Yesterday (Saturday Feb 23rd) the Boston Globe ran an editorial about the Renaissance Charter School, one of the oldest charter schools in the state and one that, until recently, was hailed as a shining example of how charter schools supposedly outshine their traditional district counterparts. According today’s Globe editorial, test scores at the Renaissance have plummeted (Pioneering Renaissance School must explain recent woes) and the honchos at the Globe are demanding answers.
For the sake of disclosure, I should mention that I am a teacher in a traditional, unionized BPS school and I am a staunch opponent of the current charter funding mechanism and the constant drumming in the press that charter school success (what little they have to show) is somehow based on the lack of a collective bargaining agreement for charter school employees. But that much aside, I do know that at many individual charter schools (even the many that are struggling; and there are MANY that are struggling) there are a large number of serious, hardworking educators who care about children and who work hard to do the right thing by the kids and families they serve. The same is also true of true of traditional district schools as well.
That much said I would like to offer a genuine proposal to help my fellow educators at the Renaissance improve their instruction and raise their students test scores – at least in sixth grade math (which The Globe identifies as an area of weakness at the school).
Over the last three years, the Boston Teachers Union, in partnership with the Boston Public Schools and the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund, has launched a cutting-edge initiatve called 21st Century Lessons which brings together exemplary educators to create full units of innovative lessons that are embedded with best practices and aligned to standards. Each unit contains everything that an educator needs to deliver the highest quality instruction possible including PowerPoint presentations, teacher notes, homework assignments, practice activities, and assessments, all of which can be modified by educators to meet the specific needs of their students and/or classroom. These units have been uploaded to two websites where they can be downloaded by educators here in Massachusetts and around the world – free of charge. The units have not been online very long and already they have been viewed over 30,000 times with almost 10,000 download. They are being used by thousands of teachers who work at both traditional and charter schools in at least 47 states around the country.
Will these units help educators at the Renaissance improve student achievement?
In a word: yes. According to two years of controlled (and randomized) testing, the students who are taught by teachers using these units experience 20-25% more growth (pre vs. post tests) when measured against teachers who use their own lessons or some other curriculum. Also according to our user satisfaction survey data, our most frequent users rate the quality of these units as a “9” on a scale of 1-10.
Where can educators find these lessons?
Currently there are three units of sixth grade math, and two units of middle school social studies. They can be found at ShareMyLesson.com and BetterLesson.com. Educators who use them will need to create user accounts at one or both of these sites (which is free). Once an account is created, our units can be found by using the search phrase “21st Century Lessons” or by clicking on the following links.
On ShareMyLesson.com our lessons can be found by clicking here.
On BetterLesson.com our units can be found by clicking here.
If there is some problem accessing these materials, feel free to respond to me on Twitter @TedChambers.
In closing, I would like to mention that we now have decades of data shows us what works, and what does not work in education. Segregating kids does not work (assuming that one care about educating all children). Arguing about which model of governance is “best” is completely pointless because there is not a shred of data that shows that a “singular” model for excellence exists. Getting rid of collective bargaining agreements does not positively impact student achievement (see: Alabama and Tennessee). And hammering kids with standardized tests and overly rigid systems of discipline is not ultimately going to fix anything.
Over all, the only thing that increases student achievement is improving instruction, but instead of putting instruction first and foremost the debate in education reform is still mired in a pointless argument about ideas that are decades old and can hardly be considered ‘innovative’ anymore. For more than twenty years now we have been arguing about which model of school governance works best and we have completely ignored the fact that in both traditional and charter schools teachers are still forced to follow a work model that is literally 19th century in origin. In this day and age, with all of the data and technology available to us – this situation is absolutely unconscionable. There is no ‘magic bullet’ in education. There is no simple button we can push that will automatically solve all of the problems and challenges facing education, but we can make it much easier for teachers every where to deliver higher quality instruction on a more consistent basis. Using the Common Core Standards as our guide, we can now bring great teachers together to create amazing units of lessons, lessons that increase student engagement and student achievement. We can then use the Internet to make sure that EVERY teacher in every school has access to the tools they need to deliver the highest quality instruction – every single day.
That’s what 21st Century Lessons is all about, and that’s the kind of leadership and innovation that the Boston Teachers Union and its members are bringing to the discussion around education reform.
Follow me on Twitter: @TedChambers