To and Through

At this KIPP high school, a new tactic for getting students to college: bringing college to them

PHOTO: Nanette Blake, KIPP New Orleans Schools

It’s common for high school students to head to college campuses for classes. It’s much rarer for a college to set up shop on a high school campus.

But that is what’s happening at a KIPP high school in New Orleans this year. Bard College, a New York-based private liberal arts college, is enrolling half of KIPP Renaissance’s juniors in a two-year program designed to end with them earning both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

It’s a new tactic in the national charter network’s push to get its students to and through college: combining the start of college with high school in a way that makes higher education feel attainable — even unavoidable.

“This partnership helps us not just kind of guess what it would take getting kids to get into college,” said Towana Pierre-Floyd, the principal at KIPP Renaissance, which held a ceremony Tuesday for students entering the program. “Working with Bard [helps us] see how it actually would shake out for students when they start taking college courses full-time and have to navigate time management and rigor in different ways.”

Early college programs, which can cut down on the time and money needed to earn a degree and expose students to the style and pace of college work, are growing in popularity as an option to help students from low-income families and communities of color.

Most of those programs, though, have students earn credits at community colleges during part of the school day. The KIPP-Bard partnership is unique because it’s full-time, housed completely on a high school campus, and operating in conjunction with a charter school. (Bard operates several of its own early-college high schools across the country, but none inside other schools.)

KIPP’s program will work by enrolling students who have completed the majority of their Louisiana high school requirements at the end of sophomore year, school officials said. (The other half of KIPP’s students will follow a different academic program.) Ten Bard staffers, including six professors — some from Bard, others hired locally — will teach courses on KIPP’s campus.

“Bard is not hurting for applicants,” said Stephen Tremaine, the college’s vice president of early colleges. “For Bard, the upside is that the way that higher education in America identifies and searches for talent is incredibly criminally limited to one kind of student that’s one age and often in one neighborhood. We think that colleges miss out on real talent by not being willing to open that up.”

Douglas Lauen, a public policy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who co-authored a study examining early college high schools, estimates about 300 early college campuses dot the country, with 80 alone in North Carolina. He says the model gained steam in the state after an injection of money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, supplemented by public funding. (The Gates Foundation is also a supporter of Chalkbeat.)

A small but growing base of research has found the model generally helps students from low-income families — increasing high school graduation rates, boosting associates degree completion rates, and raising four-year-college enrollment, one study out of North Carolina found, though that college enrollment increase was at less selective schools.

“There appears to be a causal effect” of the program on a student’s chances of making it to and through college, said Lauen.

Adding college classes to high school is still a tricky proposition. Some have raised questions about the value of the associate’s degree students leave with and about whether the the courses students take in early-college programs are truly at a college level.

“We have to be thinking, are we giving them a credential for the sake of it, or are we giving them something useful for the job market eventually?” said Nathan Barrett, Lauen’s co-author. Barrett is now an associate director at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University, about seven miles from KIPP Renaissance.

Still, Barrett and Lauen see real benefits. An associate’s degree can keep students on the path to a higher-level degree, helping them avoid the cost of some college credits. KIPP officials also said they hope the program gives students the confidence to apply to more selective universities than they otherwise would.

“KIPP arguably may have more structure than students will get when they go to college, so perhaps this will get them in a place where they will be pretty much ready to go in the world and persist in college and with a career,” Barrett said.

parent power

From Amazon to air conditioners, parent leaders quizzed de Blasio and Carranza at forum

PHOTO: Reema Amin/Chalkbeat
Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza host a forum for parents in Queens, the first of five stops across the city.

Deborah Alexander, a parent whose school district covers Long Island City, asked Mayor Bill de Blasio Wednesday night why the local Community Education Council wasn’t asked to be on a committee providing input on Amazon’s controversial move to the Queens neighborhood.

De Blasio agreed. “You’re right,” the mayor said,  “the CEC should be on the committee, so we’re going to put the CEC on that committee.”

Not every question received such a cut-and-dry answer at the mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza’s first “parent empowerment” listening tour event in Queens that drew about 200 local parents who were elected or appointed to certain boards and received invites. The pair faced a host of tough questions from parent leaders about problems including school overcrowding, the lack of air conditioners, lead in water, and busing.

By the end of the meeting, de Blasio told the audience that they should always get quick responses to their questions from the department and “that you can feel the impact of your involvement…that’s up to us to help that happen.”

He also called the listening tour “overdue,” and said that Carranza has told him the city needs to do more to reach out. Parents have often criticized city officials for not being plugged into the community.

Some questions needed more time to be answered. Bethany Thomas, co-president of the PTA at Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, asked why the education department had not yet signed off on aspects of the school’s plan to have more than one principal. De Blasio asked Carranza to come up with an answer by next month.

Another parent said students at P.S. 62 were drinking from school water fountains that tested positive for lead last year, even though, according to the parent, the issue had not been addressed. De Blasio asked city officials to visit the school Thursday.

Other comments were even more complicated, often causing de Blasio and Carranza to rush parents along and condense comments to one specific issue. One Asian parent, who serves on a middle school’s PTA, gave an impassioned speech about feeling like “the enemy” after de Blasio announced a proposal in June to scrap the specialized high schools admissions test in order to diversify the schools. Currently 62 percent of specialized high school students are Asian.

“This was not about saying anyone is the bad guy,” de Blasio said, who has defended the plan as a way to bring more black and Hispanic students to those high schools.

Several parents asked why their schools still don’t have air conditioners. After de Blasio and Carranza said there is a plan to put air conditioners in every school by 2021, a mother with children at John Adams High School tearfully explained that her children will be out of school by then.

Carranza said he understood her problem, and the department would follow up, but that electrical wiring at each building makes it tough to solve the problem sooner than planned.

Alexander — the parent who asked about Amazon — questioned Carranza and de Blasio about how parent feedback would be used. She talked about the resolutions her Community Education Council passes that never get responses or feedback from the education department.

“We come, all of us, unpaid, away from our families, away from our jobs, away from bed times and dinners,” Alexander said. “We want to know what we’re doing is impactful, not a checked box.”

De Blasio said the city owes her “a process,” and department officials should respond in “real-time” — which could mean a couple of weeks. Carranza and de Blasio pledged to get a report of the meeting back to the parent leaders, noting how city leaders are following up with concerns.

elected school board

In Chicago, not everyone agrees with the grassroots call for an elected school board

PHOTO: Stephen J. Serio
Panelists at a Chalkbeat Chicago forum on the city's next mayor and public schools included, from left, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Daniel Anello, Jitu Brown, and Beth Swanson

Despite a growing call for an elected school board, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to Chicago’s troubled public school system.

Panelists at a Chalkbeat Chicago forum Wednesday evening split on whether an elected school board would offer more public accountability, especially given concerns that factions such as the teachers union would out-organize, and outspend, other candidates.

Daniel Anello, the CEO of school choice group Kids First, said he worried that an election determined by the size of campaign spending wouldn’t necessarily produce a board responsive to student and family needs.

“You need a school board that is representative of the communities we are talking about, but I worry if you take away accountability from the mayor, the mayor can absolve themselves of schools,” said Anello, noting his worries about big money entering a school board election. “My concern is that it is going to turn into a proxy war of ideology.”  

PHOTO: Stephen J. Serio
The crowd at the Chalkbeat Chicago Education for All event at Malcolm X College

The conversation was part of a larger discussion, hosted by Chalkbeat Chicago and sponsored by a new AT&T economic development initiative called Believe Chicago, about the next mayoral election and the future of city schools. Of the leading mayoral candidates who were invited, Lori Lightfoot and Paul Vallas attended.

The evening produced little agreement, except that school quality still differs dramatically by the address and race of students, and that the next mayor needs to be willing to have difficult, and even confrontational, conversations.

In addition to Anello, the panelists included Elizabeth Swanson, the vice president of strategy and programs at the Joyce Foundation and the former deputy chief of staff for education for outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel; community organizer Jitu Brown, who led the 2013 hunger strike that saved Dyett High School; and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a county commissioner and newly elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Brown, who is the national director for the community education group Journey for Justice, made an impassioned plea for an elected school board, calling it one of the few pathways for communities of color to regain any influence over an education system he argued wasn’t working for them.

“In order for us to hold a system that has never loved us accountable, we must have democracy, we must have decision-making authority around how these institutions function in our community,” Brown said. “Is this a silver bullet? No. But is it a necessary ingredient? Yes.”

Another burning question raised during the night:. Should homegrown schools chief Janice Jackson keep her job?

Brown praised Jackson as a talented teacher and strong principal in the black community before her ascent to the central office — but expressed deep concern that she’s unable to run the district “with her instincts and what she knows how to do.”

“I think her work is highly politicized,” Brown said. “National Teachers Academy was being closed over a land grab, and her position on that was not the right position. Parents had to go to state appellate court in order to get that victory. Situations like that give me pause.”

But Anello and Swanson answered with high praise for the work Jackson has done and strong endorsements for her continuing to run the show at the nation’s third-largest school district.

Anello touted Jackson as a down-to-earth and accessible schools chief.

“If you want to have a conversation with her just pick up the phone,” he said. “That is rare in a school leader. It would be a shame and an absolute mistake to tell her to step down when you have a unicorn.”

Swanson said Jackson’s on-the-ground experience in school communities helps her relate to and inspire educators and school leaders, and her experience managing the $5 billion Chicago Public Schools make her a strong candidate to keep the job, whoever occupies the mayor’s office next year.

“I think Janice is an incredible leader, really unique,” Swanson said.

Panelists also diverged on whether the new mayor should freeze charter school expansion in the city.

Garcia questioned whether the city’s more than 100 charter schools have lived up to their billing as laboratories to experiment with and improve education. Chicago, he said, has “been infected with charter mania,” and instead needs to pivot toward the importance of ensuring current schools are adequately funded.

Anello tried quelling the debate on charters vs. neighborhood schools, arguing that parents are agnostic about school type and more concerned about quality education and good schools for their children.

“I would start by listening to communities and families,” he said.