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.