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I’ve taken a long reprieve from blogging. Since my last post my wife and I had our second baby girl (Ruthie), I’ve started a new initiative at Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) for blended learning and whole school improvement, and our outreach work in Haiti continues to be incredibly successful and growing (more on that soon).  Things have been busy.

My last post was arguing for the merits of blended learning.  But the proof is in the pudding.  Last year I worked along side of an ACE graduate in Seattle, Kelly Surapaneni, to lead ACE’s first foray into blended learning.  We worked with St. Paul School in Seattle, WA, and conceptualized the project as a whole-school strengthening effort, including things like leadership development, instructional coaching, PLCs, data driven instruction, and efforts to strengthen school culture.  We thought that these best practices, combined with the personalized attention and differentiation allowed by blended learning, could result in significant gains in student learning and help renew a struggling school.

The early results are in… and it was an impressive success.  We are now working in six Catholic schools in three cities, Seattle, the Twin Cities, and Toledo, and continuing plans to expand the model for next academic year.

See below for a summary from the ACE news release.

Seattle students achieved 147% of growth targets in math and 122% in reading during the first year of the program

Students at St. Paul School in Seattle, a school that serves lower income Asian Pacific Islander and African-American students, are achieving impressive academic gains using an innovative blended learning and school improvement model developed by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame.

As measured by the Northwest Evaluation Association Measurement of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP), students achieved 147% of growth targets in math and 122% in reading during the first year of the program, similar to a school wide average of a year and a half of growth in math and a year and a quarter in reading. The average eighth grade student achieved 233% of growth targets in math—akin to two and one-third years of growth—over the past academic year.

stpaulstudents

“The initial results are particularly promising,” Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C, the founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education, said. “St. Paul students are performing remarkably well—we are thrilled by the promise this model shows, and believe it can be a powerful tool that more schools like St. Paul can deploy to continue the Catholic school legacy of providing students with an excellent education.”

TJ D’Agostino, who directs the project at Notre Dame, said the success St. Paul students are experiencing is due to teachers more effectively meeting the needs of each child with the benefit of powerful blended learning software, and school leaders continuously strengthening teachers with targeted professional growth in high yield areas like the use of data and deepening a culture of high expectations, key areas of focus for the training and support that ACE provides.

“Blended learning can be a powerful driver for schools to provide a customized education for every child,” D’Agostino said, “though it is most impactful when paired with other best-practices, like data driven instruction, professional learning communities for teachers, and ongoing instructional coaching.  We work closely with the principal and a team of lead teachers to implement these comprehensive strategies.  The results have been transformative.”

I’m grateful to Andrew for clarifying some definitions, raising some questions, and stirring the pot a bit.  I’d like to get to Andrew’s question around the pedagogy implicit in blended learning models, and his desire to dig into whether they liberate students through learning or shackle children to computer screens, merely drilling them with ostensibly rote learning.

But I’ll need to wait until the next post to get to this great question, because I’d first like to respond to a few particular points:

  1. Rocketship Schools: We should be careful about interpreting the quote from the PBS interview with too much liberty. Andrew suggests that “one high-profile charter school, Rocketship, for instance, does not receive such feedback from their much-discussed learning labs.”  I hear the Rocketship principal recognizing that there are challenges with gathering and optimizing this data as fully and efficiently as they would like, not that they are failing to receive it at all.  This post by Charlie Bufalino, a former Online Learning Specialist at Rocketship, addresses this point, suggesting that the problem involves integrating multiple sources of data from different online curriculum programs, and having them aligned and synchronized for efficient teacher use.  In other words, there are inefficiencies, as with any new technology, and opportunities for improvement.  But this does not mean that teachers are not getting the information at all, nor that a blended learning environment is not far more data rich than a traditional classroom environment.
  2. In defense of Batman: Despite Andrew’s deconstruction of the Batman metaphor, I will try to defend its relevance (though I need to admit I stole it from Jeff Kerscher, an ACE grad working with Seton Partners’ on their blended learning “Phaedrus Initiative” out in Seattle, and I thought it very clever!). I assume Andrew’s zeal was, in part, for the chance to evoke an image of Donald Trump driving the bat-mobile with his hair blowing in the wind.  I’m OK with the hero language in reference to teachers and the travails of education, though I can appreciate Andrew’s points.  Yes, it is Batman’s courage, character and karate skills that make him heroic, but the technology brings his game to the next level.  The makings of a hero are already there, but the technology optimizes and leverages his skills, virtue and commitment.  That’s the point.  Blended learning can take a strong teacher’s game to the next level.

Here’s an anecdote to make this point more concrete.  An exceptionally talented teacher in L.A. working with Alliance charter schools had been recognized on multiple occasions as teacher of the year for the city and had achieved heroic academic results for low-income children.  When Alliance switched to blended learning, she transitioned to the new approach to teaching.  When my friend Joe Womac talked to her about the transition, her eyes welled up with tears while saying: “If only I had blended learning earlier there are so many more children I could have reached.”  This woman is a hero.  She was before and regardless of any technology.  But why not give her a Bat-mobile and bulletproof body-armor and see what she can do with it!?  According to her own testimony, blended learning was a game changer for optimizing her skills and commitment.

This WSJ article by Staphanie Banchero and Jennifer Levitz detail some of the promising signs for Catholic schools nationally, Vouchers Breathe New Life Into Shrinking Catholic Schools.  Though much of the largest gains are in states with voucher and tax-credit programs, especially promising is the enrollment growth in large cities like Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles – all in states which lack publicly funded scholarship programs.  It is notable that all three cities have a large commitment to privately funded scholarships and have been proactive in welcoming Latino families to Catholic schools, two factors that may explain some of their recent growth.

One has to wonder if the combination of expanding voucher and tax credit programs and efforts to innovate and adapt to changing markets have started to yield a systemic turnaround.  Though too early to suggest that the 50 year storm of enrollment decline and closure is abating, these are very promising signs that fairer weather may be on the horizon.

For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life. Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic Catholics and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from closures and declining enrollment.

Chicago Catholic elementary schools saw enrollment increase 3% this year and 1% last year—the first two-year growth spurt since 1965. Greater Boston elementary schools had a 2% bump—the first in 20 years. And Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Bridgeport, Conn., also added desks for the first time in years.

Nationally since 2000, U.S. Catholic school enrollment has plummeted by 23%, and 1,900 schools have closed, driven by demographic changes and fallout from priest sexual-abuse scandals. Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia have announced plans to close even more Catholic schools.

CATHOLIC_p1

But lately, Catholic schools have slowed their overall rate of decline. This year, two million children attended Catholic schools, down 1.7% from last, but less than the average yearly decline of 2.5% over the past decade.

The improving prospects for Catholic schools in some cities come at a time of great ferment in U.S. education. Years of overhauls in public schools have yielded only modest progress. And attendance at independent private schools fell during the recession.

This post by Fr. Tim Scully, CSC, and a reprinted excerpt from an original post at Spes Unica, a vocations and discernment blog of the Congregation of Holy Cross.


Fr. Nate Wills, C.S.C., teaching high school

In Holy Cross, we recognize the value of this providential legacy. But we also recognize that our goal isn’t just to keep the legacy alive – we’re not interested in life support or, worse, hospice! Instead, we need to bring this vision of hope boldly into the 21st century. And we need courageous witnesses to continue to take up the challenge – men like the Holy Cross pastors, priests, seminarians, and lay collaborators that you will hear from on this blog throughout Catholic Schools Week.

The central educational problem our Catholic Schools face today is captured by a dynamic that can best be summarized in three statements of fact. First: poor kids are in deep trouble. Second: there is an intervention that works. And finally: this intervention is not reaching the kids that need it.



An ACE-trained teacher in the classroom

 Poor Kids are in Trouble

First: Poor kids are in deep trouble. The most disturbing problem we face today is the gap in achievement between poor and minority children and everyone else. The stats on achievement reveal a grave injustice, which we see clearly in the circumstances of our nation’s most recently arrived—and largest—immigrant group, Latino families. While many call it an achievement gap, it’s really an opportunity gap. Many of these kids are assigned to schools that doom them to lives of poverty.

The data are well known to us:
• Black and Latino 12th graders read at the same level as White 8th graders.
• Only 52 percent of Latino children and 51 percent of Black children graduate high school in four years, compared to 72 percent of White children.
• Only 16 percent of Hispanic children and 20 percent of Black children are considered college-ready –meaning they have a high school degree, have taken the bare minimum courses required for college, and meet basic literacy standards on national tests.
But we believe there’s an intervention that works to close the achievement gap.

Catholic Schools Work
Decades of research tell us that no system of schools – charter, private, or public – has demonstrated such proven effectiveness for the children most vulnerable to unsatisfactory schooling as Catholic schools. There is no other educational intervention with a track record like ours. We know that children who attend our schools are 42% more likely to graduate from high school, and 250% more likely to graduate from college.


We know that the achievement gap among Black and Hispanic 12th graders is typically reduced or even closed when these students attend Catholic schools. We know that Catholic school graduates are likely to earn higher wages than their public school peers, more likely to vote, more civically engaged, and more committed to service when they are adults. But …


Fr. John DeRiso, C.S.C.,
at St. Joseph Grade School

This Intervention Is Not Reaching Most Kids Who Need It
Why, for example, do only 3% of United States school-age Hispanic children attend Catholic schools, when the research has demonstrated convincingly that Catholic schools are especially effective at closing the achievement gap of minority students? From the disappearance of Catholic schools in urban areas, to financial barriers, both real and perceived, to the need for pastors who will make the courageous decisions needed to run and support an excellent school, the obstacles for poor families to send their children to affordable Catholic schools are real. But, as our ancestors in the faith and predecessors in Holy Cross have demonstrated, these obstacles are surmountable with the gifts of hope, hard work, creativity, prayer, and dedication.

An ACE-trained teacher
in the classroom

The challenges stared down by past generations must serve as inspiration and a prophetic call that Catholic schools can continue to thrive in their mission to bring an excellent, faith-filled education to all who seek it, including the poorest among us. True to the charism of Holy Cross, signs of hope are present in abundance, though none are available without great effort and single-minded dedication, inspired and sealed by the grace of the Spirit. You will see many of signs and pathways to hope in this blog this week. The Congregation of Holy Cross, especially in our K-12 schools and in our universities’ commitment to providing continued talent and leadership for Catholic schools, remain “men with hope to bring” as we confront the challenges of the 21st century.

(The Following is a guest post from Bill Schmitt, Communications and Media Specialist for the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame)

Why do you support Catholic schools? The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a nationally recognized initiative at the University of Notre Dame,  has been asking people that question—and providing answers—as part of a celebration of Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 30-Feb. 5.

Several commentators are posting their answers at the “ACE Advocates” website that is officially debuting during the week. The comments will also be appearing at the Advocates’ Facebook and Twitter sites. The website contains a related feature called “Why Catholic Schools?” and also summarizes decades of rigorous educational research on school effectiveness, all of which points toward what scholars call “the Catholic school advantage.”

The “why” and the “how” of supporting Catholic schools was also addressed by ACE on more than 100 Catholic radio stations on Monday, Jan. 31. ACE’s John Schoenig spoke about Catholic schools and school choice on the Son-Rise Morning Show, broadcast nationally. Schoenig is director of the Program for K-12 Educational Access within ACE Consulting.

ACE has participated in a number of media discussions about Catholic schools, from Our Sunday Visitor to US Catholic. Go to ace.nd.edu and click on the links in the “News” section of the homepage to see the articles. Follow the new ACE Advocates website to find the latest news plus opportunities to put one’s support for Catholic schools into action.

ACE Advocates is a national movement under the ACE umbrella, uniting Catholic school supporters to foster greater commitment to, support of, and innovation for Catholic schools. Other ACE initiatives at Notre Dame include a long-standing formation program for new Catholic school teachers that sends its participants to work in under-resourced schools around the country. A related initiative, the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, prepares its participants to become Catholic school principals and leaders in diocesan school systems.

ACE co-founder Rev. Timothy Scully, CSC, reflected on challenges and hope in Catholic schooling in a piece published Jan. 30.  His comments are posted at Spes Unica, a blog of the Congregation of Holy Cross vocations office.  Father Scully is director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, an academic unit that includes ACE’s master’s degree programs and interdisciplinary research endeavors such as the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, directed by distinguished sociologist Mark Berends.

Please feel free to spread the word about ACE’s activities. We welcome mutual linking. Comments or questions for any ACE people? Bill Schmitt can be your first step at wschmitt@nd.edu and 574-631-3893.

The past few years have seen the birth of a number of new organizations and initiatives in support of k-12 Catholic schools, largely in response to the onslaught of closings and the deep awareness of the vital contribution that Catholic schools make to our communities, our nation and our Church.  When so much of the news is dire for Catholic education, it’s worth stepping back a bit to see the rebirth that is taking place around us.  If necessity is the mother of invention, then a sustained 50 year crisis must be worth something!  And there has been a notable amount of invention recently that offers  hope for the future of Catholic education in the U.S.

Here is a list of major new initiatives emerging over the past couple of years that could make a meaningful contribution to Catholic schools nationally or regionally.  This list is not exhaustive nor does it pretend to be, and hits heavily on activities at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, with which I am most familiar.  But its a good start and I’m happy to add activities that I’ve missed if folks will share the good news!

ACE Consulting

Catholic Alumni Partnership

Catholic Education SIG at AERA

Catholic School Advantage Campaign

Center for Catholic Education at LMU

CHEC

Program for k-12 Educational Access

ND ACE Academies

Seton Education Partners

In the days ahead I’ll offer a little profile of each of these exciting new initiatives in support of Catholic education.

I wanted to offer a bit more about Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, the driving force behind the Catholic School Advantage (CSA): The campaign to increase Latino participation in Catholic schools sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education.

Specifically, he offers a beautiful reflection about his Christmas in a small town in Mexico.  A key message of the CSA campaign is to foster greater cultural responsiveness in our Catholic schools.  Reading about Fr. Joe’s reflection and spiritual journey in Mexico is a great place to start your cultural education.

A great article in the U.S. Catholic called an Unexcusable Absence: Catholic Schools Recruit Hispanic Students.  As I was very involved with the Latino Task Force at Notre Dame and worked closely with Fr. Corpora to help launch the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, I can say with confidence that this article hits the nail on the head.

At the forefront of this new outreach effort, the University of Notre Dame in December 2008 commissioned a Task Force on the Participation of Latinos in Catholic Schools. The ambitious goal of this project, which reflects complementary desires to close the Latino academic achievement gap and to reverse enrollment declines in urban Catholic schools, is to double the percentage of Latinos attending Catholic schools, from 3 to 6 percent by 2020. Given population growth estimates, this goal means increasing the national enrollment of Latino children in Catholic schools from 290,000 to more than 1 million students over the next decade, according to the university.

Just more than a year into the campaign, Notre Dame’s Father Joe Corpora, the task force’s co-chair, says it’s too soon to see significant growth in Hispanic Catholic school enrollment, but he can tell that awareness already has heightened.

“This has been met with more interest and enthusiasm than anything we’ve tried to do,” Corpora says. “Every pastor and principal has asked us the question, ‘How can we get more Latinos in the Catholic schools?’”

Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education so far is consulting with schools in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Brooklyn, and San Antonio. It has received inquiries from schools in at least 50 more cities but lacks the resources to partner with all of them, Corpora says, noting he has logged 80 trips to those five cities over the past 14 months.

Lost in immigration

While acknowledging that Bonesz’ predicament is very real, the task force has discovered that it’s more than financial constraints keeping most Hispanic families away from Catholic schools, Corpora says. Two other factors are at play: First, in most Latin American countries there is no such thing as a parish school, so the entire concept is new to many Latino immigrants. Used to Catholic “academies” serving only the most affluent families, families do not even check out local Catholic schools. “They have no idea there are scholarships and aid available,” Corpora says.

Also, Catholic schools in the United States have been slow to realize the differences between Latino immigrants and the descendants of Western European immigrants who founded the schools.

“They’re not culturally responsive to Latinos, which means the culture of the school looks nothing like the culture of their homes,” Corpora says. Because many Latino immigrants work hourly wage jobs, for example, they lack flexibility in their schedules to meet with school staff as needed. Also, many schools’ printed marketing materials never reach them, especially those only in English.

“Our schools for years and years served immigrants. When the immigrants stopped looking like immigrants, we’ve never re-invented our schools to serve today’s immigrants,” Corpora says. “The church has not gotten smart enough to adapt to the local clientele.”

In an 18-month pilot project aided by consulting from Notre Dame’s ACE program, the Diocese of Brooklyn is targeting 30 of its schools situated in areas with large Hispanic population growth in recent years. The goal is to boost Hispanic enrollment 10 to 15 percent by this fall, says Brooklyn diocesan schools superintendent Thomas Chadzutko.

Among the most critical elements is a plan to implement a more personal outreach to Latino parents and adopting a more culturally sensitive outlook, Chadzutko says.

“It’s getting involved with Latino celebrations at the parish level, being a part of Latino prayer groups, and just providing them information on what Catholic education is in the United States,” he says.

Today’s Catholic, the paper for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, reported on a new effort under-way by the four diocesan high schools to engage the Latino population.  A number of leaders from the high schools in the diocese recently attended a workshop hosted by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and their Catholic School Advantage (CSA) campaign that seeks to expand the participation of Latino families in Catholic schools.  The workshop, held at Notre Dame’s campus from July 9 to 11, welcomed over 150 Catholic educators from around the country to discuss the critical need for Catholic schools to reach out to Latino children and families.  I’ve discussed the CSA campaign in earlier blog posts, here and here.

It’s great to see the Catholic high schools in the dioceses of Fort Wayne-South Bend really responding to the need to welcome and educate our newest generation of Catholic immigrants through our Catholic schools.  Here are a few highlights from the Today’s Catholic article.

All four diocesan high schools have recognized the importance of welcoming Hispanic students in their communities. Bishop Luers High School, on Fort Wayne’s south side, already boasts diversity as a school strength. Of the 546 students at the school, about 25 to 30 are Hispanic, according to Principal Mary Keefer.

Keefer feels it is important to get the word out to the Hispanic community. Those driving down Paulding Road in front of the main entrance to the school may notice signage in Spanish. “We must do more,” Keefer says. “Often our students must translate for their parents. We are working on putting more of our information in the Spanish language.”

“Our world is not made up of people who look the same, act the same, celebrate the same. Our school must teach our young people to embrace all, to see God in all.

A great blog post from the Franciscan Sisters that are working in partnership with the University of Notre Dame’s ND ACE Academies, one of the newest initiatives of the Alliance for Catholic Education.