The Education Innovator #45
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 December 19, 2005 • Number 45
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Editor's Note: The Education Innovator will take a holiday break over the next few weeks. Look for the next issue to be released the week of January 12th.

What's inside...
Brown Street Academy, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
What's New
Innovations in the News

Brown Street Academy
What if an overlay of reading and writing were placed atop a curriculum? How would it change the picture of a school? Educators at Brown Street Academy School faced a daunting challenge in 1990: to raise the academic achievement of a largely low-income, African American student body performing 20 to 40 percent below the Wisconsin state average. Added to that was a high rate of student turnover with over 25 percent of the students new to the school in a given year. To tackle these challenges, Brown Street implemented a revised curriculum with literacy at its center, extended the academic day, connected to parents and the community, and began to see results.

Today, Brown Street Academy School serves 549 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. A K4 program enrolls four-year-old students who are academically and emotionally ready to begin school, while a K5 program serves five-year-olds. The school's population consists of 95 percent African American, 3 percent white, 2 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and less than 1 percent Hispanic and American Indian students. Eighty-seven percent of the students qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program.

The Brown Street curricula combine student and teacher accountability with an emphasis on literacy. The academic day centers on an uninterrupted reading block that is implemented across the school. In kindergarten through third grade, teachers devote an entire two-hour segment of the day to the development of basic reading skills in order to create a foundation for students to develop more complicated skills such as comprehension and analysis. For students in kindergarten through second grade, teachers employ a "four-block method," which subdivides the two-hour literacy period into smaller segments. Teachers rotate between four activities that concentrate on different skills. During the "self-selected reading block," for example, students read independently or in groups, while teachers may choose to work with specific students or small groups for individualized instruction. This combination of structure and flexibility allows teachers to exercise their own discretion within a set curriculum.

The fourth and fifth grade curricula include a variation of this literacy period. "Writers' workshops" allow students to submit their work to their classmates in "peer editing" sessions where students edit each other's work and then conference about the results. Through this exercise, students familiarize themselves with the structure and character of good writing and sharpen their oral and written communication skills. Writing is further emphasized through cross-curricular efforts. For example, each month, all students craft written responses to D.E.W. (Drop Everything and Write) on-demand prompts. The school's principal and a literacy coach collect the students' work, analyze each prompt, and provide feedback to each of the teachers concerning areas where their students need improvement. These monthly exercises help administrators and educators monitor the progress of their students and compare students' overall competency.

In addition to Brown Street's intensive focus on literacy, teachers are sensitive to individual differences in learning styles. During language arts lessons, for example, teachers use elements of music to teach students phonics and to recognize words as they clap and chant vocabulary to a syncopated beat. During science lessons, students draw diagrams and engage in hands-on laboratory exercises that apply classroom concepts to the real world. During mathematics lessons, students verify answers to homework problems in journal entries and write about math problems drawing on their critical-thinking skills.

In order to ensure that students are benefiting from the curriculum, a team of representatives from each grade level, the school's literacy coach, the librarian, the reading resource teacher, and the principal, convenes each year to analyze the school's test results and academic progress. The school's overall educational plan is developed based on test data. During monthly meetings, the team continues to review the school's plan and adjustments it appropriately.

Brown Street's extended-day program, which runs from 2:35 through 3:45 PM daily, provides students with additional time to reinforce skills and receive homework help from teachers. Teachers also take advantage of the extended day to target specific skills where students need improvement. Students who are reading below grade level work in the extended day sessions with a variety of resources to improve their literacy skills. A reading resource teacher, as well as paraprofessionals and students from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, provide tutoring services to struggling students. For students seeking a challenge, the school also offers after-school classes in Spanish and Hmong (a language that is prevalent in the local community).

In addition to initiatives within the school, Brown Street reaches out to the educational community. In the past year, state school boards, the governor of Wisconsin, and participants at the National Title I Conference have visited Brown Street to observe its instructional techniques and educational program. The school also participates in an annual Literacy Conference where it shares its successful curricula with other schools.

The school's relationship with the local community, however, is perhaps its most important outreach effort. Brown Street directly involves parents in their children's education through the School Governance Council, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and parental surveys. The school holds "Chat & Chew" sessions where parents are updated on their children's academic progress and test scores are reviewed. Teachers make their evenings, lunch hours, and preparation periods available to parents to ensure a continuing cycle of dialogue between the home and the school. In addition, a Family Center, open daily, helps parents feel welcome and comfortable in the school.

Brown Street Academy's hard work has yielded results. Since 2000, students' scores on Wisconsin's annual assessment test, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), have risen, with the largest increases in math and science. Student scores climbed from 38 percent proficient or better in mathematics in 2000-01 to over 86 percent in 2003-2004. This jump erased the 37 percent achievement gap between Brown Street students and their peers across the state. Similar results occurred across the board in reading, language arts, science, and social studies. Since embarking on its upward trend in 2000, Brown Street has experienced 5 years of consistent gains in academic performance.

In recognition of Brown Street's academic achievement, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings named the school a 2005 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School. Brown Street received further distinction as one of a short list of schools within this category to have dramatically improved student performance in an environment where over 40 percent of students are from economically disadvantaged households.

Resources: Top

What's New
From the White House

The White House and federal government agencies will host a workshop in Kansas City (MO) on January 12 to help faith-based and community organizations learn more about the President's Faith-Based and Community Initiative. The event is geared toward social service groups that have applied for federal funding, especially those that have not yet won grants. The deadline to register is January 6, 2006. (Dec. 7)

From the U.S. Department of Education

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. The assessment found little change between 1992 and 2003 in adults' ability to read and understand sentences and paragraphs or to understand documents such as job applications. These results underscore the need for high school reform that stresses literacy. (Dec. 15)

The National Center for Education Statistics has issued a statistical analysis on private school students' performance in reading, math, science, and writing on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2000, 2002, and 2003. The report shows African American and Hispanic fourth-graders in all private schools combined earned higher average math scores in 2003 than in 2000. (Dec. 12)

Charter Schools

Two charter schools, Amistad Academy and Integrated Day Charter School, are among the first four Vanguard Schools of Excellence in Connecticut named by the Connecticut State Board of Education and the Connecticut Business & Industry Association. The initiative is a public/private partnership that recognizes schools that have demonstrated success in improving student achievement. The Vanguard Schools program then disseminates their best practices to other school districts. The two other schools recognized are Henry C. Dwight Elementary School and Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Dec. 7)


Kristin Hayden, founder of OneWorld Now!, an OII grantee, was one of 14 social entrepreneurs inducted into Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. One World Now!, located in Seattle (WA) is an after-school program that provides students with an international focus, including foreign language study, study abroad, college preparation, and internships, for low-income and minority students. Ashoka's fellowship program is privately financed by individuals, volunteer chapters, foundations, and business entrepreneurs. (Nov. 11)

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Project Director of National Programs for the National Writing Project, an OII grantee, will serve on the National Assessment Governing Board's advisory committee to develop a new National Assessment of Educational Progress writing assessment (see "Board Announces New Writing Contract"). The assessment will measure the writing skills of public school students in grades 4, 8, and 12 nationwide. (Nov. 30)

Magnet Schools

Magnet Schools of America has designated January as National Magnet School Month. This initiative will highlight and promote magnet schools across the country. One activity around this commemoration is a poster contest, the deadline for which is January 27, 2006. (Dec. 8)

Reading/American History

As part of its We the People program, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is collaborating with the American Library Association's (ALA) Public Programs Office to offer K-12 public school libraries the We the People Bookshelf initiative. The program aims to encourage young people to read and understand great literature while exploring themes in American history. (Dec. 12)

School Reform

The CSRQ Center Report on Elementary School CSR Models is a new guide from the Comprehensive School Reform Quality (CSRQ) Center of The American Institutes for Research (AIR). The report uses scientific criteria to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of 22 comprehensive elementary school reform models. Collectively, the models reviewed serve thousands of mostly high-poverty, low-performing schools nationwide. Some of the evaluated programs include: Success for All, Accelerated Schools, Core Knowledge, America's Choice, and Direct Instruction. Of the models studied, Direct Instruction (Full Immersion Model), based in Eugene (OR), and Success for All, based in Baltimore (MD), received the highest ratings. (Nov. 2005)

Teacher Quality

The Toyota International Teacher Program will send 20 high school teachers on a fully funded, ten-day cultural and educational program to Japan in June 2006. Teachers will learn about the country, its history and culture, and key global issues that affect all industrialized nations. Teachers will be selected from ten states, which include: Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Tennessee. The deadline to apply for the program is January 9, 2006. (Dec. 13)

Applications are being accepted for Cable's Leaders in Learning Awards, which is Cable in the Classroom's program to recognize administrators, educators, community leaders, and policymakers who demonstrate vision, innovation, action, and transformation in education. Winners will receive a $3,000 grant and a trip to Washington, D.C. The deadline to apply is January 31, 2006. (Dec. 1)


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Center for Distance Learning offers a series of free educational programs to both public and non-public educators. The six Emmy-award winning programs are appropriate for K-18 students, as well as for lifelong learners. Designed to supplement or extend the existing curriculum, they cover science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. NASA also has an "Educator Astronaut Program" website with virtual training exercises that simulate those the astronauts go through, including riding the "vomit comet," survival training, robotics, and the spacewalk. (Nov. 29)


Some text in the lead to the Tampa Tribune story about alternative teacher certification in Florida was omitted in the December 2 issue. It should have read: Professionals seeking a career change now have alternative pathways to becoming teachers in Florida. The School District of Hillsborough County, for example, has created an alternative teacher certification program for nontraditional teachers (see Innovator, June 27, 2005), which includes completing six courses and passing three state-required tests. Another program through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (see Innovator, July 14, 2003), enables college graduates who pass two tests and successfully complete a classroom observation to gain teacher certification in less than six months. MoreTampa Tribune] (Nov. 7)


Innovations in the News

Miami-Dade (FL) school officials hosted an annual information fair for elementary, middle, and high school students interested in enrolling in one of the district's school choice programs. Last year, more than 10,000 students and parents attended the fair. This year, attendees spoke with teachers from 37 magnet programs, career academies, and neighborhood "choice zones." The district offers programs that focus on six themes: careers and professions, communications and humanities, international education, Montessori, math and science technology, and the visual and performing arts. The Miami-Dade choice program was featured in OII's Creating Strong District School Choice Programs book and in the Innovator, June 1, 2004. [More-The Miami Herald] (Dec. 9)

Closing the Achievement Gap
In the Irving Independent School District (TX) more limited English proficient students are participating in gifted and talented programs. More than one out of three Irving students has limited English skills, and the district has been attempting to expand its gifted and talented programs to reflect these demographics. All kindergartners are screened for the gifted program, and in later grades teachers or parents must nominate students. The district has begun to test students in Spanish, use nonverbal tests, and create portfolio assignments to engage more children in challenging coursework. This fall, 60 of the district's 160 elementary school teachers with gifted training were bilingual teachers. [More-Dallas Morning News] (Dec. 12) (subscription required)

Raising Student Achievement
Minnesota's school superintendents have asked legislators to extend the school year by five weeks in an effort to raise students' academic performance. Currently, students are in school an average of 170 to 175 days each year. That number would increase to 200 under the new proposal. The extra school days would be included incrementally over four years: 179 the first year, 186 the second, 190 the third, and then 200 the fourth. Extending the school year in this manner would cost an extra estimated $750 million per year. [More-St. Paul Pioneer Press] (Dec. 9)

According to recently released state report cards, the number of top-rated Colorado schools increased this year by 2.6 percentage points, to 42.9 percent. The percentage of schools falling in the bottom categories fell slightly to 20.6 percent. University of Colorado education school Dean Eugene Sheehan attributed the gains to better teaching, more data analysis of struggling students' performance, and improved alignment between the state's academic standards and exams. [More-Rocky Mountain News] (Dec. 7)

Teacher Quality
A former Troops to Teachers participant has been named Ohio Teacher of the Year. Eric Combs, a retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant teaches history and social studies at Fairborn City Schools in Fairborn (OH). Governor Bob Taft said when presenting the award, "He's a fantastic teacher. This really brings tears to my eyes. Here's a man who served our country, and now he's teaching our kids." Mr. Combs has a website, which is one way he brings history alive for his students. [More-Dayton Daily News] (Dec. 15)

Blowing up Gummy Bears in the chemistry and engineering laboratories may not be the sole reason why Sylvia Grace recently won the Milken National Educator Award, but her students certainly appreciate her engaging lessons and unique teaching strategies. Ms. Grace teaches chemistry and engineering at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa (AZ) and helped to bring a pre-engineering program called Project Lead the Way to the school. Ms. Grace is one of 100 teachers nationwide to receive the $25,000 award from the Milken Family Foundation. The awards were established in 1987, and educators are recommended by an expert panel appointed by each state's Department of Education. [More-The Arizona Republic] (Dec. 12)

Podcasting, a term derived from combining "iPod," the popular recording and listening device from Apple Computer, Inc, and "broadcasting" is not just for music-loving techies anymore. Now, a small, but rapidly increasing number of K-12 schools are participating in the trend. Podcasting is "homegrown," Internet-accessible radio. According to Dan J. Schmit, an instructional-technology specialist from the University of Nebraska, educators are seeing how podcasts can help students build vocabulary, writing, editing, public speaking, and presentation skills. At Gunston Middle School in Arlington (VA), students produce their own weekly podcast called "Buzzwords," working with teachers after school. [More-Education Week] (Dec. 7) (subscription required)

Can a rural one-school district be at the forefront of technology integration? Thirty-year-old Bart Banfield, one of the youngest superintendents in the country, is helping Oklahoma's Stidham Public Schools to shatter stereotypes about rural schools' access to technology. The district serves 135 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. All of Stidham's teachers use tablet PCs and digital projectors during lessons, and have rotating access to laptop computers with wireless Internet capability. The district's "One-to-One Learning" program boasts the best student-to-laptop ratio in the state and enables every student to use a laptop for individualized instruction to supplement regular classroom lessons. [More-eSchool News] (Dec. 7)

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Last Modified: 08/12/2009