The Silicon Valley Voice

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Education Desk: June 18, 2014

Innovate Public Schools Now on the Job at Scott Lane

Almost a year ago to the day, Innovate Public Schools (IPS) introduced itself to the Santa Clara Unified school board. At last week’s board meeting, IPS was back to announce its Fellowship program at Scott Lane Elementary School – 77 percent of whose students are English Language Learners (ELL) and 86 percent are economically disadvantaged. As of the 2012-13 school year, 39 percent of its students met grade level requirements in English Language Arts, and 51 percent in math.

The Fellowship program will be led by IPS’ Director of Schools, Amanda Gardner, founding principal of Boston Preparatory Charter and UP Academy Charter, where student math proficiency doubled in two years to 50 percent of grade level.

At Scott Lane, IPS will be providing, according to Gardner’s presentation, “training in leadership development and organizational design, ongoing high impact school design seminars, working sessions to create school design plans, ‘excellent school’ site visits,” and “ongoing leadership coaching.”

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IPS will also provide a full-time assistant principal, as well as “collaborating with district personnel regarding strategy and implementation of reform efforts,” and “prioritizing instructional leadership at the school site.”

The “possible reform efforts,” according to Gardner include, “Implementation of current redesign strategies,” the computer-based Social Emotional Assessment and Learning (SEAL) program, “embedded professional development,” and class size reduction.

Other possibilities include, “focus on a culture of academic rigor and excellence, increased utilization of blended learning opportunities, increased consistency of instructional vision/practices across the school,” and “data-driven instruction and real time interventions for students.”

Attesting to the suspicion and mistrust rife in the teaching ranks, this intervention was perceived by some as further evidence of an ongoing attack on the competence of SCUSD teachers – whose capabilities as a whole were disparaged by Trustee Ina Bendis in a Nov. 13, 2012 email to former Superintendent Bobbie Plough as “the dance of the lemons.”

Teachers do not need more outside consultants, said UTSC President Michael Hickey, noting that the objections he was bringing forward were collectively from the teachers. “They need support from the district, they need time and resources…[instead] This is the trend in our district, to spend money on outside programs.

“Many of the elements of what IPS is about, is not in the best interests of public schools,” he continued. “Extra resources, an assistant principal, a governance plan, lower class size – we have the opportunity to do those things without outside help. This district has been innovative. Now, [why] it seems that we need outside consultants to do what, I’m not sure,” he concluded, adding that it felt like the prevailing narrative is that SCUSD can’t operate its own schools.

“Before the budget cuts, when Paul Perrotti was Superintendent,” noted George Mayne teacher Teresa Hernandez, “we had a lot of these things and it was a Santa Clara program.”

IPS’ Short Track Record

IPS was created by the $4.7 billion philanthropy, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which launched IPS in 2013 with $200,000 of its own money and a $750,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation. Its mission, according to its website, is to “promote and create new high-performing public schools.”

The organization’s Fellowship program began in 2013, and for the coming year includes SCUSD, San Joe Unified, Franklin McKinley, and Redwood City school districts, as well as Voices, Navigator, ACE, and Alpha charter schools.

In mid-2013, IPS released a widely publicized report, “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind In Silicon Valley Schools.”

Written by former San Jose Mercury News editorial writer Joanne Jacobs and based on California Department of Education data, the report says that less than 25 percent of Latinos in Santa Clara and San Mateo county graduate from high school are eligible for acceptance at a UC or CSU college. The report correlates that statistic to a single factor: eighth grade algebra proficiency.

The report was closely followed by the rollout of IPS’ Fellowship program to help mainstream public schools achieve the results similar to those that the report named as “top” Santa Clara and San Mateo County elementary schools – which includes SCUSD’s George Mayne school in Alviso.

IPS’s Executive Director, Matt Hammer was Executive Director of People Acting In Community Together, which created the ACE charter school chain. The San Jose ACE school, started in 2012, recorded a 30-point drop in API scores during its first year of operation. The school reports 45 percent eighth grade algebra proficiency for Latino students, and 32 percent for English Language Learners.

Correlation Doesn’t Equal Cause

A more nuanced look at the markers for future academic success is provided by “Predictors of Postsecondary Success,” published in Nov. 2013 by the College & Career Readiness & Success Center At the American Institutes For Research.

These researchers found a number of factors combined to indicate the likelihood of graduating from college including: staying at the same school during middle grades, being absent less than 20 percent of the time, passing all English Language Arts and math classes, and meeting certain benchmarks on college prep exams, as well as passing eighth grade algebra.

The correlation isn’t necessarily causal. People who graduate from college are more likely to have passed algebra, but algebra may not make people more likely to graduate from college, says Anthony Carnevale, Director and Research Professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, and one of the first researchers to notice the correlation. “The causal relationship is very, very weak,” he told Mother Jones Magazine in 2011.

How Many Consultants Does it Take to Run a District?

IPS is only the latest in a series of outside consultants working in the district. Here are some others:

  • New Directions Consulting Group has been working for two years in the district on Federal Program Monitoring Review.
  • A consulting group from the Santa Clara County Office of Education is helping develop an English Learner District Master Plan.
  • School Services of California has been leading the district’s development of the state-required Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).
  • Instructional Rounds Plus provides professional development for principals based on the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s collaborative “instructional rounds” method, which gets it name from doctors’ collective medical rounds.
  • California Mathematics Demonstration Center’s Phil Gonsalves and Drew Kravin are leading the district’s math professional development.
  • The Northwest Evaluation Association Assessment (NWEA) is being brought in to provide computer adaptive assessment.
  • The district has also hired a separate consulting firm to lead the Board’s Strategic Planning.
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