The Education Innovator #3
Volume V
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The Education Innovator
 April 26, 2007 • Number 3
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TEAM Academy, Newark, New Jersey
What's New
Innovations in the News

TEAM Academy
Strong leadership, strong curriculum, and a strong commitment to closing the achievement gap

The students wear T-shirts bearing the slogan, "No shortcuts, no excuses." They believe their school's motto, "Work hard. Be nice." In math classes they chant the verses to catchy rap songs to help them excel at and memorize math.

"My family is here – this is my second home. We work hard, but we play hard, too," says one of the students from the first graduating class of eighth graders. That's every day life for middle school students at the TEAM Academy in Newark, the second poorest city in the nation where only seven percent of students finish college, but where inner city kids attending TEAM are making great strides in education – and headed for some of America's most elite high schools, with many on full or partial scholarships.

Innovative teaching strategies and hard work are the calling cards of TEAM, a KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter school—where students go to school six days a week, work extra over the summer, and do community service on their off–days. When students enter TEAM they are often two to three grades below grade level. But TEAM holds everyone accountable because, unlike a traditional public school, if TEAM were to fall short of standards, it would have to close.

A Culture of Student Achievement and Results

TEAM, which stands for Together Everyone Achieves More, was founded in September 2002, and it has grown from 80 fifth grade students to over 450 students in grades five to eight. The population is 96 percent African-American and four percent Latino. Seventy-two percent of TEAM students receive free or reduced-price meals. TEAM, like many charter schools, selects its students by lottery, but it does not grant or deny admission on the basis of prior academic or behavioral record or any other factor. As a result, the student population closely parallels the demographics and academic preparedness of students in neighboring schools.

However, neighboring schools do not have the successful results that students at TEAM do. In Newark, an estimated 2,900 eighth graders attend public schools, but there will be 1,800 graduates from high school. About 760 of those graduates will pass the state graduation exam, and the others will graduate with a remedial-level test. According to recent data, only 490 Newark students will go on to a four-year college or university, with only 200 current eighth graders who complete a four-year college degree. This translates into a college-completion rate for Newark students of only seven percent.

"The choices for kids in Newark are limited. There are problems with gangs and violence, and it can be dangerous to live on the streets," said Ryan Hill, Founding Director of TEAM. "Our kids can stay at school late…to do homework or just talk with their teachers. We provide a safe haven…an extra safety net that suburban kids probably have, but many in urban districts don't."

Being part of the KIPP charter school network gives TEAM an advantage. KIPP's high-quality school model has demonstrated success in closing existing achievement gaps. KIPP Network Schools have explicitly defined high expectations for achievement and student conduct that make no excuses based on the background of students. Eighty percent of students who go through KIPP charters go to college.

According to Hill, TEAM students spend "60 to 70 percent more time in class compared to a regular school." In addition to the longer school hours, the extra time on Saturdays (80 hours per year), and the one-month summer school, TEAM students have an average of two to three hours of homework a night. "But the ultimate indicator of our school's success is school culture," said Hill. "Our motto is 'Work hard. Be nice' and the 'Be nice' part is just as important, if not more important, than 'work hard'. …If our kids get to college and they are also nice, they'll have the tools to spread that niceness throughout the world."

TEAM's strategy is clearly working for the students of Newark. When he or she enters TEAM, the average student performs in the bottom quartile in the nation in reading and the bottom third of the nation in math - two to three years below grade level. By their eighth grade year, the first class of TEAM students (2002) was performing in the top 10 percent of the nation in math and in the top third in reading on the SAT-10. Compared to their peers in Newark and nationally, TEAM students are making exceptional academic progress. TEAM as a school outperformed all of the middle schools in the three wards from which it draws its students. On state tests, TEAM students outperformed students in Newark in every grade in every subject. By the eighth grade, TEAM students were almost twice as likely to be proficient on the Grade Eight Proficieny Assessment (GEPA) state standards as their peers in Newark, and they outperformed African American students statewide in every subject. TEAM students will finish two years of high school algebra and read over 200 books by eighth grade.

Meeting the Needs of Individual Students

KIPP schools are given a lot of autonomy. Principals are given the "power to lead," which means they can hire, fire, and make major decisions on their own. But what really distinguishes TEAM, said Hill, is that "the teachers design their own curriculum. They don't use textbooks." Part of the reason is to individualize lessons in order to engage students who enter the Academy below grade level in their knowledge and skills. TEAM teachers employ such strategies as personalizing the problems used in lessons and find additional ways to connect with their students. In music, for instance, references to musicians with whom the students are familiar show teachers' interest in their students' lives outside of school.

TEAM students also get to experience some pretty amazing extracurricular activities and trips. "We broaden horizons," says Hill. For example, in fifth grade, students take a week-long trip to Washington, D.C., and tour college campuses. In the summer following sixth grade, building on what they have learned during the year about character and community, students take a trip to the American West where they camp, hike, and visit national parks and monuments. For students from an urban center like Newark, these trips not only teach valuable lessons in academic subjects, but expand their personal cultural and social horizons. The focus of the end-of-the-year seventh-grade trip is social justice. The TEAM students go to California where they visit the Museum of Tolerance, as well as visit and compare schools in high- and low-income areas, look at the criminal justice system at Alcatraz, or study conservation in Redwood Forest.

By eighth grade, students are very focused on which high school they will attend the following year. They learn how to interview, what is expected of them on high school admissions tests, and how to prepare for the next step on their way to college. The final reward for all their hard work is the class trip to Puerto Rico, where they explore lessons in social inequalities in the Caribbean, utilize the Spanish they have been learning, and make connections with people from different backgrounds. Eighth graders move on to some of Newark's best schools and the nation's top boarding and day schools.

Excellence in Teaching

Teachers at TEAM go beyond the call of duty. They carry cell phones to answer calls at all hours of the day. Some give rides home to students who stay later to get help with homework or participate in an extracurricular activity. Teachers work longer hours, but they are paid significantly more than comparable Newark district teachers, and it is evident they really want all of the students to succeed. TEAM has recruited highly qualified teachers and is also collaborating with Teach for America, both in New York and New Jersey, to connect with high-performing teachers in their organizations.

Commenting on why TEAM students outperform other students on state tests, Hill said, "Part of it is the extra time they get each day, and the other part is the teachers, who work extremely hard. We recruit the best teachers - we want the all-stars."

One such all-star, Tia Morris, summed it up like this: "At TEAM, I have the opportunity to shape the curriculum; I have the opportunity to help shape the culture; I have the opportunity to really get to know the kids; and I have the opportunity to truly work with my colleagues. This is a situation I wasn't afforded in my other schools." AT TEAM, the annual staff turnover is less than 10 percent, which can be attributed to the teachers feeling respected as professionals. "We have the opportunity to move into leadership positions, according to Morris, "to actually affect change within the school community."

Their students also value the teachers. "One of the things I love most about TEAM Academy is that the teachers make learning fun. … I can hang out with my teachers and talk about things that are happening at home. As the years went by, I realized I had a friend in all of my teachers. Regardless of whether they were teaching me or not, I realized I could depend on them to help me," said Aallyah Bowen, an eighth grade student. "One reason I am where I am today is because the teachers got to know me. They know the qualities I have that could make me what I am," she said.

TEAM teachers have won numerous awards. Within the KIPP national network, Tia Morris and three of her TEAM colleagues have received four of only 25 KIPP Kinder Awards, which is the highest honor that the KIPP Foundation bestows and which is accompanied by a $10,000 stipend for each recipient. Other accolades presented to TEAM faculty members include the New Jersey Education Consortium honoring fifth grade teacher Marc Tan as the "Charter School Teacher of the Year"; sixth grade science and technology teacher Tiffany Pendleton as a member of the Wal-Mart's Teacher of the Year program; and seventh grade English teacher Nathan Smalley receiving a Total Commitment to Quality Award from the New Jersey Public Charter School Association. In addition, TEAM Academy Assistant Director Sha Reagans won the 2004-2005 U.S. Department of Education "American Star of Teaching" award for the state of New Jersey, and TEAM Academy Founding Director Ryan Hill won the 2004 Bank of America Local Heroes Award.

Support throughout High School and Beyond

TEAM students can expect to receive support long after they graduate. The staff are focused on placing students in college preparatory high schools and supporting these students through high school and college years. TEAM has extensive school-to-college services. The full-time high school placement and support staff begin working with students and parents in the 7th grade to help them gain entrance to top high schools. TEAM support staff contact alumni at least twice a month and visit students at their schools twice a year. Through the alumni association, students and parents have access to networking and support groups and social and developmental opportunities. They can also take advantage of weekly tutoring. This continuum ensures student success.

While 10 hours a day is a long time to be in school, everyone at TEAM is committed to making those hours exciting and fun. Everyone does whatever it takes to help students achieve. For Newark, TEAM Academy is making a difference and closing the achievement gap for students who might otherwise lose the chance for success.

Resources: Note: Readers should judge for themselves the merits of the practices implemented in the schools profiled in the Education Innovator. The descriptions of schools and their methodologies do not constitute an endorsement of specific practices or products by the U.S. Department of Education.


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

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings visited Gulfview-Charles B. Murphy Elementary School in Kiln, Miss., to launch the 2007 Gulf Coast Summer Reading Initiative, a public-private partnership among the U.S. Department of Education, First Book, and Scholastic Inc. The Initiative will support the distribution of 500,000 new books this spring to help replenish schools, libraries, community organizations and homes in the five states most affected by the hurricanes of 2005. (Apr. 18)

Secretary Spellings touted the importance of reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) while meeting with business leaders, teachers and students in Minnesota. Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act sets forth the policy proposals of Secretary Spellings for reauthorizing NCLB. (Apr. 5)

New regulations under NCLB will allow states to more accurately assess students with disabilities. Secretary Spellings announced the regulations, which will allow states to count two percent of proficient and advanced scores on alternate assessments when measuring adequate yearly progress. (Apr. 4)

Joining members of the business community for a discussion of ways they can continue to make a positive difference in the success of Arizona's education system, Secretary Spellings praised the progress made by Arizona's students under the NCLB. The Secretary discussed new proposals President Bush put forth in urging Congress to reauthorize NCLB this year, including provisions that would enhance the availability and performance of charter schools. (Apr. 2)

Secretary Spellings commended Congressional leaders' proposed Teacher Incentive Fund Act, by saying, "The Teacher Incentive Fund Act will help recognize our most effective teachers and reward them for their success in raising student achievement." (Mar. 29)

The April broadcast of "Education News Parents Can Use" (originally broadcast April 17, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET) looked at how public charter schools and choice options can help raise student performance. April's show featured innovative options--such as charter schools, free tutoring programs, public school choice, and private school scholarships for students in low-performing schools--and discussed how these alternatives can empower parents to ensure that their children have access to a high-quality education, regardless of their race, income, or zip code. In addition, the April broadcast featured high-performing charter schools and district-wide school choice programs from across the country. (See the archived webcast.)

On May 15, from 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET, the May broadcast of "Education News Parents Can Use" will focus on several award-winning teachers who are inspiring excellence in our students and explore how effective teaching is at the core of America's long-term economic competitiveness. The broadcast will include an overview of the current state of the teaching profession and what is currently being done to place a high-quality teacher in every classroom; innovative and alternative strategies to recruit, train, and reward effective teachers; and how proposed programs like the Teacher Incentive Fund, along with the Adjunct Teacher Corps and other teacher quality programs under the American Competitiveness Initiative, are strengthening our nation's teachers, schools, and students now and into the future. Learn about ED NEWS and viewing options, including webcasts, or call toll-free (800) USA-LEARN.

The Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) will host the Sixth Annual Celebrate Our Rising Stars Summit from October 29 - 31, 2007, at the Hilton Washington Hotel in Washington, D.C. Since 2002, OELA has hosted the annual summit in an effort to make the promise of NCLB a reality. The summit will provide educators with information, best practices, and research through informative sessions from engaging speakers and field experts; allowing educators to connect and dialogue with policy makers at the local, state, and national level; and giving all participants the opportunity to network, trade ideas, and learn from one another. Registration and information is currently available online.

From the Office of Innovation and Improvement

Assistant Deputy Secretary Morgan Brown and staff from the Office of Innovation and Improvement visited Pittsburgh Public Schools in March, the last stop on a tour of 14 school districts in the "Public School Choice and Supplemental Educational Services Outreach Project." Launched last year by Secretary Spellings and coordinated by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, the Outreach Project is an effort to gain a better understanding of how the public school choice and supplemental educational services (SES) provisions of NCLB are working at the "ground level" and, in turn, to determine what can be done to foster and improve implementation. Information gleaned from the district visits will be discussed at a national summit scheduled for this summer. (Mar. 30)

Charter Schools

From April 30-May 4, charter school advocates, parents, teachers, and students across the country will celebrate the eighth annual National Charter Schools Week. This year, the theme is "Closing the Gap," which is meant to highlight how charter schools are helping disadvantaged children make academic gains. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has developed a download files PDF, (168 KB) toolkit that offers talking points for a variety of speakers, sample press releases, and fact sheets. (Apr. 26)

In early March, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced the formation of the Senate Public Charter School Caucus. Working with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the caucus will "…provide important and provocative speakers for quarterly events, serve as a resource on the impact of federal and state charter policies, and act as a conduit for research, statistics, and trends in the charter movement." (Mar. 2)

Education Reform/School Improvement

Policymakers, practitioners, and stakeholders at all levels of public education are invited to share ideas and information at the National Forum on Education Policy, sponsored by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). The forum will take place from July 10-13 in Philadelphia. For more information contact (Apr. 26) (Registration fee)

Raising Student Achievement

The Carolina Covenant is a college financing commitment between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and historically low-income youth throughout the state and nation. The Covenant pledges that the University will meet 100 percent of an admitted, eligible student's financial need with a combination of grants, scholarships, and Federal Work-Study. Carolina students describe how they are succeeding through the Covenant online via the U.S. Department of Education's television program. (Apr. 2007)


A new Education Leadership Policy Toolkit to increase awareness and understanding of the policies, practices, and processes that serve to strengthen leadership for reform and improvement in schools and districts is now available. Created for the Education Commission of the States, through the generous support of the MetLife Foundation, it provides information for state policymakers and school district leaders -- as well as principals and teachers --- on increasing leadership capacity in schools, districts, and states. Information on the site was synthesized from a series of nationwide case studies conducted in districts with strong student learning, often in challenging contexts. (Apr. 2007)

Teacher Quality and Development

Google, Inc., has launched "Google Teacher Academy," a free professional development experience designed for K-12 educators. Each Academy consists of an intensive, one-day event where participants engage in hands-on activities with Google's free products and other technologies, learn about innovative instructional strategies, and receive resources. Upon completion, Academy participants become "Google Certified Teachers." Applications are accepted online. (Apr. 26)

Registration for the annual symposium sponsored by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF) is now open. "Schools Organized for Success: The Future of Teaching" will be held in Philadelphia from July 8 to 10, 2007. Successful teacher quality projects operating throughout the country will present information on strategies and outcomes. (Apr. 26)

The 2007 U.S. Innovative Teachers Forum, sponsored by Microsoft, will reward learning teams that incorporate elements of 21st century learning in their classrooms. Supported by the National Staff Development Council and the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, the forum will bring together exemplary K-12 learning teams on the Microsoft corporate campus in Redmond, Washington. The Forum will provide learning teams with the opportunity to share expertise and engage collaboratively with their peers from around the country. The deadline to apply

The National School Boards Association's Council of Urban Boards of Education has released findings of Where We Teach, a research study that surveyed how teachers and administrators feel about their urban school environments. Twelve urban school districts in 10 states participated in the survey. Findings are grouped under eight categories: bullying; expectations of success; influence of race; professional climate; professional development; parental involvement; safety; and trust, respect, and ethos of caring. (Mar. 23)


To increase interest in engineering among girls, computer maker Lenovo sponsored a "Global Marathon for, by, and about Women in Engineering," a 24-hour Webcast that brought together female engineers, teachers, students, and others from around the world. Archived sessions may be viewed online. (Mar. 23)

Arts Education

The Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA) is sponsoring its 2007 AMLA National Media Education Conference and first-ever Research Summit on June 23-26 in St Louis. This year's conference theme, "iPods, Blogs and Beyond: Evolving Media Literacy for the 21st Century," explores the meanings of media literacy as critical life skills for a digital world and how evidence-based practice can improve and advance the field. Early bird registration rates are available through May 1.


Innovations in the News

Charter Schools/Magnet Schools
While they haven't seen any significant statistical difference in performance from students in their coed classes, teachers in a single-sex classes pilot program at Arrowhead High School in Merton, Wisconsin, are finding differences in the way students learn. [More-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel] (Apr. 9)

The sounds of gunshots often send children fleeing for cover in the Richmond, (Calif.) Iron Triangle neighborhood. Richmond College Preparatory School is a charter school, founded in the Bay Area by Richmond Children's Foundation, which opened the pre-kindergarten and elementary school two years ago with part of a multimillion-dollar settlement from a chemical disaster. Bringing hope for a brighter future in one of the San Francisco area's poorest neighborhoods, College Preparatory began in the fall of 2005 with 20 preschool students, and it now has 80 students. "The goal is to show kids they can make it if they have the same kind of opportunities as white kids in middle-class communities," said one of the founders. The school received a federal charter school startup grant worth up to $225,000. [More-The San Francisco Chronicle] (Apr. 2)

The number of charter schools in New York City could double because of an agreement struck between the governor and the legislature. A preliminary version of the new state budget would allow as many as 50 more of the publicly funded, but privately run, schools to open in the city. CBS/AP (Mar. 30)

Louisiana's largest private foundation plans to spend nearly $4.2 million to create a public charter school support network in New Orleans to offer training, guidance, and business expertise to existing charters, as well as offer consultation to groups wanting to start more charters. Most of the funds will go towards setting up a network that charter schools on the east bank of Orleans Parish can voluntarily join to receive direction about the business of running a charter school. [More-The Times Picayune]

Many educators are turning to robotics in the hope of inspiring a new crop of engineers. Some experts think they can be important in the learning process. Later this month, 20,000 people will gather for the finals of the 2007 FIRST Robotics Competition. [More-eSchool News] (Apr. 11)

The result of a study by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance that was released last week may have a major effect on how school districts purchase software and make technology decisions. The study on the effectiveness of education technology called "Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from the First Student Cohort" was mandated by Congress. It used scientifically based research methods and control groups to focus on the impact of technology on student academic achievement. [More-Baltimore Sun] (Apr. 6)

Secretary Spellings announced she will hold a series of roundtables on how technology can improve education. The goal is to inspire a conversation about integrating technology more efficiently into education and exploring how to utilize technology to raise student achievement. [More-Education Week] (Apr. 4) (paid subscription required)

Virtual schooling now serves many more students than it did a decade ago. The fast-growing cyber schools have many policy implications that states have to address. More than 170 cyber charter schools now serve some 92,000 students, according to the Washington-based Center for Education Reform, which tracks and advocates charter schooling. [More-Education Week] (Mar. 29) (paid subscription required)

The tenth edition of Technology Counts from Education Week is now online. The report grades states on leadership in educational technology, and finds wide variation among the states in the areas of access, use, and capacity. Also included is an interactive timeline that examines trends in educational technology over the last decade. [More-Education Week] (Mar. 29) (paid subscription required)

For the second year in a row, students and teachers who responded to a national survey on educational technology expressed a strong desire for schools to focus more on the integration of technology and real-world problem solving into math and science classes. [More-eSchool News] (Mar. 22) (free registration)

Teacher Quality and Development
High school and college teachers differ on what students need to know. According to a report by ACT (formerly American College Testing) examining science, math, reading, and English, there is a big difference between what high school instructors teach and what college faculty think entering freshmen ought to know. [More-USA Today] (Apr. 10)

The director of Project M3: Mentoring Mathematical Minds, based at the University of Connecticut's Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, finds satisfaction in teaching math to third to fifth graders. [More-Christian Science Monitor] (Apr. 5)

With the realization that American students will compete for jobs with Chinese students, the emphasis on teaching the Chinese language and culture are beginning to spread. [More-Detroit Free Press] (Apr. 4)

U.S. enrollment in Mandarin classes has increased tenfold since 2000, and 2,400 schools want to offer a Chinese advanced-placement test, but many can't find a teacher to start a program. Teachers imported from China are a temporary fix, and Chinese-Americans often speak Cantonese or, according to research, are discouraged from teaching careers by relatives. [More-Christian Science Monitor] (Mar. 27)

Education Reform/Raising Student Achievement
Schools in Sacramento are implementing a program to teach pre-college engineering to teens in an effort to enhance learning and encourage students to pursue engineering. Industry analysts and experts anticipate a huge shortfall of engineers in coming years resulting from a mass exodus of baby boomer engineers and an enormous increase in the number of technical jobs that will require engineering expertise. [More-Sacramento Bee] (Apr. 10)

According to the new issue of R&D Alert from WestEd, identifying underachieving schools has become a priority in recent years as federal and state accountability requirements turn attention on chronic poor performance. A growing amount of research has highlighted the characteristics of both poor- and high-quality schools but, according to the authors, much less is known about what specific strategies enable schools to change from low- to high-performing. [More-R&D Alert, Vol. 8, No.2 download files PDF, (1.43 MB)] (Apr. 2007)

Education in suburban Milwaukee County schools next school year will look like a crime lab, sound like a rap tune and help students speak Chinese, do global business over the Internet, and prepare for life on Mars. The idea is to keep education relevant and exciting for today's students. [More-Milwaukee Sentinel] (Mar. 28)

Experiencing difficulty with mathematics? Perhaps your right parietal lobe is to blame. For the first time, scientists have induced difficulties with mathematics (a condition called dyscalculia) in subjects who normally find mathematics easy. The study, which finds that the right parietal lobe is responsible for dyscalculia, potentially has implications for diagnosis and management through teaching. Dyscalculia is as common as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). [More-Science Daily] (Mar. 23)

American History
World history and world geography have dominated the growth in high school course-taking in the field of social studies. A recent federal study shows that the percentage of American students taking these courses in high school has risen faster than enrollment in any other social studies classes over the past 15 years. [More-Education Week] (Mar. 21) (paid subscription required)

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor addressed a group of educators and school leaders during the American Association of School Administrators Conference in New Orleans in March. Her message: technology and innovation can play an important role in helping to boost student aptitude in such important topics as government and civics. [More-eSchool News] (Mar. 12)



Office of Innovation and Improvement
Morgan S. Brown, Assistant Deputy Secretary

Office of Communications and Outreach
Lauren Maddox, Assistant Secretary

John McGrath
Doug Herbert
Executive Editors

Sherry Schweitzer

Cynthia Cabell
Sr. Production Editor

Dramon Turner
Production Editor

Margarita L. Meléndez
Copy Editor

Issue Reviewers
Pamela Allen
Doug Herbert
Dean Kern
Stacy Kreppel
Todd May
Kelly Rhoades
Tiffany Taber

Article Submissions
Doug Herbert
Todd May
Tiffany Taber


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Last Modified: 05/20/2009