The Education Innovator #13
Volume IV
Archived Information

The Education Innovator
 December 21, 2006 • Number 13
 Share this page Share this page
  Past issues

What's inside...

Editor's Note: The Education Innovator will take a break for the holiday season. Please look for the next issue on February 8, 2007.

Akira Yokomi Elementary School, Fresno, California
What's New
Innovations in the News

Yokomi Elementary School Educates Fresno's Littlest Scientists
Six-year-olds Kellyn and Julissa hunch over a bottle containing a mysterious liquid, examining it with a flashlight. These students at Akira Yokomi Elementary School in Fresno, California, may only be in first grade, but they already understand how to use words like "transparent" and "opaque" to discuss the properties of liquid. Down the hall, sixth grade students dressed in white laboratory coats peer through their goggles into microscopes, type their observations into laptop computers, and project their findings onto interactive whiteboards. With its high-tech classrooms, hands-on curriculum, and intense focus on science and preparing students for success in the 21st century, Yokomi is not an average elementary school.

Yokomi was born out of a clarion call issued in a report on economic development, education, and workforce issues in 2005 by the Fresno County Grand Jury. The report cited the need for Fresno students to receive additional educational opportunities to build technological literacy and practice skills in applied science and technology fields. In August 2005, Yokomi opened in downtown Fresno as a way of answering this call.

Breaking the Cycle of Underachievement

The new, two-story technology-infused building stands out against the backdrop of a community that was identified in 2005 as having the highest concentration of poverty in the United States by the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Brookings Institution. The school currently serves a population of 660 students in kindergarten through sixth grade who are 67 percent Hispanic, 12 percent African American, 12 percent Asian, eight percent white, and less than one percent Filipino, Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaska Native. More than 70 percent of Yokomi students are from families who do not speak English as their primary language, and 42 percent are designated as English language learners (ELLs). As a magnet school, Yokomi pulls students from across local districts, but over half live in the low-income neighborhood surrounding the school.

Studies show that certain family risk factors, such as poverty or the language spoken in the home, present challenges to students' educational achievement and progress. For example, The Condition of Education 2006 from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed that in 2005, fourth grade students in the highest poverty public schools scored lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Mathematics Assessment than their peers in the lowest poverty public schools. The same report also showed that the number of school-age children who spoke a language other than English at home and who spoke English with difficulty increased between 1979 and 2004.

With the challenges that face low-income and ELL students in mind, Yokomi works to provide enriching educational opportunities and extra support to students so that regardless of their socio-economic status or native language, all may experience academic success. This approach appears to be paying off since, in its first year of operation, Yokomi met all targets for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and results from the 2006 California Standard Tests (CSTs) show that fourth grade students are reaching district performance goals in English language arts and surpassing those goals in mathematics.

A Technology-Infused Environment

Yokomi administrators and teachers believe that, with the support of appropriate technology and engaging instruction, all students - from those who may be at risk for academic failure to those who are performing above grade level - can master key concepts in core subjects and perform to high levels. At Yokomi, technology does not mean a row of dusty computers in the back of a classroom with outdated software and slow dial-up modems. Rather, technology means digital projectors, scanners, and wireless slates that are used to enhance the curriculum, provide assistance to students who may need extra help, and get teachers excited about teaching and students passionate about learning.

During a recent visit to Fresno, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Morgan Brown took a tour of Yokomi and noted, "This is an amazing school to walk into. The concept of integrating technology and science into a school curriculum is not unusual, but it usually does not happen for students until they are in middle or high school."

Yokomi's classrooms are equipped with at least one laptop computer, a digital projector, and document cameras. Students in kindergarten through second grade learn basic keyboarding skills on special word-processing laptops, while older students use traditional laptops as learning tools. Additionally, teachers wear wireless microphones that amplify their voices through surround-sound systems so students are able to clearly hear lesson instructions. Possibly the most frequently used piece of classroom equipment is the Smart Board. This interactive whiteboard looks much like a traditional mounted writing surface, but the touch-sensitive display enables teachers and students to access and control computer and multimedia applications, the Internet, CD-ROMs, and DVDs with their fingertips. The Smart Board may be connected to a computer and projector so that it functions as a giant computer screen. Teachers and students can write on the whiteboard with digital "ink" and save their work for future study or review.

Yokomi's principal, Steve Gonzales, notes, "Every one of our teachers, from kindergarten through sixth grade, has embraced this technology wholeheartedly. And parents say that their children come home from school excited about what they've just learned, largely due to the technology-infused lessons."

Although Yokomi has a technology and science theme, all academic subjects are taught with the same level of rigor, based on state standards. Students participate in English language arts, reading, mathematics, science, history, and social studies, as well as art and music classes. As a matter of fact, music has a special place in the Yokomi curriculum based on research that has indicated a powerful connection between the subject and the development of key cognitive skills. Students engage in a specialized music curriculum that combines the use of musical instruments and computers so that students may make music and observe how it relates to other disciplines, such as mathematics.

Science: The Yokomi Way

Science instruction occurs daily and is designed to improve students' literacy levels while enhancing their inquiry and problem-solving skills. Students in kindergarten through third grade spend about 70 minutes each day studying and exploring science concepts, and students in fourth through sixth grade spend about 120 minutes working with the subject. For half of this time, students learn in specially designed elementary science laboratories that are fitted with child-sized furniture and equipment. In addition to laboratory work, every day for 45 to 60 minutes, students participate in science-based literacy instruction where they learn key vocabulary terms, read scientific journals and articles, and practice writing. For the first time this year, the school also is instituting the Lego Engineering curriculum so that students may apply skills they learn in science and mathematics to build their own robots.

The overall science curriculum at Yokomi is based on Harcourt Science and the Full Option Science System (FOSS), the latter of which was developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkley. FOSS is a research-based science curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and an ongoing research project. The project began over 20 years ago, and its development continues to be shaped by advances in the understanding of how children think and learn. The Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) has been implementing FOSS in its classrooms since 1993, with teachers receiving ongoing training.

FOSS has three goals: 1.) to promote scientific literacy by providing all students with science experiences that are grade-level appropriate and that serve as a foundation for more advanced ideas; 2.) to be instructionally efficient by providing teachers with a complete, easy-to-use science program; and 3.) to promote systemic reform by providing real experiences for students that reflect National Science Education Standards.

The FOSS kindergarten through sixth grade program used at Yokomi consists of 26 modules in scientific reasoning and technology, and life , physical , and earth sciences. Twice per year, Yokomi students create science fair projects that are based on one of the FOSS modules they have studied. The inaugural science fair last year focused on physical science using modules such as Solar Energy, Magnetism and Electricity, and Solids and Liquids. As a testament to how dedicated the community and parents are to Yokomi, over 500 family and community members attended the fair.

Microscopes and Computers are Great, but Parents are Key

In fact, the school was created with parents in mind. Parents who work near Yokomi in the downtown area are offered priority in the school's application and lottery processes so that they are closer to their children and freer to visit the school during the day. Parents also are involved with the daily operations at Yokomi. For example, the School Site Council and English Language Learner Committee, which prepare the budget and programming for the school, are open to families. Also, the Student Study Team (SST), which assists students who may be experiencing academic, behavioral, or emotional issues, has parents actively participate in meetings. Parents interact with resource specialist teachers, classroom teachers, the principal, and often the school psychologist and speech therapist to determine how best to support individual students.

With its strong support network for students and innovative curriculum, Akira Yokomi Elementary School is giving Fresno 's littlest scientists a strong academic foundation that will assist them in their pursuit of higher education and work in the 21 st century. Yokomi graduates are particularly well prepared to enroll in the science/medical middle and high school choices that FUSD offers, such as Fort Miller Medical Careers Academy , Sequoia Middle, Duncan Polytechnical High School , and the Sunnyside High School Doctors' Academy (see Innovator, July 18, 2005). A Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education helped create Yokomi - the only FUSD elementary school with a science focus, and the most technologically advanced school in Central California.

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


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

In Mountain View (CA), U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings met with nearly 100 business leaders to discuss the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and how to strengthen higher education to meet students' needs in the 21st century. (Dec. 12)

Secretary Spellings visited Noble Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles (CA) to raise awareness of Supplemental Educational Services (SES), or free tutoring, available to students in Los Angeles and cities across the country. Secretary Spellings held a roundtable with state and local education leaders to discuss ways to better inform parents about SES options and to ensure that school districts are working with SES providers to enable eligible students to receive the services they need. (Dec. 11)

At New York University 's Kimmel Center , Secretary Spellings announced the winners of the 2006-2007 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. Top mathematics and science students were in contention for the grand prize of $100,000, which was awarded to the student team of Scott Molony, Steven Arcangeli, and Scott Horton of Oak Ridge High School (TN). (Dec. 4)

An accreditation forum was convened by Secretary Spellings to discuss strategies for making higher education more accessible, affordable, and accountable. Participants at the forum also explored ways to implement the recommendations of the Secretary's Commission on the Future of Higher Education. (Nov. 28)

Nearly 3,300 participants attending the 2006 Federal Student Aid (FSA) conference in Las Vegas (NV) heard Secretary Spellings deliver remarks. Attendees included financial aid officers and other officials from more than 2,000 colleges and postsecondary institutions, as well as representatives of the lending industry, guaranty agencies, nonprofit organizations, higher education associations, and software developers. (Nov. 28)

Secretary Spellings announced the approval of three high-quality growth models that follow the bright-line principles of NCLB. Delaware is immediately approved, while Arkansas and Florida also have submitted quality growth models. The latter two states must have their assessment systems approved by the U.S. Department of Education before they can implement their growth models for the 2006-2007 academic year. (Nov. 9)

U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Raymond Simon, First Book Senior Advisor Kit Lunney, and Bay Saint Louis-Waveland School District Superintendent Kim Stasny highlighted the importance of reading and presented free books to students at Bay St. Louis-Hancock County Library (MS). The donation included some of the 200,000 books provided by First Book and the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Gulf Coast Holiday Book Donation. (Dec. 13)

Four new states (Missouri, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming) have been selected for participation in the State Scholars Initiative, a national business-education partnership designed to increase the number of students who take a rigorous curriculum in high school. (Dec. 14)

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics released Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2006 (NCES 2007-003). This annual report provides the most current, detailed statistical information on the nature of crime in schools. Secretary Spellings released a statement noting, " While this year's report shows that crime rates have continued to decline, even one incident is too many. This report will help school officials and law enforcement better focus their resources and efforts to ensure our schools are safe and our students protected." (Dec. 4)

A new study from NCES presents 11 years of data from 1994 to 2005 (no survey was conducted in 2004) on Internet access in U.S. public schools by school characteristics. The report provides trend analysis on the percent of public schools and instructional rooms with Internet access and on the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access. (Nov. 29)

Opportunities for school choice in the United States have expanded in the last decade. An NCES report highlights this trend by using data from the National Household Surveys Program. The report presents information about public schools (assigned and chosen), private schools (religious and non-religious), and home-schooled students between 1993 and 2003. (Nov. 28)

A new NCES report uses transcript data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) to provide nationally representative information about the level of academic preparation that the high school graduating class of 2003-2004 had when leaving high school. The report supplies a brief examination of the course-taking patterns of the graduates, with a focus on their participation in mathematics, science, and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate courses. (Nov. 22)

The Overview of Public Elementary and Secondary Students, Staff, Schools, School Districts, Revenues, and Expenditures for the 2004-2005 academic year and 2004 fiscal year has been released from NCES. This report contains information from five Common Core of Data (CCD) surveys. (Nov. 21)

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2005 science Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) have been released, comparing the performance of fourth and eighth grade students in 10 large urban school districts. Overall, student performance in the TUDA districts was comparable to that of students in large central cities, but below student performance in the country. Secretary Spellings issued a statement regarding the TUDA results noting, " While urban school districts are making good progress, much work remains before all students perform at grade level." (Nov.15)

From the Office of Innovation and Improvement

The latest guide in the Innovations in Education series, Charter High Schools Closing the Achievement Gap, is now available from ED Pubs. The guide highlights eight charter high schools from areas across the country that are holding all students to high academic standards, raising achievement, and preparing students for college and work in the 21 st century. (See Innovator, Nov. 2006) (Dec. 7)

American Competitiveness

A new report from the Council on Competitiveness entitled Competitiveness Index: Where America Stands includes a special section on education. The report identifies the United States' level of educational attainment (in terms of average years of formal education) as one of the highest in the world. Other countries, however, have surpassed the United States in terms of high school and college graduation rates. The report also points out that "significant numbers" of Americans - particularly those from racial and ethnic minorities - are not being adequately served in high school. The report is available for purchase online. (Dec. 14)

American History

Although Veterans' Day was celebrated last month, individuals interested in learning more about history through the words of veterans may visit the Los Angeles County Office of Education's World War I Living History Project anytime. On the project website, visitors may hear a radio tribute to the last surviving veterans of World War I hosted by Walter Cronkite. The Los Angeles County Office of Education receives funding from the Teaching American History program in the Office of Innovation and Improvement. (Dec. 14)

Charter Schools

A new video and resource guide, Schools Designed for Learning: The Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST), offers educators, architects, and community leaders insight into designing school facilities to support student learning. The American Architectural Foundation, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, and Target have partnered to produce the 17-minute video about DSST, a public charter high school in Colorado where learning occurs in a high-tech environment. (Dec. 4)

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has issued Charter School Achievement: What Do We Know. Bryan C. Hassel and Michelle Godard Terrell evaluated 58 recent comparison studies of charter school and district school performance and examined each by its methodology and findings. Of the 58 studies, 25 focused on data from separate points in time and 33 evaluated performance changes over time. Mr. Hassel and Ms. Terrell point out that, while there are many studies relating to student achievement, there are not many dedicated to research that evaluates chartering as a policy. (Oct. 2006)


The Harvard Business Review issued How to Manage Urban School Districts, a study carried out by the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP), which is a partnership between Harvard University 's business and education schools. The study examines 15 urban districts to identify management practices that are most effective in raising student achievement. The study may be purchased online

No Child Left Behind

Over 85 percent of the respondents to a recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce believe the requirements of NCLB should be extended to high schools. Over half of respondents also reported that the current curriculum in K-12 classrooms does not adequately prepare students for college and the workforce. The survey reflects the opinions of 571 business organizations that responded to the survey. (Dec. 14)

Raising Student Achievement

The Center for American Progress recently released Expanding Learning Time In High Schools download files PDF, (2.10MB). This report examines high schools that require an extended learning day (rather than schools that offer extra time on task as a voluntary elective). The report also evaluates the success of these schools and analyzes how such reforms could be accomplished on a larger scale. (Oct. 2006)


A report download files PDF, (59.86KB), from Educational Testing Service (ETS) reveals that while adults generally view students as technologically savvy, few have high levels of information literacy, or the ability to use technology to find the information for which they are searching. The report finds that the majority of high school and college students lack proper critical thinking skills when it comes to researching online and using sources. (2006)


Innovations in the News

Charter Schools/Magnet Schools
Fifth grade students at James M. Grimes Performing Arts Magnet School in Mount Vernon (NY) are participating in a pilot program where they are reading a new classroom collection of children's books bearing the name of boxer Muhammad Ali. As a child, Ali had to overcome dyslexia to learn how to read and write. The book collection bearing his name is intended to help motivate young students, particularly boys, to overcome a different kind of obstacle to becoming readers: disinterest. Francesann Lightsy, principal of the pilot magnet school notes, "Sometimes parent involvement is a challenge, but Muhammad Ali is a common denominator between generations. He bridges the gaps in a lot of ways for us. I'll be able to get parents involved [through this pilot]." [More-The Washington Times] (Dec. 4)

Philanthropist Eli Broad has donated $10.5 million to Green Dot Public Schools, a Los Angeles (CA) charter school organization (see Innovator, June 28, 2004). The funding will help the organization reach its goal of opening 21 new high school campuses and, by 2010, enrolling up to 10 percent of high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Green Dot model has created promising results. Nearly 80 percent of students who enter Green Dot schools as ninth graders go on to graduate in four years, and three of every four graduates go on to four-year colleges. [More-The Los Angeles Times] (Nov. 30)

New research from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows promising signs that chartering is helping to increase the performance of Hispanic students. The report points to studies that show the Hispanic achievement gap closing. For example, a 2006 study by the Massachusetts Department of Education reveals that Hispanic students in charters are performing to higher levels than their peers in non-charters on reading and mathematics exams. Also, the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that Hispanic fourth grade students in charter schools are outpacing non-charter students in reading. [More-U.S. Newswire] (Nov. 28)

Foreign languages, drama, technology, and dance - Wake County's (NC) magnet schools program enables students to explore them all. Generally, magnet schools focus on specific themes so that students may tailor their education to their interests. For example, at Moore Square Museums Magnet Middle School in downtown Raleigh , students can choose to study ballet, music, and Latin in addition to core academic subjects. Any student enrolled in Wake County schools can apply to attend a magnet school. The magnet program is so popular that most schools in the district have waiting lists. [More-News 14 Carolina] (Nov. 29)

Earlier this year, Newsweek magazine named Basis School, Inc.'s (See Innovator, March 21, 2005) high school in Tucson (AZ) the third best in the country. More recently, Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett and his wife donated $450,000 to the Basis middle school in Scottsdale (AZ), citing its excellence. Basis offers a rigorous curriculum in which teachers begin in fifth and sixth grade to prepare 11-year-olds to take pre-algebra and the first of three years of chemistry, biology, and physics. By the end of eighth grade, students are ready for pre-calculus. Parents of Basis students note that students do not have to be gifted to survive at the school; they only have to be driven. [More-The Arizona Republic] (Nov. 22) (subscription required)

Parental Involvement
Romero Perez used to sign his name on his stepson's homework assignments without understanding what was written on the papers. Now, Mr. Perez reads with his stepson and asks questions about report cards. The Parent Institute for Quality Education, or PIQE (pronounced "pee-kay"), helped Mr. Perez and hundreds of other parents in Arizona become more invested in their children's schooling. PIQE is a nine-week course that teaches mostly Spanish-speaking immigrant parents how the state's public school system works and how to advocate for their children's education by providing tutorials in how to set up appointments with counselors, read report cards, and help with homework. [More-The Arizona Republic] (Dec. 4)

Private Schools
The private Montessori School of Lake Forest has broken ground on a $1 million campus at Prairie Crossing's organic farm in Grayslake (IL). The new facility will house a fledgling Montessori junior high school, one of only a handful nationwide. The school is located on a "Learning Farm" and will offer a challenging curriculum along with agrarian learning experiences. Students will spend up to five hours each week working in fields surrounding the school, eventually bringing their own harvests to market. Linda Davis, the inaugural director of the school for grades seven through nine, projects a maximum of about 40 students at the new facility. [More-The Chicago Tribune] (subscription required)

More than 350 executives converged in New York City (NY) recently for a one-day conference aimed at examining how the Internet will transform learning in 21 st century classrooms. One of the conference speakers, Paul G. Vallas, chief executive officer for the 194,500-student Philadelphia (PA) school district, noted that technology can help ameliorate problems often faced by districts, such as encouraging parental involvement, revamping aging facilities, and providing students with engaging instructional resources. [More-Education Week] (Dec. 1) (paid subscription required)

In an age where the term "Google" is both a proper noun and a verb, more teachers will be able to find lesson plans and other resources using the California-based Internet search engine company. Google, Inc., recently unveiled "Google for Educators" and "Google Apps for Education," both of which contain a variety of online tools, curriculum resources, and lesson plans for teachers. The new site features a tutorial that shows teachers how to conduct better Internet searches. Other tools include "Google Earth," three-dimensional mapping software based on satellite imagery; "SketchUp," a three-dimensional software program that allows students to design buildings and explore geometric concepts; "Google Book Search," which finds books that match students' search terms; blog and photo-sharing software; and word-processing applications that enable students to work simultaneously on the same document from different computers. [More-Education Week] (Nov. 29) (paid subscription required)

A year-old campaign dedicated to improving the collection and use of data to drive school reform appears to be showing positive results. Over the past year, the Data Quality Campaign ( DQC) has stressed the importance of developing and using data systems that follow individual students' progress over time as a key tool to improve student achievement. According to the DQC, 42 states (up from 37 last year) now report having a unique student identifier in place, which is an integral part of a longitudinal data system. [More-eSchool News] (Nov. 27)

Raising Student Achievement
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano will announce the formation of a national task force of education, business, and government leaders that will work to ready America for the economy of the future. The 17-member task force will be unveiled as part of a National Governors Association (NGA) meeting. Governor Napolitano is chairwoman of the NGA and has made the "Innovation America" initiative her priority. The hope is to inspire students to be better able to compete with their international counterparts in mathematics and science. [More-The Arizona Republic] (Dec. 5) (subscription required)

What will close the achievement gap? For founding principal Donna Rodrigues of the University Park Campus School in Worcester (MA), her solution simply is not to allow students to fail. Of some 230 students at the school, more than 70 percent are low-income. Many students come from troubled home situations, others are homeless, and still others are in foster care. Home life is no excuse for underperformance, however. Students are engaged in a challenging curriculum and teachers share best practices and plan lessons together. The payoff: hardly any students fail the 10 th grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). (See Innovator, [More-The Boston Globe] (Dec. 3) (Editorial)

Seafaring is alive and well at the Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center at Oyster Point in the harbor of New Haven (CT). At this innovative regional vocational education center and college preparatory high school, students learn mathematics through boat building and navigation, music through sea-shanty singing, and literature and history through the study of nautically themed writings. The school's curriculum is not all brine-covered - plenty of modern chemistry, technology, and other subjects are taught using state-of-the-art equipment. The 25-year old, 320-student school draws its population from 19 surrounding districts, including New Haven. [More-Teacher Magazine] (Dec. 1)

Students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade at the private Chinese-American International School in San Francisco (CA) learn all subjects, from mathematics to music, half in Mandarin and half in English. In the last few years, the school has seen rapid growth in the number of non-Asian families enrolling their children. School officials attribute the growth largely to an expanding awareness of China as a global economic power and the belief of many parents that learning Mandarin will help improve their children's academic performance and help them professionally. Shuhan Wang, executive director of the Asia Society's Chinese Language Initiative, reports that several states are developing Chinese curricula for their public schools as well. [More-The New York Times] (Nov. 29) (paid subscription required)

Four years ago, educators in Seaford (DE) began offering special tutoring, summer classes, and Saturday sessions to "average" students. The aim was to help more students performing in the middle of the academic spectrum to reach rigorous academic goals. Since that time, the number of Advanced Placement (AP) classes at Seaford High School has swelled from four to 14, and minority enrollment in the most rigorous classes has increased. The largest effort to prepare average students for rigorous coursework is led by the nonprofit AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program based in San Diego (CA). (See Innovator, August 8, 2005) [More-The Washington Post] (Nov. 28) (subscription required)


Print this page Printable view Bookmark  and Share
Last Modified: 07/10/2009