The holiday we celebrate this coming Monday had its origin at a time when the United States was still very much a divided country. In the aftermath of the Civil War, “Decoration Day”- as it was originally called - was observed in only the northern states. Union veterans’ organizations called for the decoration of only the graves of those who fought and died for the Union. Not until after World War 1 was “Memorial Day” designated to honor Americans who died fighting in all of our wars.
Throughout the one hundred and fifty-one years since the United States was reunited into one common country, we have strived to eliminate any fragments of being separate and unequal in all aspects of American society. During this time, there have been a number of seminal events that reshaped the social and political fabric of America. Most are not as well-known today as they were at the time they occurred. Many have not even been mentioned in history textbooks. Yet, they were significant as to how they forced America to look at itself; and define freedom, equality, and our way of life.
One such event took place sixty-two years ago this month, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended legalized racial segregation in all American schools. The impact of the following words – “In the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” - resonated far beyond the classroom as it provided impetus and momentum for the Civil Rights Movement, and the later passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In the ensuing years, our nation should be able to stand together proudly and marvel at all that has been accomplished to break down barriers to ensure that ALL our children have an opportunity to be participants in today's knowledge economy. Yet in truth, the pages of history have been turned back, and what is old, is now new again.
In addition to voluminous studies and reports citing growing disparities in the achievement gap, school funding, and disciplinary actions relating to Black and minority students in comparison to their white peers – the following headline appeared last week in news outlets throughout the county:
“Judge orders Mississippi school district to desegregate, 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education.”
As an organization fully committed to improving the achievement outcomes of all students, we are all too aware that many public education systems around the country provide fewer resources to schools serving low-income and disadvantaged students. We also know that strong preconceptions exist that due to some students’ socio-economic circumstances; it is assumed that they will not finish school, will not find a decent job, and will never go to college.
Our Vision and Mission is in many ways linked to the precepts established by Brown v Board of Education, as our work is committed to ensuring equal educational opportunities for all children. So it is essential for all of us to understand that this commitment is not simply a collection of words for marketing purposes. It is who we are, and what we stand for. Therefore, even in the course of our hectic daily workplace activities, we cannot lose sight of the role we play in positively impacting the lives and futures of thousands of young people.
Consider as we honor and commemorate the more than 1.3 million Americans who paid the ultimate price fighting for our country; that there is no racial designation or income status noted on their grave markers. At the moment they were giving the last full measure of devotion to their country – there was no “Separate” – there was no “Unequal” - just “Americans”.
Together, we are a piece of thread in the massive fabric which is America. Let us do all we can to eliminate “Separate” and “Unequal” from the educational lexicon; and in doing so, honor those who gave their all to guarantee the founding principle of our nation that “All Men Are Created Equal”.
Children ranging in age from 1 to 15 came to work yesterday with their parents as part of EdisonLearning’s annual “Take Your Child to Work Day.”
In the Pittsburgh office: Carol Smialek was joined by Izabella; Mark MacWhinney by Julia; Ken Barth was joined by Juliette; and Michael Trosan was joined by Julia and Gianna.
In Jersey City: Archie Ford was joined by Kamari and Aurielle; Jacqueline Galvan was joined by Gerald and Elijah; Tanya Hooks by Taylor; and Nicole LaFortune by Sean. And in the Knoxville office, Paula Asbury was joined by EJ.
In addition to spending a special day at their parents’ workplace, the children participated in various project activities – including a unique eCourse program, and had a Skype video conversation with Thom Jackson during the lunch break.
The Capital Area Intermediate Unit (CAIU) is pleased to announce the selection of five local schools to receive blended learning grants.
- Oak Flat Elementary in the Big Spring School District;
- Hershey Elementary in the Derry Township School District
- Lenkerville Elementary School in the Millersburg Area School District
- Halifax Elementary School in the Halifax Area School District
- Paxtonia Elementary in the Central Dauphin School District
The above schools will each receive a grant of $20,000 to plan for the implementation of blended learning practices in their schools. The term blended learning refers to teachers fusing the best of online learning practices with the best of traditional face-to-face teaching practices in the 21st century classroom.
“We are excited to be able to award these grants to these five schools,” said Brian Griffith, director of curriculum services at CAIU. “With this planning grant, each of these teams will research the latest in innovative teaching methods and begin planning for implementing them in their schools,” he said. “There are model schools throughout the country who have implemented such programs, and this grant will serve as a catalyst to spur such innovation here.” “These five schools will open their doors to other schools in our region to share what they’re doing. So, our whole region will benefit,” Griffith added.
Pending the availability of funds, a second competition for an implementation grant will be conducted in the fall of 2016. This competition will again be open to public elementary schools in the CAIU region to apply.
This second grant will support a school in actually implementing the new teaching and learning practices in its building. “These sizable grants are only possible with the help of our Partners of Education, led by EdisonLearning,” said Griffith. Thom Jackson, EdisonLearning’s President and CEO, said, “CAIU has been an innovator in helping to provide students with the tools they need to maximize their learning potential. As a partner of CAIU’s in online learning since 2009, EdisonLearning is pleased to offer financial support and technical expertise for this initiative – being fully aware that students throughout the region will benefit.”
CAIU is modeling the use of some blended learning practices in this grant process. Each district was invited to participate in both web-based and face-to-face meetings to learn more about the grants. CAIU staff members have also created online learning modules for building teams to learn more about the design attributes and various models that are being used across the country.
The Virginian Pilot
Norfolk, VA -- Still a high school sophomore at 18, Shalya Lancaster struggled to stay on track to graduate. She juggled day classes at Lake Taylor High School with two night courses at Granby High last year. She still had five of six required state exams to pass. "It was very stressful," she said.
Lancaster wanted to catch up, but she struggled to find the motivation she had before her mother died eight years ago. She fell behind, in part, because of negative peer pressure. "When I got to ninth grade, I thought it was fun skipping school," she said. "So I kept doing the same thing, the same thing every year."
Her attendance and grades plummeted. Being so far behind at the point when most peers are graduating, she planned to drop out. But a counselor told her about the school division's newest program, the Open Campus for dropouts and students who have fallen behind. Lancaster left Lake Taylor and in September began taking online classes at the new school in the Coronado area, on Widgeon Road. Students study on computers in one main lab along with participating in small-group instructional sessions.
On a fast track, Lancaster could earn her eight remaining credits in a year, or a little longer if she runs into any academic snags. Either way, she's now more likely to get a diploma.
The Open Campus has been touted as a graduation game-changer, giving students a second chance to earn diplomas - not just a General Educational Development equivalency certificate - and helping to boost the division's lagging graduation rates.
The program is part of the Transformation Initiative, a divisionwide improvement plan the School Board adopted last year. The division partnered with the private EdisonLearning and Magic Johnson Bridgescape operate the program, though other components add to the cost. The companies operate similar programs throughout the country, though evaluators didn't compare Norfolk's to those.
State Del. Daun Hester, a former teacher and Norfolk City Council member, serves as the school's executive director. Norfolk provides other staff and resources.
The school opened in October 2014, with spots for 100 dropouts and about 25 students considered older than the typical age for their grade levels. With a rolling enrollment, about 200 participated at some point during the year. About 20 graduated in the spring. School leaders haven't set an annual graduation goal.
The program targets students on the fringes, and they come to school with more than academic problems.
Lancaster needed to work to help support herself and her family. She's moved with relatives three times since her mother died. "Eventually, I was like, I'm just tired. I gotta do something with my life. I can't depend on nobody to do nothing for me," she said. "I'm going to just come back to school and just do whatever I have to do, no matter what."
Now she works full time at McDonald's while attending morning or afternoon sessions at the school. She can check out a computer to work on courses at home when needed. Teachers cheer her on when she gets tired or frustrated. "They help you; they're very supportive," she said.
Lancaster's experiences echo program successes outlined in an evaluation compiled by Old Dominion University researchers. The School Board recently discussed the findings, which showed promising data about helping vulnerable students. But the school also faced difficulties in its first year.
There were fights and other discipline problems, and on-site attendance hovered around 40 percent. The division chose novice teachers to instruct some of its most challenged students. Most teachers of the program's core content - English, math, science and social studies - had less than three years' experience. Although the program provides online courses, the teachers felt the students could benefit from more direct, small-group instruction, according to the report.
Teachers generally spoke favorably about their experiences but said they could benefit from more training and professional support. On any given day, they teach various topics across grade levels. The program could use more teachers, especially to help with reading, the report said.
Many students struggle to read beyond an elementary level, according to the report. The majority of students came in classified as sophomores, while others just needed to pass the Standards of Learning exams required to graduate. The school noted over-age students passed only one SOL exam, and school leaders plan to explore other options for those students.
Open Campus students face significant family and social hardships, including incarceration, homelessness, children and financial difficulties.
A host of support services contribute to students' success, the report said. Teachers facilitate advisory groups, community partners provide job opportunities and parenting and prenatal resources, and the division helps with transportation among other things not usually offered in an alternative education setting.
Some students still struggle to make it to school despite the support. Hester will track down wayward students in their neighborhoods or on their jobs. They still need guidance even though they're young adults, she said. "I see the kids' needs," she said. "They want to be successful. They don't, maybe, necessarily know how."
Hester acknowledged the difficulty in leading a school and serving as a state delegate. She'll be gone when the General Assembly convenes in mid-January through mid-March. She won't get paid while she's away. "The foundation is set before I go, and the expectations they know," she said.
At Open Campus, students take two courses at a time and complete at least 10 online lessons each day. But there is no specific time frame for students to graduate, just that it occurs before they "age out" of public school at 20, depending on their classification. The option of earning a diploma - compared with a GED - motivated students to attend the program, the report said.
Statistical credit when they do graduate goes to their "home" school, the one they were assigned to before attending Open Campus. That's because the state Education Department considers Open Campus a program, not a separate school. That arrangement is not uncommon in Norfolk or the state but has raised questions about accountability because schools get credit for students not enrolled in them.
Along with highlighting successes, the evaluators made several recommendations, including better recruitment and identification efforts, more scheduling options and on-site child care to boost attendance, teacher training and interactive learning. The program also connects students with college and career opportunities once they graduate.
Elizabeth Rice, who needed 10 credits when she enrolled, finished the program and plans to take part in a graduation ceremony later this year. Rice said she doesn't think she could have earned a diploma without Open Campus. "I struggled a lot in high school," she said.
Rice plans to attend Tidewater Community College, where she earned a scholarship. She wants to study nursing and psychology. Of all the things to be happy about, she's most proud to be "finally seeing myself doing something good for my life."
Division leaders have discussed expanding the program while focusing on the problems that contribute to the dropout rate in the first place. It's too early to tell whether the program is the most effective way to achieve academic and graduation goals for vulnerable students, they said.
For now, they're taking it one student at a time.
The Norfolk (VA) Public School Board commissioned an independent study of the District’s Open Campus / Magic Johnson Bridgescape Program. The report, conducted by Old Dominion University’s Darden College of Education, and the Center for Educational Partnerships determined that “overall the program is a success.”
Below are key findings from the Formative Evaluation of the Norfolk Public Schools’ Open Campus High School Program:
- The Norfolk Public Schools’ Open Campus High School (OCHS) program is intended to assist school drop-outs and overage-for-grade students earn a regular high school diploma in an alternative setting.
- OCHS offers two half-day sessions per day, during which students primarily participate in the Magic Johnson Bridgescape program, which provides computer-mediated and small group instruction. The Norfolk program is unique among its counterparts nationally in that the Bridgescape programs in other cities do not serve overage-for-grade students.
- The program provides a caring and supportive environment for students.
- Over 90% of students reported that they like attending OCHS, respect their teachers, and believe that their teachers care about them.
- The program was clearly most successful in serving students who were fairly close to achieving graduation at the time they dropped out of school. The students were also more motivated to engage in the program as evidenced by higher lesson completion rates.
- The core program model is responsive to the needs of the students being served.
- Students were motivated to enroll in the program for a number of reasons.
- They clearly desired a regular high school diploma versus other alternatives such as a GED.
- They strongly valued being able to work at their own pace, getting 1:1 assistance from teachers, flexible scheduling, and being able to see their own progress.
- Students mentioned community-based recruitment, program publicity on local news, and family encouragement as factors that influenced their decision to enroll.
- Individualization of learning and program structure provided important and effective supports for students. Self-pacing, intensive academic support from teachers, scaffolded curricula, careful progress monitoring, and selective curricular focus were identified as effective strategies for individualizing learning.
- Helpful structural elements included flexible scheduling, a small environment, and provision of wrap-around services. Students exhibited positive self-expectations, including a strong expectation that they could indeed graduate and positive and realistic perceptions of their own progress in the program.