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The Education Innovator #40
Volume II
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The Education Innovator
 October 25, 2004 • Number 40
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Feature
America's Choice School Design
What's New
Secretaries Paige and Jackson participate in six-day, six-city No Child Left Behind tour; "Principals' Workshop" tackles issues related to closing the achievement gap; webcast on supplemental educational services is available; Deputy Secretary Hickok testifies before New York City Council Education Committee on No Child Left Behind; TECH Corps receives grant to support technology training in rural schools; and Ball State University (IN) kicks off new season of E3 Electronic Field Trips.
Innovations in the News
Students at W.C. Williams Elementary School in Greenwood, MS, get help from the local community in meeting their America's Choice reading commitment, plus information on education reform, education technology, and supplemental educational services.

America's Choice Lifts Students to Reach the Achievement Bar
"Raise the bar!" "Close the gap!" These enthusiastic exclamations may sound like new-age workout instructions, but to teachers in the era of No Child Left Behind, they are familiar educational objectives. And they are achievable, thanks to over a decade of research that has delivered promising school improvement models. The America's Choice School Design is one such approach. Developed by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization, America's Choice has produced significant improvements in the schools where it has been implemented, helping to close the achievement gap and lifting more students to high standards.

The America's Choice program is based on the idea that teaching to explicit standards is the best strategy for helping disadvantaged and low-performing students. The program is a comprehensive K-12 school improvement model that aligns standards, instruction, and assessments, and it provides teachers with research-based teaching strategies and methods for helping students who lag behind their peers. The program puts systems in place to immediately spot students who are having trouble and gives them extra attention. It also provides a plan at the secondary level to construct learning environments of no more than 400 students, so that students do not get lost in the crowd.

The program uses student achievement data to inform instruction. It has a tool that enables its schools to gather, store, collect, display, and analyze student performance data consistent with No Child Left Behind, so that teachers and principals can easily determine which students and schools are not making adequate yearly progress.

The program reinforces reading, writing, and math skills for students who need help. At each America's Choice school, two trained teachers serve as literacy coaches to ensure that the program's reading and writing skills block is implemented effectively. Math is taught for at least one hour a day, and struggling students get an additional 45 minutes of daily instruction (often after school) as part of an America's Choice "safety net" program. For students who need help with reading, the program has a course called Ramp-Up to Advanced Literacy, which is a year-long, double-period program designed to bring students lacking literacy skills up to grade level.

America's Choice also provides professional development and training for teachers and principals. Academic coaches in the schools assist teachers and consult with regional America's Choice staff members who provide further guidance.

Once a school or district has decided that America's Choice is the path it wants to follow for comprehensive school reform, participation can occur in different ways. For example, in Duval County (FL) a county of 155,000 students, Superintendent John Fryer was the driving force in the implementation of the America's Choice School Design in over 60 schools, where he required an 80 percent school staff vote to implement the design.

In some places, individual schools select the program, while in Mississippi, for example, the state department of education did a national search of comprehensive school improvement programs and recommended America's Choice for the schools in need of improvement. As a result, 40 schools in Mississippi adopted the program last year.

The program supports rigorous evaluations as a key to its success. For this reason, NCEE contracted with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) to evaluate the program. CPRE has produced a series of reports that look at the impact and implementation of the program, and the evidence is encouraging.

In 1998, six schools in Rochester (NY) were among the nation's first group of schools to adopt the America's Choice school improvement program. By 2003, over half of Rochester's 52 schools had done so. CPRE researchers compared the test scores of students in America's Choice schools to those in the city's other schools, and found that:

  • America's Choice students outperformed their peers by an average of 17 percent a year in reading in grades 4-8, and an average of 26 percent a year in math.
  • The minority gap between African American and Hispanic students and white students decreased in America's Choice schools.
  • The program was "particularly powerful" for the city's lowest performing students: the bottom 25 percent of students in America's Choice schools gained significantly more than did the lowest performing students in non-America's Choice schools.
  • The longer students attended America's Choice schools, the more likely they were to meet New York State standards.
Other research has found similar results. A study of 232 school reform models conducted by the University of Wisconsin—Madison and Johns Hopkins University found that the effect size for America's Choice schools was nearly triple that of the average school reform model. On average, an America's Choice student at the 50th percentile would have moved to the 60th percentile on standardized tests in a single year.

So far, America's Choice has partnered with over 650 schools, including charter schools, in 16 states. America's Choice has been the largest grantee of New American Schools and is being included in the American Institutes for Research's (AIR) forthcoming taxonomy of comprehensive school improvement programs.

America's Choice schools are funded by state and local governments, as well as Title I funds under No Child Left Behind. The U.S. Department of Education's Comprehensive School Reform Program has also funded the America's Choice School Design.

Resources: Note: The featured program is an example of one educational approach and is given to help districts implement the provisions of No Child Left Behind. While the results of evaluation studies appear promising, they do not use rigorous experimental research designs, so the results should be viewed cautiously.

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What's New
From the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson participated in a six-day, six-city tour of America to educate parents about the benefits of No Child Left Behind. (Oct. 20)

The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education hosted a "Principals' Workshop" to help principals tackle the real-world issues related to student performance and closing the achievement gap. Anthony Jackson, former principal of the Arts and Technology Academy Charter School in Washington, DC, presented "Lessons from Charter Schools." The Arts and Technology Academy was featured in OII's Successful Charter Schools book. (Oct. 19)

A free webcast of the Education News Parents Can Use television program on supplemental educational services is now available. The program featured Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Nina Rees. (Oct. 20)

Deputy Education Secretary Gene Hickok testified before the New York City Council Education Committee on the implementation of the Title I Public School Choice and Supplemental Educational Services Provisions of No Child Left Behind, saying that choice and supplemental services are two of the law's most important elements. Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, who has been displeased with the way New York City has implemented the public school choice provisions of NCLB, hosted the hearing. (Oct. 14)

From OII

TECH Corps has been awarded a $241,510 grant from OII to support core technology training to middle school students in rural schools in Georgia, Ohio, and Washington. TECH Corps provides students with in-depth technology skills training using standards-based curriculum and hands-on experience. (Oct. 23)

E-Field Trip

Ball State University (IN) is kicking off the 2004-05 season of E3 Electronic Field Trips with "Into the Canyon," the first live educational broadcast from the Grand Canyon's South Rim. The e-field trip will air at 6:30 P.M. EST on Nov. 8. (Oct. 20)

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Innovations in the News

Education Reform
America's Choice (see feature) includes the "25 Book Campaign," which requires elementary school students to read one million words a year. Students at W.C. Williams Elementary School in Greenwood (MS) get help from the local community in meeting their reading commitment. [More-Greenwood Commonwealth] (Oct. 10)

Arkansas businessmen have created a new statewide education reform group. The Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation will fight for increasing public school accountability and offering more schooling choices to state residents. [More-Arkansas News] (Oct. 21)

Education Technology
The National Science & Technology Education Partnership, a high-tech industry foundation, has launched an initiative to improve K-12 science and technology education in South Florida by bringing its online technology mentoring program to middle and high schools. The program is motivated by the prediction that, by 2010, 25 percent of the current science and technology workforce will have retired. [More-Biz.Yahoo] (Oct. 21)

Bisk Education's University Alliance Online division and the University of Scranton have signed an agreement to offer two online master of science degrees in education—the Master of Science in Education: Curriculum and Instruction and the Master of Science in Education: Educational Administration. [More-Biz.Yahoo] (Oct. 11)

Supplemental Educational Services
The Hall County School System (FL) has approved tutorial services for students who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program at three "needs improvement schools." The system will spend $1,234 on tutoring for each student. [More-Gainesville Times] (Oct. 21)

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Last Modified: 10/31/2007