Urban Districts Pledge Progress for Boys of Color

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Leaders in some of the nation’s big-city school districts say they have new momentum—created by attention from President Barack Obama—to tackle one of the most vexing problems in urban schools: improving academic outcomes for African-American and Latino boys.

But despite the president’s high-profile call for action to improve the lives of boys of color in his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, doing so remains a monumental task for educators. There are no new federal funds to bring to bear, nor is there certainty that the current national focus on the well-being of minority boys will outlast the Obama administration.

Still, 62 big-city school systems—61 of them members of the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools—joined the White House initiative this past summer, with a pledge to ramp up their efforts to steer boys of color to higher achievement, better graduation rates, and more successful lives. In the months since, district leaders from Long Beach, Calif., to Anchorage have been reassessing existing programs, partnering with local businesses and governments, and calling for honest conversations about the role race plays in their policies and practices.

While many of the strategies under way are not necessarily novel, district leaders said the collective impact of dozens of school systems working to improve achievement for boys of color holds promise.

“It’s not just one district that’s moving on its own,” said Felton Williams, a member of the Long Beach school board. “They are moving as part of a collective whole. The difference with what you’re seeing now is synergy. Everybody is rowing the boat in the same direction.”

Click here for Urban Districts Pledge Progress for Boys of Color, Denisa R. Superville, Education Week, November 3, 2014

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It’s 2014. All Children Are Supposed To Be Proficient. What Happened?

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Take yourself back to those highly emotional, patriotic months after the 9/11 attacks.

In the midst of war, terrorism, fear and mourning, one bill passed 87-10 in the Senate and by a similar margin in the House — with equal support from both sides of the aisle. It was signed into law in January 2002 by George W. Bush, with the liberal lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, by his side.

The law set a simple if daunting goal: All of the nation’s students would perform at grade level on state tests. Every single one. 100 percent. Or as the name of the law put it, there would be No Child Left Behind. Here’s the formal language:

“Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-2002 school year, all students … will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievements on the State assessments …”

So here it is, 12 years later, 2014. And the law, NCLB, is still in effect. All children, under federal law, are supposed to be at grade level.

Spoiler alert: They’re not.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the “Nation’s Report Card,” “proficiency” rates last year were below 50 percent for every racial and ethnic group, in both reading and math, in both 4th and 8th grade. The exceptions? Asians, in all subjects (51-64 percent) and whites in 4th grade math only (54 percent).

So, what is proficiency, anyway? Did the 100% goal ever make sense? What were the impacts of setting such a goal, positive and negative? And where do we go from here?

Proficiency, as defined by the law, ain’t nothing but a number. Morgan Polikoff, an education professor at the University of Southern California, calls it a “crude gauge of student performance.”

Please click here for the full story from nprED by Anya Kamenetz (October 11, 2014)

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Stamford Business Outlook – October, 2014

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Click here for the Fall, 2014 edition of The Stamford Business Outlook, a quarterly publication of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, published in conjunction with The Advocate. Please see the Stamford Achieves entry on page 8.

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Arne Duncan: Schools Must Give Poor and Minority Students Equal Access to Resources

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Months after data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights showed deep disparities between poor and minority students and their more advantaged peers when it comes to educational resources, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is putting school districts and states on notice that the office for civil rights can investigate states, districts, and even schools that aren’t doing enough to ensure equal access on everything from high-quality facilities to Advanced Placement courses.

The department outlined OCR’s role in ensuring equal access to resources in a letter sent today to states, school districts, and schools. The “Dear Colleague” letter marks the first guidance on the issue of resource equity released during the Obama administration.

Duncan talked up the guidance in a speech today to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference, saying it will put important tools in the hands on schools and communities.

“We will be a partner in that effort, but we will also be a watchdog,” he said. “We must be serious about increasing economic opportunity and … [recognize that we are] offering students of color less than what we offer other students.”

The letter makes it clear to school districts, states, and educators that OCR can look into resources disparities in a range of areas, including:

  • Equal access to educational opportunities, such as Advanced Placement courses, gifted and talented programs, college-preparatory programs, and extra-curricular activities. There could be many schools and states that fall under scrutiny—Of schools serving the highest percentages of black and Latino students, only 66 percent and 74 percent offer chemistry and Algebra 2, respectively, according to the federal civil rights data collection. 
  • Equal access to qualified teachers and school leaders, as measured by factors such as turnover, absenteeism, professional development, and whether or not the teacher is leading a subject in which he or she holds a degree. Schools have a long way to go in this area, too, according to the federal data collection. Nearly 7 percent of black students attend schools where more than 20 percent of teachers hadn’t yet met all state certification requirements. That figure was four times higher than for white students. OCR can also look into whether states and districts are providing poor and minority kids with their fair share of qualified support staff, such as school psychologists, guidance counselors and paraprofessionals, according to the letter
  • Equal access to school facilities. OCR can consider factors such as overcrowding, lighting, and accessibility for students with disabilities, as well as the quality of areas such as athletic facilities and science labs.
  • Equal access to technology, including laptops, tablets, the internet, and instructional materials, such as calculators and library books.

Please click here for link to full story.

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Big Year Looms for Common-Core Testing

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For four years, schools in nearly every state have been working to put the Common Core State Standards into practice in classrooms, but few have put them to the test—literally. This year, that changes.

The 2014-15 academic year is when nearly every state must have assessments in place to reflect the common core, or other “college- and career-ready” standards they have adopted. And unlike last year, when many states were allowed to cut back on their regular tests because they were field-testing new assessments, this year’s achievement results will be a cornerstone of states’ public accountability reporting.

The specter of college- and career-ready assessments has loomed large in education leaders’ minds for several years, since it comes with a volatile mix of novelty and risk.

Schools will be held responsible for how well they’ve imparted the new standards, even as skills such as reading complex text and demonstrating mathematical reasoning are new to many students, and as teachers are still figuring out how best to teach them. States face big drops in proficiency rates if the new tests are, as expected, tougher than the previous ones.

Even as educators steel themselves for those results, questions swirl about how well the tests will measure the standards they’re based on, and the skills educators value most.

Two dynamics further complicate the question of assessment.

Some states have moved to choose new tests after backing out of shared assessments or reversing their common-core adoptions.

And national uneasiness about the time and money spent on standardized testing, and about the decisions based on it, is increasing.

“We’re hoping that districts in Illinois, and everywhere, wake up to the problem with all the state testing, because this year it’s coming home to them as it never has before. It’s craziness,” said Cassie Creswell, who is helping organize opposition to testing in Chicago, where her 3rd grader attends public school.

Alignment Concerns

With next spring’s testing season already on the horizon, measurement experts worry that many states risk giving assessments that don’t fully reflect their academic standards. Allowing only months for a new or tweaked test­—or using an existing test for new standards—erodes the likelihood of good alignment, they warn.

“When you’ve developed a test with one goal in mind, and that target is changed, you’ll have a misalignment between assessment and instruction, and that’s not good for anybody,” said Stephen G. Sireci, the director of the Center for Educational Assessment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

State education leaders are all too aware of that uncomfortable truth as they transition to new tests. Iowa adopted the common standards—which cover English/language arts and mathematics—but chose to keep using its own state test this year.

Please click on link to read the full article – Big Year Looms for Common-Core Testing, Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, September 3, 2014

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How to Get Students to Work Harder

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Over the past five years, more than $200 million has gone toward launching the new Common Core standards, with the goal of closing achievement gaps in public schools. But for all their meticulous detail about math and language curricula, the standards fail to address one important factor: the psychological barriers that stand between many students and deeper learning. Unless students are motivated to take on the new standards, and persuaded that they’re up to the challenge, the Common Core could have the unintended effect of leaving many students even further behind.

Researchers like Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck—best known for her 2006 book Mindset—have been gathering insights into student motivation for three decades. New work by her colleagues makes a strong case for focusing on students’ perceptions of themselves. In a variety of studies, these researchers have found that students who doubt their academic abilities, or question whether students with their particular backgrounds belong at their schools, frequently fall behind or fail at school—regardless of their innate intelligence or the quality of the teaching they receive.

The good news is that students can be buttressed psychologically to tackle academic challenges. In one instance, David Yeager of the University of Texas at Austin, who studied with Dweck, and Stanford psychology professor Geoffrey Cohen report that students of color more frequently take steps to improve their performance when they trust their teachers’ commitment to helping them. For a study that was recently published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Yeager and Cohen had 7th-graders at a middle-class, racially diverse New England public middle school each write an essay on a personal hero. The teachers graded the essays the way they typically would, adding routine critical comments like “unclear,” “give examples,” and “wrong word.”

Then the researchers randomly attached one of two sticky notes to each essay. None of the students were aware that they were part of a study and thought their teachers had written the notes. Half of them received a bland message saying, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The other half received a note saying, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them”—a comment intended to signal teachers’ investment in their students’ success.

Then teachers offered the students an opportunity to revise their essays.

The results were striking. Among white students, 87 percent of those who received the encouraging teacher message turned in new essays, compared to 62 percent of those who got the bland note. Among African American students, the effect was even greater, with 72 percent in the encouraged group doing the revision, compared to only 17 percent of those randomly chosen to get the bland message. And the revised essays received higher scores from both the students’ teachers and outside graders hired for the study.

Please click on link to read the full article – How to Get Students to Work Harder, Thomas Toch and Susan Headden, The Atlantic, September, 2014

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STAMFORD — Over the objections of his friend, saying, “No, no, no, don’t say it,” Adonis Haughton, an incoming Stamford High School freshman, blurted out he wants to be a CVS pharmacist when he grows up, drawing laughter from some of the other students attending a weeklong seminar at the University of Connecticut Stamford.

The joke wasn’t that being a pharmacist is a funny profession. No, it hit home with many of the 30 students participating in the seminar because they had just heard a presentation on becoming a CVS pharmacist earlier that morning as part of their seminar on making the transition to high school from middle school.

It also hit home because of who they are and where they are in their development. They are 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds who are about to leave childhood behind, trading it for the slow climb to a reality that starts with high school. Part of that transition includes your dreams and how they will change.

As a child, you may dream about becoming something great. You see yourself as a globe-trotting musician or doing something heroic on a daily basis. You might even believe you can become the king or queen of a small country, but rarely do you dream of being a pharmacist.

But that’s the point of the Stamford Achieves seminar Beyond Limits, organizers say: to let youngsters see there is a reason, even if it makes them giggle a little, to dream of being a pharmacist. It’s a good job and it’s not easy to become one, noted one of the seminar speakers as the laughter died down.

Andy Sklover, Stamford Achieves director of advocacy and education, said the program came about as part of discussions that teachers, parents and students had during the district’s high school call to action.

Stamford Achieves, which is a nonprofit focused on eliminating the achievement gap between students in public schools, funded it with the idea that students entering high school need to understand they are laying the groundwork for their real futures as marine biologists, FBI agents, optometrists, artists and yes, pharmacists.

Teachers, administrators and counselors at the middle schools provided a list of students who might benefit from the seminar, who were invited to apply, Sklover said. The majority of students, he said, were viewed by their teachers as having potential, but who are mid-tier level. The concern, Sklover said, is that these are the students who might fail when they’re confronted by the bigger schools and the more demanding academics.

Adonis said, “Mostly B’s and C’s,” when asked what kind of grades he gets.

“Mostly ‘A’s,” he responded when he’s asked what he should be getting.

For the full story, please click here.

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New Program Assists in Transition to High School

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Summer’s winding down, the school year is around the corner and a new program is helping middle schoolers transition to high school.

“We’re giving them tools for high school, tools for success,” said Andy Sklover, director of education and advocacy for Stamford Achieves.  “As our motto says, we want to prepare them to succeed.”

Andy Sklover says the non-profit Stamford Achieves came up with the Beyond Limits Scholars Program, in conjunction with Stamford’s High School Call to Action Committee.

Stamford Achieves is an organization serving as an advocate and catalyst for closing the achievement gap in Stamford Public Schools, and it’s launching the pilot summer bridge program this week.

“It’s an issue that people are addressing, or trying to address, all over the country.  Our numbers are not very attractive in terms of the number of students that are struggling, even mid-year students, in middle school when they get to high school freshmen year.  Unfortunately many of them are performing poorly,” said Sklover.

However, the program’s designed to offer a solution — helping 30 students prepare for the academic and social challenges ahead.

BLSP is running a one week intensive in partnership with Stamford Public Schools, Stamford YMCA, The Ferguson Library, Stamford Public Education Foundation, The Mayor’s Youth Employment Program, Future 5, and UConn Stamford.  But students who complete the week will be provided with additional support during this school year.

For video, please click here.

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Poverty Has Spread to the Suburbs (And to Suburban Schools)

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More Americans are living in poverty in the suburbs than in urban or rural areas, a dramatic demographic shift that has occurred since 2000, a new report by the Brookings Institution finds. It’s a finding that won’t be a surprise to plenty of suburban superintendents, who’ve seen that residential change reflected in the enrollment makeup of their schools.

“But as poverty has spread, it has not done so evenly. Instead, it has also become more clustered and concentrated in distressed and high-poverty neighborhoods, eroding the brief progress made against concentrated poverty during the late 1990s,” the report says. And that’s a problem because challenges associated with concentrated poverty—poor health, higher crime rates, and fewer jobs—”make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations.”

The report’s findings come from an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data for 2008 through 2012 from the nation’s 100 largest metroplitan areas. It found that the overall number of distressed neighborhoods, census tracts with poverty rates of 40 percent or more, has grown by 71.6 percent since 2000. In the same time period, the growth of distressed neighborhoods in the suburbs grew by 150.7 percent.

Click here for the full story by Evie Blad (July 31, 2014) in Education Week’s blogs > Rules of Engagement

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Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

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When Akihiko Takahashi was a junior in college in 1978, he was like most of the other students at his university in suburban Tokyo. He had a vague sense of wanting to accomplish something but no clue what that something should be. But that spring he met a man who would become his mentor, and this relationship set the course of his entire career.

Takeshi Matsuyama was an elementary-school teacher, but like a small number of instructors in Japan, he taught not just young children but also college students who wanted to become teachers. At the university-affiliated elementary school where Matsuyama taught, he turned his classroom into a kind of laboratory, concocting and trying out new teaching ideas. When Takahashi met him, Matsuyama was in the middle of his boldest experiment yet — revolutionizing the way students learned math by radically changing the way teachers taught it.

Instead of having students memorize and then practice endless lists of equations — which Takahashi remembered from his own days in school — Matsuyama taught his college students to encourage passionate discussions among children so they would come to uncover math’s procedures, properties and proofs for themselves. One day, for example, the young students would derive the formula for finding the area of a rectangle; the next, they would use what they learned to do the same for parallelograms. Taught this new way, math itself seemed transformed. It was not dull misery but challenging, stimulating and even fun.

Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, Elizabeth Green, The New York Times, July 23, 2014

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Stamford Achieves invites Stamford Public School teachers, administrators and representatives of community organizations based in Stamford to nominate an outstanding middle or high school student to be featured in our SA Spotlight. This feature of our website is designed to recognize students who have (1) made significant academic gains in core classes and / or (2) demonstrated a consistent concern for the success, academic or otherwise, of fellow classmates over the last 12 - 24 months.

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Stamford Achieves (SA) acts only as an intermediary between employers posting internship and job opportunities and student candidates. All hiring and compensation for work performed by students is handled directly between the student and the employer. SA also reserves the right to refuse to post or remove internship or job postings.

We do not guarantee or take responsibility for (a) the truthfulness, accuracy, quality, safety, morality, desirability or legality of employer information and position listings, (b) the ability of employers to offer internship and job opportunities, or (c) the hiring, recruiting or other practices of any employer. Students are urged to perform due diligence in researching employers when applying for or accepting employment.

For Students:

An internship, particularly for students at least 16 years of age, is a great way to get to know yourself a little better while building skills that will make you better prepared for the future. Internships can help you understand how a professional organization functions in the real world. While interning, you will have the opportunity to assess and refine your career goals. It is a “trial period”, an opportunity to test ideas about your interests and potential professions – whether it’s entertainment, non-profit, technology, health – without requiring a lengthy commitment. Just remember, no matter what you do and how long you do it for, do it to the best of your ability.

Some internships are “salaried” positions and some are strictly volunteer. Either way, you will likely gain valuable experience. Please note that most are highly competitive and you should pay close attention to the application deadlines.

Many organizations do not advertise the availability of internships or jobs and so it often requires some initiative on your part. With this portal, Stamford Achieves is seeking to aggregate internship and job opportunities for Stamford’s high school students.

Although we would ultimately like to post all student internship and job opportunities that is simply not realistic. Therefore, it is recommended that you conduct an internet search, look out for postings and check newspaper listings. Also, please use your networks – guidance counselors, teachers, parents, relatives, family, and friends – anyone who may have contacts within businesses or organizations that interest you.

For Employers:

The City of Stamford benefits tremendously from a large and diverse group of employers. These employers can and often do offer our high school students internship as well as job opportunities. However, employment opportunities are not typically aggregated so as to streamline the process for both the prospective employers and students. This portal is designed to be a simple and efficient way to maximize our tremendous resources.

We welcome your feedback as to how we can make this portal as productive and efficient as possible so please do not hesitate to email us at and thanks so much for participating.