collaboration station

KIPP launches collaborative with Memphis charters to improve literacy results

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Monique Cincore (center) is one of 23 educators participating in a new collaborative between local charter schools and KIPP.

When a school adopts a new curriculum, one of the most time-consuming tasks for teachers is figuring out how to bring those new ideas into their classrooms.

This is especially true for charter schools with smaller staffs who are often starting from scratch in designing a curriculum aligned to state standards, said Monique Cincore, principal at Aspire East Academy in Memphis.

The KIPP Foundation, a national charter organization, is giving away its English curriculum, KIPP Wheatley, for free to help lighten other charters’ loads. And for the first time, KIPP has established a  “charter collaborative,” sharing its curriculum and training for it with four Memphis charter organizations with the goal of helping local teachers and leaders figure out how to bring the curriculum into their classrooms.

“The charter world can be so siloed,” said Daniel Sonnier, the director of KIPP Wheatley Achievement, who helped run the first Memphis collaborative session in early October. “Everyone is doing their own thing. But now we have this shared curriculum, and we can learn from one another.”

Eleven elementary and middle schools from four different charter organizations in Memphis adopted the KIPP Wheatley curriculum last year, with Memphis Business Academy joining this year. Starting last week, 23 educators from the schools will meet monthly to try out ideas and receive feedback from KIPP Wheatley experts. KIPP led a two-day session with the educators at the Memphis Education Fund, which donated the space.

“We tend to work within our own buildings, and there’s not as much opportunity like this to practice and hear from other schools,” Cincore said. “Having this curriculum as a starting point cuts through a lot of heavy lifting, and helps me focus on this question: ‘How do I lessen teachers’ loads?’ ”

The participating schools are:

Aspire Public Schools 

  • Aspire Coleman Elementary
  • Aspire Coleman Middle
  • Aspire Hanley Elementary
  • Aspire East Academy

Freedom Preparatory Academy 

  • Freedom Preparatory Academy – Westwood
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy – Whitehaven

Memphis Business Academy 

  • Memphis STEM Academy
  • Memphis Business Academy Middle

KIPP Memphis

  • KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary
  • KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle
  • KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle

One of the main goals of the collaborative is to grow English scores an average of 8 percentage points at the participating schools on the next state test, Sonnier said.

He said they are waiting for charter organizations to report on Wheatley’s effect on their state scores during the first year. Individual school scores for last year’s state TNReady exam haven’t been released yet, but state-level scores for K-8 show most students are lagging in literacy.  

The KIPP curriculum is aligned with the Common Core and while the state of Tennessee moved away from Common Core to Tennessee Academic Standards this year, Sonnier said teachers won’t have much to change.

“Common Core and the Tennessee standards are very similar,” Sonnier said at the collaborative session. “A Common Core curriculum focuses on a close reading of text. For us, text is queen or king. It rules over everything.”

KIPP formed the literacy curriculum five years ago and is using grants from the Charter School Growth Fund and the Schusterman Foundation to spread KIPP Wheatley to cities like Memphis. The curriculum is now being taught to more than 15,000 students across the nation, according to a KIPP blog post.

Sonnier said they have seen positive results from the curriculum at their KIPP New York and KIPP New Jersey schools in particular, with KIPP New Jersey growing by 7 and 10 percentage points respectively in their elementary and middle school literacy scores on state tests last year.

KIPP is hoping to repeat its success in Memphis, with cross-charter collaboration as the key. If the collaborative is successful, KIPP will try a similar approach in other cities like Denver or New York, Sonnier said.

“The opportunity to interact and engage with folks in the way Memphis is able to is refreshing,”  he said. 

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

Gold standard teachers

Tennessee adds nationally certified teachers but continues to trail in the South

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat

Twenty Tennessee educators have earned a national certification that’s considered the profession’s highest mark of achievement, although the state continues to lag in the South in growing that community.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday released the list of new educators designated as National Board Certified Teachers.

Their addition brings Tennessee’s number of NBCT educators to more than 700, with another 63 pursuing certification. By comparison, Kentucky has 3,600, Virginia 3,400, and Georgia 2,600.

“We know that teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators who are helping their students grow, while serving as an example of what it means to be a lifelong learner,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Nationally, 5,470 teachers earned the designation in 2016-17, raising the total to more than 118,000 through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The certification takes from one to three years to complete and includes a performance-based peer-review process. Successful candidates must demonstrate a proven impact on student learning and achievement.

In Tennessee, at least 36 school districts offer at least one type of incentive for achieving the certification. The most common is a salary bonus.

North Carolina continues to lead the nation in certification, with 616 more teachers gaining the endorsement last month from the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

Earning their certification in Tennessee were:

  • John Bourn, Franklin Special School District
  • Christy Brawner, Shelby County Schools
  • James Campbell, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Kimberly Coyle, Sumner County Schools
  • Suzanne Edwards, Williamson County Schools
  • Anastasia Fredericksen, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Theresa Fuller, Kingsport City Schools
  • Amber Hartzler, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
  • Jennifer Helm, Williamson County Schools
  • Deborah Higdon, Franklin Special School District
  • Karen Hummer, Franklin Special School District
  • Heather Meston, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Melissa Miller, Franklin Special School District
  • Kelsey Peace, Sumner County Schools
  • Lindsey Pellegrin, Franklin Special School District
  • Andrea Reeder, Williamson County Schools
  • Jordan Sims, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Susanna Singleton, Williamson County Schools
  • Melissa Stugart, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Drew Wilkerson, Franklin Special School District

To learn more, visit the website of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.