Thursday, October 29, 2009

Higher Achievement Applauds Gains in Baltimore

The Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) has been receiving a tremendous amount of positive press primarily due to the gains in student performance and the community-wide embracing of BCPS CEO Andres Alonso. We commend Dr. Alonso for his vision, strategy and engagement of the community – teachers, principals, students, families, and program providers—to bring about much needed improvement in public schools.

An article in Education Week states that BCPS graduation rates are modestly rising, out-of-school suspensions have plummeted, and, for the first time in decades, enrollment in Baltimore public schools is going up. This is exactly the picture Higher Achievement was impressed by when it decided to have Baltimore as its first replication site outside of Washington, DC.

Higher Achievement, a rigorous, year-round academic enrichment program for hardworking, motivated middle school students conducted an 18-month due diligence and advance work process that started by looking at 23 cities that showed promise, vision and structure for school improvement. Higher Achievement wanted to be in school districts that were also working hard to improve student performance and close the achievement gap. From the beginning, Baltimore was at the top of that list.

Another impressive strategy that Mr. Alonso implemented is giving more budget authority to principals. When principals have the power to make decisions around resource allocation and align it with their academic mission and goals, positive things happen. Teachers get more support, families get more engaged, and students learn and achieve. These strategies have been piloted, tested, and proven effective in many school districts across the country. The alignment of vision, authority, resources and public will always win the game.

Because of these structural changes and academic gains, the Baltimore community needs to invest more in building more supports for teaching and learning. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores across the country indicate impressive gains made at the 4th grade level but insignificant ones at 8th, which tells us that middle school is where we need to focus. Even Mr. Alonso pointed to the fact that he needs to focus at the 6th and 9th grade levels to prevent drop out and departure problems. Addressing this goes beyond the hands of educators. Programs like Higher Achievement can help maintain momentum and continued progress through the middle school and help prepare students face the rigors of high quality high schools and , in Baltimore’s case, the transformation schools.

As an out-of-school time program, Higher Achievement can be a connector between educators, families and other community-based programs to create that cohesive advocate for student achievement. We align our curriculum with the state academic standards, we base our performance and outcomes on grades and standardized test scores, and we create a cadre of "scholars" who are not only performing well academically, but also are conscious of what is happening in their community and how they, as its young citizens, can contribute to its continuous development and improvement. We all have a stake in the community’s future.

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