Pre-K strides

Study: Students in New York City’s Pre-K for All program show learning gains

PHOTO: Emma Sokoloff-Rubin
Judith Colon, left, asks her pre-K students at P.S. 63 to use the word "if" in a sentence.

New York City’s universal pre-K program is paying off in more ways than one, according to a set of reports released Tuesday.

An independent research firm hired by the city’s Department of Education found that families are highly satisfied with the program, which now serves more than 70,000 students, and that most teachers are happy with their jobs. Notably, the research — which was done with help from New York University — also found that students were gaining measurable academic skills.

Students at the 75 UPK sites studied gained seven months of learning in just five-and-a-half months. More than 70 percent of the children assessed performed at or above national averages in early literacy; in early math skills, it was 62 percent.

But the results also highlight stubborn learning gaps. While all students showed growth over the time period studied, minority children still fell behind their white peers. Hispanic children lagged in all tested areas, while black and Asian students scored lower than white students in early math.

Since the study did not include a control group of students, it’s impossible to say how much children would have learned if they weren’t in pre-K.

“Children naturally learn and grow over time,” the study states. “Therefore, we cannot estimate the extent to which Pre-K for All was responsible for the children’s learning and growth.”

Still, the results provide important baseline information that can be used to improve UPK, said Steven Barnett, a Rutgers University professor and director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

“These are valid and reliable measures of children’s learning,” he wrote in an email. “By tracking this kind of information over time as well information on classroom practice, the city can determine if they are continuing to move in the right direction and what they need to do to improve.”

Universal pre-K has been a signature achievement of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Since 2014, the city has more than tripled the number of 4-year-olds in free, full-day classes. But education leaders and politicians across the country have closely watched whether the program’s quality could keep up with its breakneck expansion.

According to the study:

— All racial and ethnic subgroups showed better-than-expected growth on measures of pre-writing skills, compared to national norms. Asian students almost doubled their expected growth.

— Hispanic students start pre-K behind their peers in letter recognition, but gained three-and-a-half more months of learning than expected. While black and Asian students started on par with their white peers, they did not meet expectations for growth in letter recognition.

— White children entered school outperforming all other racial and ethnic groups in early math skills. But Asian and Hispanic children grew more than expected, while black children grew slightly less than expected.

— Children whose primary language at home is not English entered school behind their peers in all subjects and remained behind them. However, they made better-than-expected gains in all areas.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”