The Education Innovator #41
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 November 10, 2005 • Number 41
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Ada Merritt K-8 Center, Miami, Florida
What's New
Innovations in the News

Ada Merritt Merits Recognition as a School of Choice with a World View
Voices echo throughout the corridors, as teachers and students begin the school day. In one classroom the teacher chimes: "Manhã boa a você, meus estudantes." While in the classroom next door the teacher says: "BuenosdíasBuenosdías mañana, mis estudiantes. Porfavor, abran sus libros ahora." It is not uncommon to hear such greetings at Ada Merritt K-8 Center, which offers second language programs in Portuguese and Spanish in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Although instruction is delivered using multiple languages and the perspective is international, the community of teachers and students ultimately speaks with one voice: through the language of learning and high achievement.

Ada Merritt, one of Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS), serves 519 students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade with a population that consists of 48 percent Hispanic, 28 percent White, 15 percent African American, 9 percent multiracial, and 1 percent Asian students. Formerly Ada Merritt Elementary, the school recently has adopted a new name as a K-8 Center. Starting in the next academic year, the school will add one grade level per year until it adds fifth through eighth grade classes.

Nearly 30 percent of the students at Ada Merritt are English language learners. As a result of this dynamic, the school offers its students the opportunity to pursue their education through a dual language, international program in either English/Portuguese or English/Spanish. This language immersion program is based on the idea that students who understand concepts in one language, such as Portuguese or Spanish, can transfer that knowledge to another language, such as spoken and written English.

Every student, therefore, participates in instruction in English for 60 percent of the school day and instruction in either Spanish or Portuguese for the remaining 40 percent of the day. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) techniques are used, and the target language (Portuguese or Spanish) is approached as the student's second language.

Students in the first through the fourth grade who are pursuing proficiency in English and Spanish may enter the Spanish section of the International Studies Program (ISP). The Miami-Dade ISP is offered to any student who attends or is eligible to attend school in Miami-Dade County and emphasizes the study of French, German, or Spanish. Students in this program increase their language mastery as they study literature, mathematics, history, and geography in their language of choice. Instructors from France, Germany, and Spain often teach ISP students, according to a cooperative agreement between MDCPS and the governments of these countries.

Ada Merritt's specific ISP offering is a challenging collaboration between MDCPS and the Ministry of Education and Science of Spain. Ada Merritt students can explore social science and science objectives that are part of Spain's educational curriculum, as well as those in Florida's academic standards. Students use grade-level appropriate textbooks, mainly from Spain, to examine social studies and natural science topics. These students must take an additional hour of daily instruction in Spanish after school. To be eligible for the program, parents must show interest and teachers must give students formal recommendations. While they are enrolled, students must commit to maintain above-average academic achievement, conduct, and attendance. Typically, students who participate in the international program enroll in honors level and Advanced Placement (AP) courses in English, science, social sciences, and the arts when they reach high school.

To support the dual language and international focus, Ada Merritt uses the rigorous International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP). Currently, Ada Merritt is seeking authorization from IBO to become an official bilingual Primary Years Programme School.

At the center of the PYP model is a commitment to structured inquiry as the vehicle for learning. Six themes with guiding questions drive instruction in the core PYP subjects: language; social studies; mathematics; science and technology; the arts; and personal, social, and physical education. Students are guided by the following themes as they work with their teachers to design curricular units: 1) Who are we? 2) Where are we in place and time? 3) How do we express ourselves? 4) How does the world work? 5) How do we organize ourselves? and 6) How do we share the planet?

Ada Merritt is part of a larger school choice initiative from MDCPS called "I Choose! " which was developed to identify, evaluate, and replicate successful choice programs in geographically smaller areas and expand transportation services to families. While families may currently apply to a broad number of choice programs in the district, challenges such as large geographic distances between schools have sometimes deterred families from using the choice program. I Choose! has been instituted to give parents a more manageable range of choices and to ensure that neighborhood children do not need to be bused miles across the district to attend the schools they choose.

The main feature of the I Choose! initiative is the idea of smaller "Choice Zones" into which the 2,000 square-mile span of the school district has been divided. Currently, there are eight Choice Zones, each with nine to 16 elementary schools, six to 12 middle schools, and four high schools. All of the schools represent a wide selection of themed programs in a concentrated geographic area where parents can choose the best learning environment for their child. Parents also have the option of choosing outside of their Choice Zone. District staff and a transportation director have designed Choice Zones that maximize transportation efficiency.

Ada Merritt is included in the I Choose! program as the first "commuter" school in the district, designed for the convenience of parents in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties who work in downtown Miami. To accommodate these parents' work schedules, the school is open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. every weekday. One of the mottos at Ada Merritt is "Staying after school is a good thing." The district's Office of Adult/Vocational, Alternative, and Community Education coordinates the school's before and after school programs. During these programs, trained staff members lead children in physical education activities, music, arts and crafts, and structured homework assistance.

The school also offers parents an up-to-date website that contains links to the after school program, Parent Teacher Association (PTA), educational games for children, and teachers' contact information, which includes email addresses and homework assignments posted online. In an effort to ensure that parents are aware of resources that are available to them, the school links to outside websites such as Homework Helper, sponsored by Time for Kids, a division of Time magazine, and TekMom. These sites help parents to become familiar with using the Internet and assisting their children with various assignments.

The school's focus on language and international studies, the rigorous academic curriculum, and support for families have resulted in high levels of performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), the state exam used to test students' knowledge and skills in the third through the tenth grade. During the 2004-2005 school year, 95 percent of third graders at Ada Merritt scored at or above the proficiency level on the reading portion of the exam, while 65 percent of students in the state scored at that level. On the math section, 98 percent of Ada Merritt students scored at or above the proficiency level, while 68 percent of students in the state scored that well. This year, the school has met 100 percent of the state's requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Ada Merritt is supported by a grant to Miami-Dade County Schools under the Voluntary Public School Choice Program managed by OII.

Resources: Note: The featured program is innovative and has a history of results; however, it does not yet have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation.


What's New
From the White House

First Lady Laura Bush, Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, Prince Charles, and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the SEED charter school. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall planted an English oak tree, and they observed an eighth grade English class and an eleventh grade U.S. history class. Although there are many boarding schools in Great Britain, the SEED School in Southeast Washington, DC, is the only public boarding school in the U.S. (Nov. 2)

From the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings spoke at the opening of the Southern Methodist University (SMU) School of Education and Human Development. The Secretary pointed out that American schools will need 2.2 million teachers over the next 10 years. SMU's new school will bring research together with teacher training; researchers will develop practical tools teachers can take into their classrooms, and then teachers can bring the needs of local schools back to the university. High quality teacher preparation is important as teachers "face an ever-flattening world where students will need better math and science skills to keep up with global competitors." (Nov. 2)

From the Office of Innovation and Improvement

American Institutes for Research (AIR) has released a report, Transition to Teaching Grant Program: 2002 Cohort Case Studies, download files PDF (345KB), about the implementation of the OII-funded Transition to Teaching program at eight sites across the country. The report describes the programs, evaluates them based on the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) indicators, and identifies benefits and challenges to the programs. (Oct. 19)


Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) has partnered with Coca-Cola North America to award 20 organizations across the country with a 2005 Ingenuity Grant, as part of the "Reading Takes You Places" partnership. The Ingenuity Grants, established in 2001, are competitive grants available to RIF multi-state programs for use in developing and implementing literacy programs. This year, 10 organizations received Student-to-Student Reading Program Grants to create reading partnerships and role modeling opportunities between younger and older children. The remaining 10 organizations received Volunteer Support Grants to help generate best practices for recruiting, retaining, and recognizing RIF volunteers. (Oct. 26)

In celebration of RIF's 40th anniversary, 40 children's book illustrators have created a collection of pictures and essays in a book called The Art of Reading. The book may be purchased wherever books are sold, and a portion of the profits benefit RIF. (Oct. 2005)

Teacher Quality and Development

Texas Governor Rick Perry has proposed a teacher merit-pay program that would provide $10 million in federal discretionary funds for $100,000 grants to 100 schools that show marked improvement in the performance of disadvantaged students. Seventy-five percent of the funds will go directly to the teachers the schools determine have had an impact on this student performance. (Nov. 2)

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) has released Eight Questions on Teacher Recruitment and Retention: What Does the Research Say? This report reviews research on teacher recruitment and retention with the aim of helping policymakers gain a better understanding of the nature of the teacher workforce and recruitment/retention policies that are promising. This is the second in a series of reports on teacher quality for policymakers. The first report focused on teacher preparation, with a companion piece called A Policymaker's Guide on Education Research: How to Understand, Evaluate, and Use It


Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
According to analysis from The Buffalo News, charter schools in Buffalo (NY) are outperforming traditional Buffalo public schools on all four state assessments. Forty-nine percent of charter school students scored proficient in fourth grade English last year, compared with 39 percent of students in the school district. Charter schools outperformed the district in fourth grade math (76 to 67 percent), in eighth grade English (28 to 26 percent), and in eighth grade math (35 to 24 percent). [More-Science Daily] (Oct. 30)

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) graduate students will study the nonprofit, business, and academic components of charter schools. Additionally, the students will help Indiana's 29 charter schools with fundraising, transportation, and other issues. The state's charter school enrollment has more than tripled to 4,300 students since the first charter schools opened three years ago. [More-The Indianapolis Star] (Nov. 1)

Raising Student Achievement
North Glen Elementary School (MD) has successfully closed the achievement gap between African American and White students. Third grade African American students improved their proficiency level on state tests from 32 percent in 2003 to 94 percent in 2005, placing North Glen among the top schools in the state for African American students' performance. The school's rise to success began three years ago with new teachers and a new principal who launched before and after school programs and doubled the number of staff assigned to provide extra help to low-performing students during the day. [More-The Washington Post] (Oct. 31) (free registration)

More high school students are getting a head start on their college education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), about one high school student in 20 is taking college courses nationwide. There are also 1.2 million students who take Advanced Placement (AP) exams across the country. In Ohio, 10,000 high school students are able to enroll in college classes free of charge through the state's Post-Secondary Enrollment Options Program. Student participation has tripled in 10 years. [More-The Enquirer] (Nov. 1)

Foreign Language Study
Ministers in England are publishing funding plans and guidance for teachers with the aim of making foreign language lessons available to students ages seven through 11 by the year 2010. This foreign language plan is slated to extend to all primary schools in England. Currently, at Griffydam Primary School in Coalville, Leicestershire, French lessons are taught at every grade level. Isabella Moore, Director of CILT National Language Centre, notes, "Research on the use of languages in business contexts shows that the earlier languages are learned, the more confidence people have in using them." [More-BBC News] (Oct. 26)

To prepare more students for a continuously changing world market, the Philadelphia School District is expanding classes in Mandarin Chinese (the most prevalent language in the world) to more schools. Currently, upwards of 1,700 students are taking Chinese at six district high schools and three elementary schools, up from 900 students last year. Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, now wants to double that number. Vallas also plans to open a new high school in Chinatown that would require four years of study in Chinese with a dual-language program that would enable Chinese-speaking students to improve their English and English-speaking students to improve their Mandarin. Next year, the College Board will begin to offer an Advanced Placement (AP) course in Chinese. [More-The Philadelphia Inquirer] (Oct. 31) (free registration)

Supplemental Educational Services (SES)
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has waived a ban that once prevented New York City from offering free tutoring, or supplemental educational services (SES), to its students. No Child Left Behind requires schools to provide SES to their students if they fail to meet federal standards in reading and math for two consecutive years. The law also prevents a school district whose students have not achieved adequate yearly progress (AYP) in both math and reading from providing tutoring to its students. To provide tutoring, New York City has agreed to participate in a rigorous evaluation of its tutoring services by the U.S. Department of Education. The results will be used in future policy determinations to assess the efficacy of SES. [More-Newsday] (Nov. 7)

Boston Public Schools has been granted a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that allows the district to continue tutoring struggling students, although it has not yet met targets for academic achievement. In order to receive extra flexibility, the district has agreed to an annual federal review and has pledged to tutor more students, provide better information about how the tutoring affects students' performance, and ensure that private providers have access to the schools. [More-The Boston Globe] (Nov. 4)

Teacher Quality
Eighty percent of Alabama public school teachers are classified as "highly qualified" to teach core subjects such as English, mathematics, science, and history, according to state education officials. Two years ago, only about one-third of teachers in core subjects were deemed highly qualified. According to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, by the end of this academic year all teachers of core subjects must be highly qualified. This qualification means that teachers must have specific college-level training in the subject areas they teach or they must have passed a test demonstrating their knowledge. [More-Birmingham News] (Oct. 28)


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Last Modified: 08/12/2009