The Education Innovator
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 July 5, 2005 • Number 25
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What's inside...
Raleigh Charter High School, Raleigh, North Carolina
What's New
OII and Harvard University to co-host web-conference on "Measuring Teacher Success;" Senate holds hearings on teaching American history; Cato Institute releases book about school choice in other countries; the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) issues "Strategies to Improve High Schools;" Leslye Arsht, founder of StandardsWorks, wins Good Housekeeping award for women in government; Holt, Rinehart and Winston announce new online Spanish language program for middle and high school students; and Intel offers website for teachers.
Innovations in the News
Baltimore approves four new charter schools; plus information about choice, and supplemental educational services.

Challenging Curricula, Citizenship Classes, College Counseling, and Summer Homework Count in Carolina
Even though North Carolina is home to the first Krispy Kreme doughnut, you are not likely to find Raleigh Charter High School students hanging out at the local Krispy Kreme shop this summer. In a state that boasts Babe Ruth's first homerun, and the nation's oldest public university (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), North Carolina has many reasons to be proud.

The state was one of the first in the nation during the 1920s to establish a network of paved thoroughfares, earning it a reputation as "the good roads state." Today, students in the state's capitol city are traveling down their own good road, which leads to a high-quality education and positive prospects for the future. At Raleigh Charter High School, recently named one of the nation's top 100 high schools by Newsweek magazine, students take advanced level courses, participate in a comprehensive college counseling program, have opportunities to observe and perform in arts, social service, and local government activities, and complete summer homework.

Raleigh Charter High School (RCHS) opened its doors in 1999 through the successful efforts of parents and a board of directors made up of business professionals, experienced educators, and college professors. Parents of eighth graders at the nearby Magellan Charter School wanted their children to continue to attend a small institution with high academic standards and a positive learning environment, so they mobilized to launch the charter high school. The school's mission is to create a close-knit learning community that combines a demanding college-preparatory education with a curriculum that develops students' citizenship skills.

The 504 RCHS students attend classes in buildings erected at the beginning of the twentieth century in the historic Pilot Mill section of Raleigh. The large administration building on the school's campus was built in 1910. Now, completely renovated, it is home to classes in core subjects, foreign languages, and the arts. The nearby Weaver building, built in 1894, has been refurbished to house, among other classrooms, the school's foreign-language, chemistry, computer, and physics laboratories. Each day, students rush along polished pine floors in the shadows of double hung sash windows on their way to analyze algorithms and the properties of matter.

During classes at RCHS, students delve into hands-on, experiential learning activities based on guidelines from the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. RCHS courses are categorized according to five ability levels: Standard, Advanced, Enriched Advanced, Academically Gifted, and Advanced Placement (AP). The different tiers provide students with opportunities for in-depth study and enrichment and enable students to learn at an appropriate pace that best suits their individual learning styles. The majority of classes at RCHS are in the top four tiers. The school's 18 AP offerings include classes in core subjects and in subjects as varied as studio art, psychology, music theory, and environmental science. Four language classes in Latin, Spanish, French, and German round out the AP curriculum.

The school's broad range of AP courses helped place RCHS on Newsweek's list of the top 100 high schools in the country. RCHS ranked ninth on the list, which is determined by the number of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams that were taken by all students in a school in 2004, divided by the number of seniors who were expected to graduate.

Classes at RCHS have a student-to-faculty ratio of eighteen to one, allowing teachers and students to learn in a collaborative environment. Classes begin at 9:00 a.m. and end at 2:40 p.m. Students may choose to enroll in a supplemental course that meets for 45 minutes before regular classes convene. Elective courses include: chorus, string ensemble, concert band, visual arts, and theater. If they choose, students may also to take a second foreign language, mathematics, or history class. With the school's relatively flexible schedule, students have time to engage in extracurricular activities and to complete their challenging homework load.

At RCHS, faculty members focus on citizenship, and students participate in a program called "Flex Days and Ex Days." Flex Days occur over two successive Fridays, three times per year, when regularly scheduled classes are cancelled. During Flex Days, students meet in small groups to pursue projects in a particular subject area or to engage in citizenship activities, which often involve trips around the local community. Physics students have attended demonstrations at North Carolina State University's Solar House; mathematics students have studied radiocarbon dating at the NC Museum of Sciences; and world-history students have visited various religious institutions, including Raleigh's Hindu and Buddhist temples. Groups of students also have volunteered during Flex Days at the NC Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Urban Ministries, and at other local community organizations. In 2000, 2002, and 2004, students discussed political issues with visitors from Democratic, Republican, Green, and Libertarian parties who were running for national, state, and local offices.

Flex Days help the school integrate community learning into students' academic schedules. RCHS has a close relationship with Hope Elementary Charter School, which serves children in the neighboring Blount neighborhood. About 25 RCHS students devote time after school to tutor and mentor children from Hope Elementary. During Ex Days, on the other hand, the school extends the usual 45-minute class period to 90 minutes, allowing teachers to organize in-depth laboratory exercises, seminars, simulations, practice sessions, and group projects inside the school building.

After the school year ends, the learning does not stop. Students are expected to complete summer assignments. For students who will be taking Advanced Placement biology in the fall, for example, the goal is to get a head start on course material in order to understand the content thoroughly before the final Advanced Placement test is given in early May. In biology, students will take the first test on the first unit on September 2, only one week after the school year begins. The summer assignments in biology include exercises in the scientific method; unifying themes, such as giving examples of a prokaryote and a eukaryote; and chemistry, which includes covalent and ionic bonds, pH scale, and comparison of protons, neurons, and electrons.

Students in all grades, including those who will take advanced or enriched English languages arts classes in the fall, and those who will take AP English, are expected to do summer reading. Ninth graders must read To Kill a Mockingbird and Animal Farm while twelfth grade AP students are to read Life of Pi and Lord of the Flies. In addition to reading the books, students are required to write essays about the texts. Twelfth graders, for example, analyze diction, syntax, imagery, and other literary devices in writing their literary criticism. The essays will be collected on August 26, and tests on the books will be given on August 29.

Parents play an active role at RCHS, from providing transportation for Flex Day activities and coaching athletic teams to participating in the Parent, Administrator, Student, Teacher Association (PASTA), which organizes fundraisers, social activities, and "parent work days" when parents volunteer to do such community service activities as cleaning classrooms, repairing computers, or painting hallways. The school communicates with parents weekly through an online "Tuesday News" bulletin on the school's website, and parents are encouraged to regularly monitor their students' daily class participation by checking homework and discussing the events of the school day. "Coffee with the Principal" is offered for parents five times a year.

As a college preparatory school, Raleigh Charter provides students and their parents with an in-depth college counseling program. Three counselors visit colleges and universities across the country and attend college-counseling conventions each year in order to meet admissions personnel and observe facilities and academic programs. Representatives from higher education institutions also visit RCHS, presenting information about different schools to students in the ninth through the twelfth grade. As part of the counseling program, each student in the eleventh grade works with his or her parents and an RCHS counselor to develop an individual college search plan. In the twelfth grade, students collaborate with counselors to learn how to present themselves most effectively through their transcripts, college essays, letters of recommendation, and application forms.

In 2004, all of Raleigh Charter's graduating seniors were accepted into college. Students also have been successful on the North Carolina End-of-Course tests (EOC), which the state uses to assess how well students are mastering specific grade-level skills at the high school level. In 2003, 99 percent of tenth grade students at Raleigh Charter High School met or exceeded the requirements on the EOC. For five years Raleigh Charter's students have led the state's high schools in EOC scores, and for the last two years, the school has led the state's public high schools in SAT scores. During the 2003-2004 academic year, the school met all standards for Adequate Yearly Progress.

The U.S. Department of Education supports grants to charter schools through the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Resources: Note: The featured program is innovative and interesting; however, it does not have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation and may not be replicable in other locations with differing conditions.


What's New
From the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII)

OII and Harvard University's Government Innovators Network will co-host a web-conference on "Measuring Teacher Success: Innovative Developments in Assessing Teacher Performance," July 20th from 1-3 p.m. Eastern Time. Guest speakers include, Alan Bersin, California Secretary of Education; Professor Ted Hershberg, University of Pennsylvania; Gaynor McCown, executive director of The Teaching Commission; Brad Jupp, Denver, CO teacher; and Lewis Solmon, president of The Teacher Advancement Program Foundation. RSVP with your name, title, organization, and e-mail address. (July 1)

American History

On the eve of the Independence Day weekend, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development held a hearing on teaching U.S. history and the proposed American History Achievement Act, which was introduced in April by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA). The bill provides for improved testing of American history and civics to determine whether history is being taught well and how it can be improved. Senator Alexander explained the need for all citizens to understand the principles of history that unite us as a country. Those who testified at the hearing included noted historian David McCollough. (June 30)


The Cato Institute has released, What America Can Learn from School Choice in Other Countries, a book containing information by scholars from Europe, South America, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States about school choice in these regions and lessons learned from their experiences. (2005) (Offered for sale.)

High School Reform

The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) has issued Strategies to Improve High Schools, a quick "action guide" to help educators and administrators build capacity to comply with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This guide gives NCLB requirements regarding high schools, explains research on high school improvement, highlights practical examples of effective high schools using key strategies, and lists national organizations that focus on high school. (2005)


Leslye Arsht recently received Good Housekeeping Magazine's 2005 Award for Women in Government. Ms. Arsht earned the award as Senior Adviser to the Iraqi Minister of Education for helping to rebuild Iraq's educational system as part of U.S. Department of Defense efforts. Ms. Arsht is also the founder of StandardsWork, a reform organization that partners with states and school districts to track and use data about student performance in order to improve student achievement. StandardsWork is a Parental Information and Resource Center (PIRC) under OII's PIRC grant program. (July 7)


Holt, Rinehart and Winston has announced Expresate! Premier Online Edition, a Spanish language program for middle and high school students. The web-based program offers interactive and multi-sensory learning activities, which engage students in learning about Spanish culture while learning the language. The system includes such tools as self-grading workbooks, a voice recording feature called "Holt SoundBooth," and a searchable grammar bank. (June 27) (Offered for sale.)

Intel offers a website, An Innovation Odyssey with ideas for teachers from teachers around the world on how to use technology in the classroom to support student learning. Some of the topics covered on the website are: science and math, creative arts, community education, and simulations. (July 1)


Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
The Baltimore (MD) School Board recently approved contracts for the city's first four charter schools. During the next few weeks, the board is expected to approve eight more charter schools, including seven existing schools that are seeking charter status. Most of these schools have educational themes, such as social justice, to focus teaching and learning. [More-The Baltimore Sun] (July 5) [free registration]

A former church school in Palm Beach (FL) will be the home of two very different charter schools sharing a facility and a principal. Excelsior Academy is an elementary school with a focus on the arts, while LIFE (Life Institute For Education) Academy is a high school serving students aged 14 through 22 with developmental delays. Both schools are tuition-free and open to the public. [More-The News-Press] (July 4)

Ohio can now claim bragging rights to the largest school voucher program in the country. Governor Bob Taft (R) approved the state legislature's plan to triple the state's voucher program. Starting in the fall of 2006, tuition aid, which has been available only in Cleveland since 1996, will allow up to 14,000 additional students statewide to leave schools that persistently fail and transfer to private schools. [More-Buffalo News] (July 3)

Summer is here, and so is competition for students in public school districts. The Phoenix Elementary School District (AZ) offers free before- and after-school care to entice families into the district's schools. Superintendent Georgina Takemoto has taken to the streets—promoting her schools to businesses and other organizations, often taking people on bus tours of the school campuses to attract individuals to downtown Phoenix from the suburbs. [More-The Arizona Republic] (July 5)

The Walton Family has selected Clint Bolick, an Arizona school choice advocate, to receive donations in memory of John Walton, who died suddenly. Mr. Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, co-founded the Children's Scholarship Fund, which provides private school options to tens of thousands of children who would have otherwise been stuck in underperforming public schools. He was also a contributor to a number of other organizations that advocate charter schools and promote school choice, including the Alliance for School Choice, founded in 2004 by Clint Bolick. The Walton family recently released a statement, suggesting that memorial donations be made to a Wyoming school and the Children's Scholarship Fund. [More-Arizona Republic] (June 28)

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nonpartisan membership organization of state legislators devoted to free markets, has approved the "Smart Start Scholarship Program" download files PDF (117KB), as "model scholarship legislation." This legislation model, recommended by the organization, would offer low- and middle-income families the option of sending their four- and five-year-olds to a public or private preschool or kindergarten of their choice. [More-Heartland Institute] (July 1)

Supplemental Educational Services
Maryland's only faith-based tutoring program, Mrs. Dowd's Teaching Service, is a state-approved supplemental educational services provider. Nearly 100 elementary school students participated in this summer's two-week tutorial inside St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Bladensburg. Students worked one-on-one with instructors or in small groups, fine-tuning math skills, reading books, and even getting an anatomy lesson using the brain, heart, and lungs of a sheep. The service, begun by Eileen Dowd, is a nationwide network of Christian teachers. [More-The Washington Times] (July 2) [free registration]


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Last Modified: 08/13/2009