First Person

This week's safe schools snippets

Common Sense Media runs new campaign to curb cyberbullying

When you hear the word “cyberbullying,” the victim and bully come to mind. What about the bystanders? These silent witnesses play a big part in the vicious circle of bullying. That’s why speaking up has never been more important. Take the pledge and watch the video at Common Sense Media.

Emily’s Parade promotes school safety

A parade for both motorcyclists and runners that pays tribute to the memory of Emily Keyes, victim of a school Emily Keyesshooting, raises money, and promotes school safety. The event will be held Sunday, Sept. 25.

The Parade consists of two events: a 45 mile motorcycle ride between Columbine High School, 6201 S. Pierce St., Littleton, and Platte Canyon High School, on U.S. Highway 285 near Bailey, Colo., an annual ritual initiated by riders 10 days after Emily’s death, and a timed 5K run at Platte Canyon in tribute to emergency first responders around the country. Both events are open to the public. Suggested donations and participant sponsorships support The “I Love U Guys” Foundation programs and initiatives.

Online registration for the ride is at http://iloveuguys.org/ride_registration.pl For the ER5K use http://iloveuguys.org/run_registration.pl. At Columbine, gates open at 8 a.m., bikes out at 11:15 a.m. At Platte Canyon, gates open at 9 a.m., runners out at 11:15 a.m. Steve Crenshaw and friends will be playing at Platte Canyon.

More bullying cases have parents turning to courts

Jon Timothy and Tami Carmichael of Cleburne, Texas, are convinced their 13-year-old son Jon’s suicide in March 2010 was the result of daily bullying by peers and the lack of action taken by school officials. Read more in USA Today.

“48 Hours” to air special on bullying in the digital age

Reported by correspondent Tracy Smith, the program airing Friday, Sept. 16 (8 p.m. ET/PT) reveals how the explosion in technology is only making bullying worse, as victims cannot find relief from their tormentors in a 24/7 digital world. The report will have important new information for parents, educators and legislators about how bullying affects children and how to address it. Check out this CBS News report.

Panel finds post-Columbine disciplinary policies criminalize students

Colorado lawmakers and police said Monday that strict disciplinary policies at schools created after the Columbine High School shootings should be scaled back or scrapped and that administrators should have more control over student punishment. Read more in the Washington Post.

N.J. schools brace for anti-bullying rules’ impact

Supporters of New Jersey’s newly amended anti-bullying law say it will create a tough safety net for students who had been afraid to go to school because of continued bullying, even as administrators and others brace for the impact from increased reporting requirements. Read this EdWeek story.

In suburb, battle goes public on bullying of gay students

ANOKA, Minn. — This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools. Read more in the New York Times.

Bullying prevention via Shakespeare in Colo. schools

Colorado Shakespeare Festival actors will perform a 17th century play in more than 25 schools from Fort Collins to William ShakespeareTrinidad this fall to set the stage for modern-day discussions about school bullying as part of a collaboration between the festival and the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

From Sept. 20 through Oct. 21, the three-person theater troupe will perform a 50-minute abridged version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” followed by a post-show talk with the actors and classroom workshops centered on bullying prevention. Participating elementary, middle and high schools will receive a study guide about the play’s contemporary relevance and proven anti-bullying interventions and information from the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. Read more in this CU press release.

Broomfield police to host school safety presentation

The Broomfield Police Department will host a school safety discussion, “Speaking a Common Language During a School Crisis,” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Broomfield Auditorium, 3 Community Park Road.

John-Michael Keyes, executive director of the I Love U Guys Foundation, will present the School Safety Standard Response Protocol. The protocol has been adopted by Adams 12 and Boulder Valley school districts, as well as numerous districts across the country.

The I Love U Guys Foundation was created after the shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, in which student Emily Keyes was killed by a gunman. The foundation was named after the last text message she sent to her parents while being held hostage. The Standard Response Protocol was developed by the foundation in collaboration with law enforcement and safety agencies, school administrators, students and teachers.

Topics of the Oct. 4 presentation will include the story and aftermath of the Platte Canyon High School shooting, dispelling the concept that “it can’t happen here,” and a new way to engage in the conversation about school safety. The presentation is ideal for students and families, school administrators and faculty, emergency managers, fire personnel, emergency medical services, law enforcement and public health officials, according to a news release.

For more information, call Broomfield Police public education coordinator Joleen Reefe at 720-887-2084.

University study links school bullying to lack of sleep

A new study suggests not getting enough sleep can get you into trouble — and not just with your doctor.

That was the conclusion of a University of Michigan study published in the journal “Sleep Medicine” last month that suggested children who are bullies are more likely to have sleep problems.

It’s also something Elgin School District U46 officials said they see in schools “all the time.” Read more in the Courier-News.

Psychiatrists prescribe remedies for school bullying

Bullying in school is a process that arises out of toxic group dynamics, not a problem originating with a single troubled person. It may not feel that way when you’ve just been jeered at by one of the stars of the school’s athletic program or the meanest girl in your grade just posted a nasty comment on your Facebook wall, but that is how the American Psychiatric Assn.’s first foray into the subject describes bullying, and it shapes how the nation’s psychiatrists propose to help stamp out the practice. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Boulder Valley high schools get concussion help for athletes

Centaurus High School athletic director Paul Roper has started paying more attention to student concussions.

Last school year, he instructed coaches to introduce a gradual return to play for athletes with concussions, starting with exercise and low-impact practices instead of an immediate return to full contact play.

This year, he will have another tool — baseline concussion testing — to help gauge when it’s safe for an athlete to get back in the game. Read more in the Colorado Hometown Weekly.

Elementary student brings live bullets to Boulder school

A student at Boulder’s Foothill Elementary brought two live bullets to school Monday, separating one of the bullets from its casing by hitting it on a rock, according to a letter from the principal sent to parents.

During third-grade recess, the student set off the bullet’s primer while hitting it on the rock, making a loud noise, according to Principal Melissa Ribordy. But the .22-caliber bullet was never fired, and no one was hurt. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Parents and teachers learn valuable info at  school safety forum

Since the school shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 and the recent outbreak of reports of kids committing suicide due to bullying, the safety of students has become a concern of utmost importance for parents, teachers and school administrators nationwide. Read more in Our Colorado News.

First Person

I’m a principal who thinks personalized learning shouldn’t be a debate.

PHOTO: Lisa Epstein
Lisa Epstein, principal of Richard H. Lee Elementary, supports personalized learning

This is the first in what we hope will be a tradition of thoughtful opinion pieces—of all viewpoints—published by Chalkbeat Chicago. Have an idea? Send it to [email protected]

As personalized learning takes hold throughout the city, Chicago teachers are wondering why a term so appealing has drawn so much criticism.

Until a few years ago, the school that I lead, Richard H. Lee Elementary on the Southwest Side, was on a path toward failing far too many of our students. We crafted curriculum and identified interventions to address gaps in achievement and the shifting sands of accountability. Our teachers were hardworking and committed. But our work seemed woefully disconnected from the demands we knew our students would face once they made the leap to postsecondary education.

We worried that our students were ill-equipped for today’s world of work and tomorrow’s jobs. Yet, we taught using the same model through which we’d been taught: textbook-based direct instruction.

How could we expect our learners to apply new knowledge to evolving facts, without creating opportunities for exploration? Where would they learn to chart their own paths, if we didn’t allow for agency at school? Why should our students engage with content that was disconnected from their experiences, values, and community?

We’ve read articles about a debate over personalized learning centered on Silicon Valley’s “takeover” of our schools. We hear that Trojan Horse technologies are coming for our jobs. But in our school, personalized learning has meant developing lessons informed by the cultural heritage and interests of our students. It has meant providing opportunities to pursue independent projects, and differentiating curriculum, instruction, and assessment to enable our students to progress at their own pace. It has reflected a paradigm shift that is bottom-up and teacher led.

And in a move that might have once seemed incomprehensible, it has meant getting rid of textbooks altogether. We’re not alone.

We are among hundreds of Chicago educators who would welcome critics to visit one of the 120 city schools implementing new models for learning – with and without technology. Because, as it turns out, Chicago is fast becoming a hub for personalized learning. And, it is no coincidence that our academic growth rates are also among the highest in the nation.

Before personalized learning, we designed our classrooms around the educator. Decisions were made based on how educators preferred to teach, where they wanted students to sit, and what subjects they wanted to cover.

Personalized learning looks different in every classroom, but the common thread is that we now make decisions looking at the student. We ask them how they learn best and what subjects strike their passions. We use small group instruction and individual coaching sessions to provide each student with lesson plans tailored to their needs and strengths. We’re reimagining how we use physical space, and the layout of our classrooms. We worry less about students talking with their friends; instead, we ask whether collaboration and socialization will help them learn.

Our emphasis on growth shows in the way students approach each school day. I have, for example, developed a mentorship relationship with one of our middle school students who, despite being diligent and bright, always ended the year with average grades. Last year, when she entered our personalized learning program for eighth grade, I saw her outlook change. She was determined to finish the year with all As.

More than that, she was determined to show that she could master anything her teachers put in front of her. She started coming to me with graded assignments. We’d talk about where she could improve and what skills she should focus on. She was pragmatic about challenges and so proud of her successes. At the end of the year she finished with straight As—and she still wanted more. She wanted to get A-pluses next year. Her outlook had changed from one of complacence to one oriented towards growth.

Rather than undermining the potential of great teachers, personalized learning is creating opportunities for collaboration as teachers band together to leverage team-teaching and capitalize on their strengths and passions. For some classrooms, this means offering units and lessons based on the interests and backgrounds of the class. For a couple of classrooms, it meant literally knocking down walls to combine classes from multiple grade-levels into a single room that offers each student maximum choice over how they learn. For every classroom, it means allowing students to work at their own pace, because teaching to the middle will always fail to push some while leaving others behind.

For many teachers, this change sounded daunting at first. For years, I watched one of my teachers – a woman who thrives off of structure and runs a tight ship – become less and less engaged in her profession. By the time we made the switch to personalized learning, I thought she might be done. We were both worried about whether she would be able to adjust to the flexibility of the new model. But she devised a way to maintain order in her classroom while still providing autonomy. She’s found that trusting students with the responsibility to be engaged and efficient is both more effective and far more rewarding than trying to force them into their roles. She now says that she would never go back to the traditional classroom structure, and has rediscovered her love for teaching. The difference is night and day.

The biggest change, though, is in the relationships between students and teachers. Gone is the traditional, authority-to-subordinate dynamic; instead, students see their teachers as mentors with whom they have a unique and individual connection, separate from the rest of the class. Students are actively involved in designing their learning plans, and are constantly challenged to articulate the skills they want to build and the steps that they must take to get there. They look up to their teachers, they respect their teachers, and, perhaps most important, they know their teachers respect them.

Along the way, we’ve found that students respond favorably when adults treat them as individuals. When teachers make important decisions for them, they see learning as a passive exercise. But, when you make it clear that their needs and opinions will shape each school day, they become invested in the outcome.

As our students take ownership over their learning, they earn autonomy, which means they know their teachers trust them. They see growth as the goal, so they no longer finish assignments just to be done; they finish assignments to get better. And it shows in their attendance rates – and test scores.

Lisa Epstein is the principal of Richard H. Lee Elementary School, a public school in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood serving 860 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Richard H. Lee Elementary School serves 860 students, not 760 students.

First Person

I’ve spent years studying the link between SHSAT scores and student success. The test doesn’t tell you as much as you might think.

PHOTO: Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Proponents of New York City’s specialized high school exam, the test the mayor wants to scrap in favor of a new admissions system, defend it as meritocratic. Opponents contend that when used without consideration of school grades or other factors, it’s an inappropriate metric.

One thing that’s been clear for decades about the exam, now used to admit students to eight top high schools, is that it matters a great deal.

Students admitted may not only receive a superior education, but also access to elite colleges and eventually to better employment. That system has also led to an under-representation of Hispanic students, black students, and girls.

As a doctoral student at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2015, and in the years after I received my Ph.D., I have tried to understand how meritocratic the process really is.

First, that requires defining merit. Only New York City defines it as the score on a single test — other cities’ selective high schools use multiple measures, as do top colleges. There are certainly other potential criteria, such as artistic achievement or citizenship.

However, when merit is defined as achievement in school, the question of whether the test is meritocratic is an empirical question that can be answered with data.

To do that, I used SHSAT scores for nearly 28,000 students and school grades for all public school students in the city. (To be clear, the city changed the SHSAT itself somewhat last year; my analysis used scores on the earlier version.)

My analysis makes clear that the SHSAT does measure an ability that contributes to some extent to success in high school. Specifically, a SHSAT score predicts 20 percent of the variability in freshman grade-point average among all public school students who took the exam. Students with extremely high SHSAT scores (greater than 650) generally also had high grades when they reached a specialized school.

However, for the vast majority of students who were admitted with lower SHSAT scores, from 486 to 600, freshman grade point averages ranged widely — from around 50 to 100. That indicates that the SHSAT was a very imprecise predictor of future success for students who scored near the cutoffs.

Course grades earned in the seventh grade, in contrast, predicted 44 percent of the variability in freshman year grades, making it a far better admissions criterion than SHSAT score, at least for students near the score cutoffs.

It’s not surprising that a standardized test does not predict as well as past school performance. The SHSAT represents a two and a half hour sample of a limited range of skills and knowledge. In contrast, middle-school grades reflect a full year of student performance across the full range of academic subjects.

Furthermore, an exam which relies almost exclusively on one method of assessment, multiple choice questions, may fail to measure abilities that are revealed by the variety of assessment methods that go into course grades. Additionally, middle school grades may capture something important that the SHSAT fails to capture: long-term motivation.

Based on his current plan, Mayor de Blasio seems to be pointed in the right direction. His focus on middle school grades and the Discovery Program, which admits students with scores below the cutoff, is well supported by the data.

In the cohort I looked at, five of the eight schools admitted some students with scores below the cutoff. The sample sizes were too small at four of them to make meaningful comparisons with regularly admitted students. But at Brooklyn Technical High School, the performance of the 35 Discovery Program students was equal to that of other students. Freshman year grade point averages for the two groups were essentially identical: 86.6 versus 86.7.

My research leads me to believe that it might be reasonable to admit a certain percentage of the students with extremely high SHSAT scores — over 600, where the exam is a good predictor —and admit the remainder using a combined index of seventh grade GPA and SHSAT scores.

When I used that formula to simulate admissions, diversity increased, somewhat. An additional 40 black students, 209 Hispanic students, and 205 white students would have been admitted, as well as an additional 716 girls. It’s worth pointing out that in my simulation, Asian students would still constitute the largest segment of students (49 percent) and would be admitted in numbers far exceeding their proportion of applicants.

Because middle school grades are better than test scores at predicting high school achievement, their use in the admissions process should not in any way dilute the quality of the admitted class, and could not be seen as discriminating against Asian students.

The success of the Discovery students should allay some of the concerns about the ability of students with SHSAT scores below the cutoffs. There is no guarantee that similar results would be achieved in an expanded Discovery Program. But this finding certainly warrants larger-scale trials.

With consideration of additional criteria, it may be possible to select a group of students who will be more representative of the community the school system serves — and the pool of students who apply — without sacrificing the quality for which New York City’s specialized high schools are so justifiably famous.

Jon Taylor is a research analyst at Hunter College analyzing student success and retention.