The Education Innovator #48
Volume II
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The Education Innovator
 December 20, 2004 • Number 48
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What's inside...
Montclair Public Schools Magnet Program, New Jersey
What's New
Secretary Paige praises the "Educational Revolution" based on the accountability and parental choice provisions of No Child Left Behind; National Center for Education Statistics releases NAEP study of charter schools and highlights from the latest TIMSS report; Regional Advisory Committees have a new website for comment on 20 comprehensive centers; OII holds next Innovations in Education Exchange on "Lessons Learned from Education Service Providers;" Professor Caroline Hoxby releases study of charter schools; History Now features articles by noted historians, lesson plan, links to related websites, and bibliographies; and Kennedy School research centers launch Government Innovators Network.
Innovations in the News
High Tech High in Los Angeles opens, plus information on charter schools, economics education, teacher quality, and technology.

Every School a Magnet School
Looking at the Montclair (NJ) magnet program is like looking through a kaleidoscope. The variety of choices unfolds before your eyes: some schools emphasize arts and science, while others feature technology or social studies. However, the different patterns center around one focal point: closing the achievement gap. The goal of the district is to offer choices within a rigorous educational program that "not only meets, but exceeds, the New Jersey core content standards."

What began as a desegregation solution 30 years ago has become the norm in the almost all-magnet district, which after an independent evaluation in 1989 found that racial balance had been attained, but achievement of students of color was considerably lower than that of white students in the district. Today, not one of the 11 schools in the district, including six Title I schools, has been designated as "in need of improvement" under No Child Left Behind. Moreover, 93 percent of the district's high school students go on to college, including 87 percent of the African American students.

The district attributes its success to five factors:

  • high quality teachers and administrators;
  • rigorous standards-based curriculum;
  • continuous parental involvement;
  • voluntary busing; and
  • staggered school opening and dismissal schedules.
High-quality teachers and administrators and rigorous curriculum speak to the educational quality of the program. Since all the schools ultimately feed into the one high school, student test scores there give an aggregated view of how the school district as a whole is doing. The high school population is equally balanced with 47 percent African American students and 43 percent white students. In 2002, in language arts, 92 percent of 11th-grade students met or exceeded grade-level standards, based on the New Jersey Proficiency Tests, while 80 percent met or exceeded standards in math. In both cases, these percentages were greater than those for the state average.

Parental involvement, busing that is available but not mandatory, and staggered schedules are components that add up to customer service in Montclair. Simply put, the system is popular with parents because it meets their needs.

Each school has a certain amount of independence to craft a curriculum and a schedule to address student needs. The Renaissance Middle School, for example, has an interdisciplinary curriculum, designed by the teachers, which is based on state standards and revolves around tasks that assess achievement at critical points. The principal not only manages the school, but also teaches, and the teachers participate in on-going seminars, cross-disciplinary reading, and collaborative planning to enhance student work.

In addition, the school uses resources from the community, including physical education facilities at the Montclair YMCA and the art-rich environment of the Montclair Art Museum. The school also brings in teachers from other schools in the district as part-time instructors for specific skills, and students take field trips every six weeks to such places as Philadelphia, when studying the American Revolution, or to see French plays, when studying French (all students learn a foreign language).

Renaissance Middle School is uniquely structured, as well. Each student is placed in one of four units in the school, and students work in the four core subject areas—language arts, social studies, science, and math—for 75 minutes twice a week. Math and writing instruction is fortified by two additional 60-minute periods of instruction two days a week. The school also has an extended day four times a week, which results in 196 additional hours of instructional time during the school year. The extended day includes regular tutoring and study periods.

The Montclair School District has received several grants from the U.S. Department of Education for its magnet program. In 1998 the school district received a $1.8 million grant to improve the quality of the three middle schools over a three-year period under the OII-managed Magnet Schools Assistance Program.

The Montclair school district is profiled in OII's book, Innovations in Education: Creating Successful Magnet Schools Programs, which was released in October.

Note: The featured program is an example of one school district's magnet schools program. The program is innovative, but does not necessarily have evidence of general effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation. The success of the program may not be replicable, depending on unique conditions in differing locations.


What's New
Editor's Note

The Education Innovator will take a holiday break over the next two weeks. Look for the next issue around January 10.

From the U.S. Department of Education

Secretary Paige praised the "Educational Revolution" based on the accountability and parental choice provisions of No Child Left Behind in a farewell address. Of choice, he said that it is now "an indelible part of the education lexicon." (Dec. 14)

The National Center for Education Statistics released the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Pilot Study of Charter Schools.

The National Center for Education Statistics released Highlights from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003, which shows that U.S. fourth and eighth graders scored above the international average in the 46-nation study, but still far behind the frontrunners. (Dec. 14)

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a website for the Regional Advisory Committees to the U.S. Secretary of Education as the primary venue for public comment, written testimony, and reports regarding the establishment of 20 comprehensive centers to provide technical assistance on issues related to No Child Left Behind. (Dec. 16)

From OII

OII will hold its next Innovations in Education Exchange on "Lessons Learned from Education Service Providers" on January 28, from 9:00 -11:00 a.m., in the Barnard Auditorium, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC. To register for the event, email by January 20. (Dec. 15)

Charter Schools

Harvard Professor of Economics Caroline Hoxby released a study of charter schools, Achievement in Charter Schools and Regular Public Schools in the United States, showing that charter school students are more likely to be proficient in reading and math than their peers in "matched" traditional public schools. (Dec. 2004)


The latest issue of History Now, the new online American history journal from the Gilder Lehrman Institute, examines the history of slavery from primary sources, including an article about the artifacts of slave resistance. History Now features articles by noted historians, lesson plan, links to related websites, and bibliographies. (Dec. 15)


Two Kennedy School research centers at Harvard have teamed up to create the Government Innovators Network as a way to share ideas in every sector of government, including education, and to offer research, exemplary programs, and items in the news. The network also publishes a weekly newsletter, Innovators Insights, and has launched a website. (December 2004)


Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
High Tech High, a new charter school with some of the most advanced technologies used in the classroom, is up and running in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The program is an FY 2003 OII grantee. [More-eSchool News] (Dec. 16)

A group of parents, graduate students, teachers, and Penn State educators wants to start an elementary charter school with an international focus that would include teaching each student two foreign languages. [More-Centre Daily] (Dec. 16)

Charter schools are cropping up in American Indian communities in states such as California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Tribal officials see the start-up schools as a chance to reach a generation of American Indian students who have dropped out or drifted through traditional public schools. [More-Statesman Journal] (Dec. 16)

The concept of charter schools appears to be catching on in Baltimore. Two community groups recently submitted plans for more charter schools in the city. Five new charters will open there in the fall. [More-WBAL] (Dec. 14)

Economics Education
The Bedford County (VA) school system had a strong showing in a nationwide Stock Market Game sponsored by the nonprofit Foundation for Investor Education. The school system and others in Central Virginia benefited from workshops hosted by Lynchburg College's Center for Economic Education. [More-Lynchburg News and Advance] (Dec. 16)

The New York State Council on Economic Education's mission is to help students become financially and economically literate, and one of the ways they do so is by bringing workshops and training to economics teachers throughout the state. [More-Zqwire] (Nov. 25)

Odessa College and the College of the Southwest (NM) are planning digitally televised distance education with a $3,345,661 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will be used to improve Hispanic, low-income, and rural students' access to college degree programs. [More-Odessa American] (Dec. 2)

A group of sixth-grade students at Robert Moore School in Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada, gave a lesson in Ojibwe and performed a traditional dance for observers in more than 30 countries via videoconference as part of "Megaconference VI"—an annual worldwide videoconference organized by volunteer teachers, students, and school technology leaders in the United States. [More-Fort Frances Times] (Dec. 15)

The Association for Career and Technical Education declared a Purdue University technology education program to be the best in the nation. The program prepares educators to expose middle and high school students to career options available in technology and engineering fields, The recognition is for quality coursework and abilities and contributions of the program's graduates. [More-Inside Indiana Business] (Dec. 14)


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Last Modified: 05/02/2008