Category: [working group] public education

Funders meet with Dr. Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools

By Rebekah Seder, Program Coordinator

While Montgomery County has a reputation of being a homogeneous and wealthy jurisdiction, in reality the county is rapidly changing.  In the words of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr, who recently spoke with members of the Public Education Working Group, “we are no longer the image people think we are.” The county is now marked by changing demographics, increasing poverty, and a student body growing by 3,000 students each year. To Dr. Starr, however, these issues are not challenges to be “dealt with,” but opportunities for Montgomery County to continue to lead the country in providing quality public education to all.

Dr. Starr, who started in his position this past July, outlined some of the areas he has been focusing on during his transition, including:

  • Curriculum 2.0: With funds from a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, MCPS has launched a new curriculum that is focused on developing the “whole student,” by integrating core academics with arts, social sciences, and humanities. Based on internationally-driven standards, Curriculum 2.0 is being introduced in grades K-2, with the expectation that it will be integrated into additional grades over time, and as funding allows.
  • Professional development: In Dr. Starr’s words, variability in student performance is not always a “student learning problem, but an adult learning problem.” For this reason, providing ample opportunities for teachers to engage in effective professional development plays an integral role in creating a “21st century culture” of continuous learning and information sharing.
  • Issues of race and equity: Putting issues of race and equity on the table and dealing with them frankly is central to Dr. Starr’s efforts to improve the achievement levels of all students in the school system. Dr. Starr spoke about the achievement disparities between white, Hispanic, and African American students not as an “achievement gap,” but rather an “education debt” that has accrued over time due to structural barriers that have impacted achievement for decades. MCPS will take a comprehensive and integrated approach to improving the achievement of all students, by honing the processes by which schools intervene to provide supportive services to students and families, ensuring differentiated instruction to address the individual learning needs of each student, and partnering with community agencies to facilitate parental engagement.

Recognizing that MCPS is already one of the strongest school systems in the country, Dr. Starr is determined to build on MCPS’s solid foundation to continue strengthening schools, and avoid the risk of stagnation. There are many opportunities for local funders to help ensure MCPS’s continued improvement. At a big picture level, Dr. Starr emphasized his hope to partner with the philanthropic community to look deeply at what works in education reform and to serve as a thought partner on strategically aligning all aspects of the MCPS system to be as effective as possible.  Dr. Starr also highlighted the potential for philanthropic support of smaller projects as well, such as a mobile outreach van that could provide basic medical care, bilingual counseling, and other services to promote community engagement in the public education system.

This was the second in a series of Public Education Working Group meetings focusing on education throughout the region. In June, funders met with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Superintendent William Hite. Later this fall, funders will meet with school officials from Northern Virginia.

Prince George’s County officials brief funders on public education reform

By Rebekah Seder, Program Coordinator

Last week WRAG members got an in-depth look at education reform efforts underway in Prince George’s County. County Executive Rushern Baker and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Superintendent Dr. William Hite discussed the county’s achievements over the past three years in reforming public education, despite the impact of the economic recession.

Due to the school system’s collaborative relationship with the teachers’ union – which has allowed the county to work toward improving teacher effectiveness throughout the system – PGCPS has seen significant gains in student achievement over the last three years, including the largest improvement in reading scores in the state of Maryland over the past year. During the same three year period, budget cuts have necessitated cutting 2500 PGCPS positions and implementing further salary reductions and furloughs.

Dr. Hite outlined his top education priorities, beginning with improving teacher effectiveness through a commitment to accountability, effective evaluation processes, and the provision of ample professional development opportunities. The county is already on its way to reforming teacher compensation practices after receiving a 2007 Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant of $18 million from the U.S. Department of Education, which has allowed the county to implement a pay-for-performance model for teacher compensation.

During the meeting Dr. Hite also announced the PGCPS had shortly before been notified of a $15 million grant from the Wallace Foundation for developing school leadership. Improving teacher and principal effectiveness is of the utmost importance; as Dr. Hite noted, “we must be intentional about who we have standing in front of our students.”

Another key reform is aimed at developing rigorous standards for high schools, then applying these reforms to middle and elementary schools. Dr. Hite also discussed efforts to engage the business community through a program that exposes students to real-life jobs relevant to the county, and through substantive summer youth employment options. In addition, PGCPS is promoting parental engagement by working with community- and faith-based organizations that host parent advocacy centers that help parents navigate the school system.

County Executive Baker, highlighting his commitment to having a long-term impact on education reform in the county despite any short-term political risks, emphasized how having a strong public education system promotes economic growth. Excellent schools attract business and investment to the county, which provide jobs and grow the commercial tax base.

Finally, noting that 54 percent of students in the school system qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, Mr. Baker and Dr. Hite discussed their efforts to address the impact of poverty on educational achievement by taking an interagency approach toward providing effective wraparound services for students and ensuring the holistic development of every students in PGCPS.

Funders Experience the Challenges of High School Firsthand

By Rebekah Seder, Program Coordinator

When it comes to education reform in the District, statistics and rhetoric only tell part of the story. To give local funders a firsthand perspective of the myriad issues facing D.C.’s public high schools, the DC Public Education Learning Series continued its spring semester tours with recent visits to two very different public high schools.

At both School Without Walls and Ballou Senior High School, funders observed classrooms and heard from students, faculty, and principals about each school’s unique challenges and achievements.

School Without Walls, with fewer than 500 students, was recently recognized as a “Blue Ribbon School” by the U.S. Department of Education. The school is highly selective: students must have a track record of high achievement to be accepted. The school is on the George Washington University campus, allowing students access to the libraries and other university facilities, and as members of the school community are proud to report, the school has a 100% college acceptance rate. Ballou Senior High, on the other hand, is a traditional neighborhood school in Southeast D.C. with over 1,000 students, and while over the last three years the school has seen rising test scores, in 2010 less than a third of students met or exceeded reading and math standards set by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education.

While the two schools are worlds apart in terms of their school cultures, level of student achievement, quality of facilities, and overall educational models, the purpose of the tour was not to compare the two schools, but rather as much as to show two very different models of public high schools and highlight the successes and challenges facing each of them.

To provide further context for the tours, the group heard from Rachel Skerritt, the planning principal for Eastern Senior High School, and Amy Liu, Manager of Academic Policy and Planning at DCPS’ Office of Secondary School Transformation. Both officials discussed the unique difficulties and opportunities inherent to high school, and highlighted DCPS’s efforts to improve the educational outcomes for its students. One key issue that both panelists emphasized was the challenge of preparing students from a wide spectrum of achievement levels for college and careers in just four years.

This is particularly difficult at schools like Ballou, where many incoming 9th graders read at a 5th grade level. These achievement gaps necessitate intensive intervention programs that take up a significant portion of the school day, limiting the hours available for other classes and activities that both engage students and allow them to earn the credits necessary for graduation. Successfully balancing these kinds of needs depends on many factors, but key to these efforts, as Liu pointed out, is recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers.

As DCPS continues to move forward with education reform, we are at a pivotal moment for the philanthropic community’s engagement. Seeing firsthand what teachers, students, and administrators experience everyday is an invaluable learning opportunity for funders as they consider the impact of their dollars.

Learn about the next tour and sign up for the waiting list.

Register for the next Deep Dive, which will focus on special education programs in public schools.

Gray and Henderson discuss philanthropy and school reform with funders

By Rebekah Seder, Program Coordinator

“We could not do what we have done without philanthropy,” interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson told funders at the kick-off breakfast to launch the second semester of the D.C. Public Education Learning Series on January 12.

Henderson and Gray

Speaking alongside Henderson at the event co-hosted by Washington Grantmakers, Banyan Tree Foundation, CityBridge Foundation, and the D.C. Public Education Fund, Mayor Vincent Gray emphasized the role of the local philanthropic community in helping the District  continue its efforts to innovate in public education, better collaborate with stakeholders, more effectively evaluate teachers, and appreciate those teachers who are getting results in the classroom.

Responding to questions from the audience, Henderson consistently rated teacher performance as her number one priority, as “highly effective teachers are the key factor affecting student achievement.” She highlighted the recent success of the new IMPACT teacher evaluation system in identifying both strong and weak teachers to better tailor DCPS’s professional development program.

In addition to ensuring that every classroom in the District is led by a highly effective teacher, the mayor emphasized the need to bridge the gap between the jobs that are available in D.C. and the skill set that residents currently have. Noting that 70% of the local workforce lives outside the District, Mayor Gray discussed his goal of creating a system of vocational schools and technical programs within traditional schools. The mayor also highlighted his plan for ensuring that public education is a “birth through 24” system, in order to engage kids in education early to help reduce the high school drop out rate.

Henderson also discussed her wish to create arts and music partnerships between schools and local arts institutions, and to promote efforts to make curricula more rigorous and engaging across the board.

– Learn more about the D.C. Public Education Learning Series

EduTours: “Funding School” for school funders

By Erica Pressman, Coordinator, Public Education Working Group

Two things are clear from a growing body of research:

  1. Excellent teachers are the most important driver of student achievement. That’s why schools nationwide are focusing on develping, compensating and retaining highly effective teachers.
  2. Principals have a huge impact. An effective manager/instructional leader has the power to create a supportive environment for both teachers and students.

With this in mind, the year-long 2010-2011 DC School Tours September Tour and October Deep Dive centered around issues of human capital in the schools – both teachers and principals.

September’s tour, “Bringing Teacher Evaluation to Life” brought us to Maury Elementary on Capitol Hill, where we heard about educators’ experiences with IMPACT, DCPS’ highly-anticipated teacher evaluation platform, now in place for over a year. Principal Carolyne Albert-Garvey explained how IMPACT is changing interactions between principals and teachers and shaping professional development. As a charter school, Ward 7’s high-performing Achievement Preparatory Academy has significant flexibility to hire, fire and train teachers, and founder and head of school Shantelle Wright views evaluation as an ongoing process of daily observations and conversations.  At a lunchtime panel, tour participants heard from Jason Kamras, DCPS director of teacher human capital (and 2005 National Teacher of the Year), Jennifer Niles, founder and head of school at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, and Matt Radigan, a DCPS master educator about how teacher evaluation and compensation drive student achievement.

We continued our exploration of human capital at October’s Deep Dive, “Human Capital – What Makes an Effective Principal?” at the Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Woodley Park, where Principal Monica Liang-Aguirre and other DCPS principals spoke about teacher recruitment, student achievement, their own career paths, and their daily decisions and dilemmas concerning academics, behavior and culture, facilities/operations, and personnel management. Michelle Pierre-Farid from New Leaders for New Schools spoke about the impact of an effective principal on school culture and student achievement.  We finished our day together by discussing opportunities for philanthropic investment in organizations engaged in human capital work.

We still have a few spots left for our next deep dive session, coming up on Dec. 15 at 2pm: DC Public Education Learning Series: DEEP DIVE: “Quality Time in a Classroom.”

Now enrolling grantmakers for “DC Public Education Learning Tours 2010-11”

DCPS reforms under Chancellor Rhee and the presence of the second-largest charter sector in the country have led DC education reform into the national spotlight. As local funders we have an obligation to delve deeper into the education reforms in our city. The Banyan Tree Foundation, the CityBridge Foundation, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, and the D.C. Public Education Fund have designed two “semesters” of DC Public Education Learning Tours to facilitate the kind of learning that fosters this deeper understanding.

> Register for single events, or for Fall Semester, Spring Semester, or Full Year packages. Learn more at Presented with support from the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, Flamboyan Foundation, and Elizabeth Harrison Hadley.

Changing the education system [News, 7.12.10]

Gates Foundation playing pivotal role in changes for education system (WaPo, 7/12) – “…propelling initiatives that otherwise might be put on hold because of tight budgets. The Prince George’s County schools and the D.C. Public Education Fund…won separate $2.5 million grants for teacher evaluation and training.”
Bill Gates wins teachers’ applause (Seattle Times, 7/10) at the 2010 American Federation of Teachers Convention. (Text of speech)

HIV/AIDS | President Obama will unveil the country’s first-ever national AIDS strategy this week. (NYTimes, 7/11)

FUNDRAISING | “Attempting to close a $130,000 budget gap…DC Scores hosted a fundraising challenge during the soccer World Cup.” (WaPo, 7/12)

FOSTER CARE | Md. nonprofit opens third foster home in Montgomery County (WAMU, 7/9) – “Aunt Hattie’s Place”

N.Va. nonprofit’s plight puts low-income housing at risk
(WaPo, 7/10)
Tent city protests DC affordable housing policy (News8, 7/10)

HIGHER ED | Rising enrollment is a mark of success for new D.C. community college (WaPo, 7/12)

REALLY CHANGING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM | At the 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival which concluded yesterday, Bill Gates mentioned the Khan Academy — “a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere.”

Scroll down to view the entire library of videos (which are great) and the idea of paying thousands of dollars to listen to a grad student begins to seem old-fashioned. View a recent CNN piece on Sal Khan, former hedge fund analyst, current nonprofit educator.

…and in the CORRECTIONS department, three links to the WGDaily archives were broken in the email version of Friday’s news round-up. They are fixed online–see Friday’s post.

Let’s make it a great week.

Supporting health care reform *implementation*, ctd. (Public Education)

Attention grantmakers focused on public education:

School-based health centers and services have become a critical health care access point for children and youth. The new health reform legislation supports the operation and development of new School-Based Health Centers. It also supports the involvement of schools in critical prevention efforts, such as oral health education and obesity prevention.

You can provide critical insights into how health-related services and activities can best be integrated into the larger education reform agenda, to concurrently address racial and ethnic inequities in health and education. Please join us on May 27 to learn more:

May 27, 10am (WG event): Health Reform: What Does It Mean for Our Region?
Open to funders and invited guests
Location: Public Welfare Foundation, 1200 U Street NW

Alan Weil, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, will explain the important role of philanthropy during the legislation’s implementation. Discussion to follow.

Local and national funders jumpstart improvements in DC Public Schools

by Tamara Lucas Copeland, President, Washington Grantmakers

Philanthropy is playing a major role in the tentative deal between DC Public Schools (DCPS) and the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) reported this morning. Four foundations–the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation–are making a combined, one-time investment of $64.5 million, through the DC Public Education Fund, to help increase teachers’ base pay and create a performance pay initiative. [To learn more, see: CityPaper; WaPo; WSJ]

Congratulations to Chancellor Michelle Rhee, American Federation for Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and all participants for negotiating through their differences. We applaud the foundations involved for enabling the District and the WTU to forge a new kind of agreement, one that will elevate education in DC and improve the lives of thousands of children.

Chancellor Rhee briefing Washington Grantmakers members in 2009

Seizing the moment
At first glance, the foundation investments announced today are a surprising funding choice. Union officials are noting that using private funds to support teacher compensation is unprecedented. Over the long term, the arrangement would be difficult to sustain. Why do it at all?

The foundations’ answer, I suspect, would be that DC’s children can’t wait any longer. Chancellor Rhee notes that public dollars will fund the plan over the long-term, with school consolidations and other cost-saving measures helping to fill the gap. Rather than waiting, and extending DC’s record of educational failure, foundations are choosing to make a difference right now. Their dollars will fund the immediate “recruitment, retention and rewarding of quality teachers.” Kudos to them.

Investing in Innovation
Local funders are supporting other, key components of DCPS’ transformation plan. In one notable partnership, grantmakers involved with WG’s Public Education Working Group are helping DCPS to identify nonprofits with which to partner to access federal Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) dollars. Grantmakers are then helping the non-profits share their i3 ideas and submit successful applications. Local foundations are also supporting many school-based programs throughout DCPS.

“I see local funders and leaders as critical partners,” says Cate Swinburn of the DC Public Education Fund. “Without local support, we would not have accomplished our successes to date, and without local support, the momentum we have gathered will not be sustained.”

Collaboration is the key. Together, we’re making a difference.