Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

November 19, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

ASU charter school


  • We visit a charter school operated by ASU's non-profit division and examine the success behind BASIS charter school in Tucson.
Guests:
  • Michael Block - Chairman and Co Founder of Basis Schools
  • Carolyn McGarvey - Basis Schools
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons
>> To that end competing globally may require raising the academic bar. It's something our guest Michael Block and his wife did when they started basis schools. David Majure takes us to one of those schools and shows us how A.S.U. is researching new ways to provide education.

David Majure
>> Basis Charter School? Tucson is divided into a middle school for fifth through seventh grades and this upper school, grades eight through 12.

Carolyn McGarvey
>> If you were here at 7:00 in the morning, you would be amazed how many kids around these tables, and the older kids stopping by, an eighth grader saying, do you need help with that? Are you ok with that? You know there's so much comradery here because they all know how intense the work is.

David Majure
>> That academic intensity has earned basis recognition as one of the nation's top public schools.

Michael Block
>> It's the rigor and expectations. We have extremely high expectations.

David Majure
>> Michael Block started the school in 1998, out of the concern that American schools were falling behind those in other developed countries.

Michael Block
>> I had my own experience teaching at university of Arizona that when you got a for reason exchange student they almost always were at the top of the undergraduate class. So you have to ask yourself, why is that the case? And it appeared to me and that environment that it was their high school education.

Carolyn McGarvey
>> I sometimes think we're not doing enough to strengthen the education system in America.

David Majure
>> Before Carolyn McGarvey became director of the Basis Upper School, she was a mom concerned about her own children's education.

Carolyn McGarvey
>> I felt that the education was too gentle. I felt that my oldest son at the time had been learning an awful lot more and I believe that she was showing signs that he wanted more.

Teacher
>> They calculate the velocity --

David Majure
>> He got it when he started attending basis.

Carolyn McGarvey
>> A lot of hard work. We take them and they get a very rigorous education. We immediately introduce them to biology, chemistry, physics.

Michael Block
>> We just focus on getting the best possible education for the students and we don't let much stand in our way.

David Majure
>> Every class is an honors or advanced placement class. Students must routinely take advanced placement exams and those scores are factored into their overall grades.

Michael Block
>> No one gets promoted. No one gets credit without mastering the subject. Also the teachers are held accountable. We reward teachers based on how well they do. With the students that they have.

David Majure
>> The school is rewarded with outstanding scores on the AIMS test and the state's top designation as an excelling school.

Michael Block
>> We're not the only ones who can do that and when you see other place around the world who do it you realize that this is generalizable.

Phoenix's Roosevelt School District

  |   Video
  • A review of the latest on the state's unsuccessful attempt to take over Phoenix's Roosevelt School District.
Guests:
  • Larry Pieratt - Director, ASU Charter Schools Initiative
Category: Education

View Transcript
David Majure
>> Discovering new and improved ways to educate kids, innovations that can be passed from school to school is what the polytechnic school in mesa is all b it's a charter school that opened this year as part of A.S.U.'s university public schools initiative. Larry Pieratt is the initiative's director.

Larry Pieratt
>> It's a real opportunity for students to come in and learn and learn in different ways, an opportunity for A.S.U. in partnership with university public schools to introduce new innovations that take in pulling those best practices currently in the field to implement them, do the research and once proven worthy share those with all schools across the state with the goal of improving student achievement.

David Majure
>> Out of this temporary office building and into its permanent home research will be aided by cameras in the classrooms. Only A.S.U. researchers will have access to the video recordings, which are periodically destroyed.

Larry Pieratt
>> As education continues to grow we see innovation in lots of ways. People tend to pick different parts of it and implement it. What we are doing here is the whole thing.

David Majure
>> It includes team teaching formulating individual learning plans for all students, and grouping kids by ability but placing no limits on the level of work they can do.

Larry Pieratt
>> Our goal is that we create a college-going culture so all students here expected to go to college or university or post secondary experience of some sort. That's graduation isn't enough anymore.



David Majure
>> Teachers at Polytechnic Elementary spend 90 minutes each day in professional development. They earn merit pay and work 12 months out of the year.

Larry Pieratt
>> We have to be prepared to support that. Financial financially with those folks, they have that full-time pay. But the key is that we have to have the frame of mind this is a business about helping children learn.

David Majure
>> The university public schools initiative plans to add more member schools with diverse student bodies serving a variety of needs. Then it's up to the research to produce results that can be used to improve education.

Ted Simons
>> Michael, obviously, a school with high academic standards needs teachers that can get the kids there. How do you get those teachers? How do you keep those teachers?

Michael Block
>> Good question. One of the things we do is we search nationwide for talent. First requirement is that the teachers know their subject area. And if we make any errors at all it's on the basis of making sure that the teachers know their material. And we do pay a little bit better. We try to pay a little bit better than the competition. We also provide a very good environment. We provide an environment where the teachers have a lot of freedom. And where essentially they have students who are willing to learn. So it's a very good environment. We've actually started a major fund raising project in Scottsdale called the master teacher program, which we're now spreading to Tucson, where we actually give significant salary supplements to teachers, and that money comes from donations by parents and outside philanthropists and business firms, and we want to expand that program. I think you do have to pay for performance. But it also has to be an agreeable job. And we try to make it agreeable and accountable. There's no question that we make sure that the teachers produce. Because there's very little resting at Basis. But other than that, I think it's a pleasant environment.

Eugene Garcia
>> In our effort, you heard on the tape, we are look at this being a profession. You actually work at it. Secondarily as you work with your colleagues to essentially be sure that every day you are trying to reflect on and intervene in different ways that are related to how you have done that day or done that week or done that month. So I think what's really a professionalization of the teaching profession and our effort. Michael built a couple of good schools. Our effort is to not only bring good teachers in but have them work with us on new ways to think about teaching and innovation. The teaching force is actually hired one of their criteria is are you willing to participate in new things? Things that may not have, you had any experience before. So this sort of experimentation development is part of the idea of bringing on a good teacher.

John Wright
>> If you look at these two examples of innovation, the two schools described in the piece, you really see the sorts of components of good quality public schools that the education coalition and the A.E.A. work for all the time. And professionalization of teaching, paying a professional salary, having a year-round work force and 90 minutes or more of professional development each day, support of the parents, kids who want to learn. What we need to try to do is make this a social investment across Arizona so you don't have to rely on a partnership with the university or the philanthropy from Scottsdale residents to make it work in these two examples.

Ted Simons
>> Should teachers in more challenging school districts be paid more?

John Wright
>> I think that we find some sort of incentive pay to bring people into a district is often effective in the recruitment process but it won't keep them there. Because the compensation is necessary but insufficient. What they really need is the type of working environment you are talking about. Supportive administration, freedom to innovative and freedom to make their own classroom decisions

Ted Simons
>> Is that enough to get a teacher into a challenging district?

Eugene Garcia
>> I think it takes a lot of incentives, the support, ongoing professional development and it takes some success. Teachers will stay where they can be successful. And what you have in many places, a record of not being successful. Nationally one of the things that Title I, the federal effort has done is try to get the best teachers in the most challenging schools. That's not easy.

Ted Simons
>> And real quickly there are a few easy fixes in education. School -- and school districts north created equal. Some have more access to funding than others and some serve children with extra needs like school we are about to take you to. It's in a district that up until recently was facing a state take over because of poor academic performance.

Principle
>> Oh, boy. We'll tell you. So good morning, everybody. Good to see you.

Student
>> Good morning!

David Majure
>> Each morning as students arrive at Sierra Vista Elementary School in South Phoenix, the flag is raised along with renewed expectations of success.

Barbara Hatcher
>> We are looking for 100% passing. We need to help you, those of us who have passed, we need to help you achieve that goal.

David Majure
>> Barbara Hatcher teaches students in the fourth grade.

Barbara Hatcher
>> I set high goals where they come in. I tell them, you are smarter than you ever thought you were. And we are going to prove it.

David Majure
>> The school has a lot to prove when it comes to student achievement. For three straight years, Sierra Vista failed to make adequate yearly progress or A.Y.P. as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind law. After two years as an underperforming school, last year it was labeled a failing school by the state.

Daniel Salaz
>> But our label doesn't define who we are and certainly when we were labeled a failing school, that didn't define us as failures.

Daniel Salaz
>> How's it going?

Student
>> Pretty good.

David Majure
>> Daniel Salaz is the school's principal. He and the staff started taking a hard look at how to improve.

Daniel Salaz
>> The teachers came together here at Sierra Vista and we looked at the state standards. We looked at our pacing guide, curriculum maps and really came to terms with what is it our kids need to know and when do they need to know it?

David Majure
>> It was something the entire Roosevelt School psychiatric started doing in 2006 under the leadership of Superintendent Mark Dowling.

Mark Dowling
>> The district really took on the task of redesigning our curriculum. The other thing that happened in June of '06 was a training of 400 teachers voluntarily came in for training. I guess when you put that together, the big change is we became very child-oriented in our approach and it's paid off.

Barbara Hatcher
>> Excellent job.

David Majure
>> But it didn't pay off immediately. As of last year more than half of the district's 21 schools were underperforming or failing. This summer the state board of education considered allowing the state department of education to begin managing the district. But evidence of academic progress convinced the board to let Roosevelt continue managing itself. Now 18 of the district's 21 schools are labeled performing or better. Sierra Vista improved the most.

Daniel Salaz
>> So for three years we didn't make A.Y.P. for three years we were underperforming, and within a year's time, we made A.Y.P. and now we are performing plus schools knocking at the door step of being a highly performing excelling school.

David Majure
>> But continuing to improve will certainly be a challenge. Especially when 30% of its students are learning to speak English. And 90% live in poverty.

Daniel Salaz
>> And so there are these social, cultural factors that we are also contending with such as poverty, gangs, drugs, and how do we address those issues that are very real and prevalent in our young people's lives? Here at school.
Ted Simons
>> John, as far as labeling schools, the entire process, talk about how that affects the education experience.

John Wright
>> Well, labels won't bring about school improvement or school reform. In their own right. What you really want to do is have a focused effort of the school community as we just saw with Sierra Vista that says we want to improve. In that segment you heard the principals and teachers asking questions like what do our students need to know? How can we help them succeed? We are in the middle of this system that slaps label that is either cause consternation because they are punitive or cause to you celebrate because it says we have done great. But the real work is the work that we were watching just then. Planning instruction, assessing student performance and figuring out what to do to help their students improve and do it everyone better.

Ted Simons
>> Can labels make a difference?

Eugene Garcia
>> I think labeling is the wrong way to think about this. What you want to do is think about accountability, I think the idea that we need to have every child move ahead and learn to meet a set of state standards and maybe even national standards. How we measure that, labeling process, sometimes can be very negative. I mean, and you can get very bad consequences, negative consequences. Teaching directly to the test, doing that only is not good education. Being well rounded student sometimes is not on the mind of many instructors who essentially have to be worrying about what kind of score they will get on a test. Good instructors that results on a test, I think Michael would agree, is a product of what you do. It's not the goal. It's a product of good instruction. So labeling folks on the basis of that can have its negative consequences.

Michael Block
>> We approach this as a -- the test is a results are really a by product of the educational experience. I think there is an elephant in the room, and that is that we are really talking about when we are talking about state standards we are really talking about standards that are way below world standards. I mean, we have two problems. We have a level problem, that is the United States is at too low a level and we have an distributional problem, absolutely disgraceful schools in low-income areas. But we have two problems. Even our best schools, I mean, we are an excelling school but there are a lot of excelling schools I think that don't measure up by world standards. I like to think that we do. But we really need to focus on very high level. I mean, you go back to Finland. Everyone takes the same curriculum up through grade nine, which is really our age grade one above that. So it's 15 or 16. Very high standards. No excuses. And, you know, you can argue that they don't have the same diversity in the population that we do. They do have some diversity. They have laplanders. They don't make any excuses. Everyone has to meet these high standards. And I think that's -- that's key in this business. You can't ignore that.

Ted Simons
>> And can that national model work, national testing in general, a national model in particular, can that work here?

Eugene Garcia
>> I think we have talked a lot about standards. One problem is that they vary by state. Because we leave this up to the states to do. We have talked a lot about introducing national standards. Maybe voluntary at first. Maybe some of the way. But how do you raise standards nationally? Remember, good education is not just good for Phoenix, Arizona. It's good for the country. If we are going to be competitive globally then we need all of our students in the United States to do well. Not just pockets in the schools that Michael does, but we need them everywhere.

John Wright
>> Let's talk about in Arizona. We need to have a conversation among our communities to decide, does the set of high school requirements for graduation that doesn't meet the entrance requirements for our regents universities make sense in the 21st century? That's a very basic question to ask and we need to talk about that as well as standards and academic content areas and make sure we are recruiting and training and keeping the teachers who are able to provide that instruction.

Ted Simons
>> We will stop it right there. Great discussion. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for joining me on this special he had education of Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

The State of Education in Arizona

  |   Video
  • As a follow-up to the PBS documentary Where We Stand: America's Schools in the 21st Century, HORIZON asks John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association; Eugene Garcia, VP of Education Partnerships at ASU; and Michael Block, co-founder of BASIS charter schools how to improve public education in Arizona.
Guests:
  • Dr. Gene Garcia - Vice President of Education Partnerships, Arizona State University
  • Michael Block - Chairman and Co-Founder of Basis Schools
  • John Wright - President of the Arizona Education Association
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons
>>> Hello and welcome to Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Students in the United States ranked 25th in math and 21st in science out of 30 developed countries. In 1995, the U.S. was number one in the world for college graduation rates. In 2005, we were 15th. Those are some of the statistics cited in the PBS documentary "Where We Stand, America's Schools in the 21st Century." The program explored our nation's educational strengths and weaknesses and tonight on the special edition of Horizon we take a look at the state of education in Arizona. We start at a forum that took place last September sponsored by the Education Coalition of Arizona.

Interview
>> Every child deserves the opportunity to come to school and be in an environment where they can learn.

Larry Lemmons
>> In flagstaff and Tucson, at A.S.U. West and here at the headquarters of the Arizona Education Association in central Phoenix, educators, parents and elected officials watch the PBS documentary "Where We Stand, America's Schools in the 21st Century."

Speaker
>> I think it's important to have these conversations.

Larry Lemmons
>> After watching the program, there were questions to answer, like what changes must take place in our schools for Arizona students to compete globally?

Educator 1
>> We will require a students to tie one language, maybe two years of it in school where these other countries are forcing students to sink in all these different ways by teaching different languages.

Educator 2
>> For our students in Arizona, they're not getting the languages in third grade.

Educator 3
>> In addition to language I think we all need to look at science and math. You know, a lot of the reformers looking at American education in high schools are talking about rigor and part of that is the societal issue. I don't know about your district, but in my district, if there's too much homework, I will hear it a complaint from parents.

Educator 1
>> Other countries feel that hung tore want to compete but America, with all of the great things that occur here, maybe we have lost that hunger a little bit.



Educator 3
>> One of the single most important things, if we are going to raise the quality of education in Arizona or anywhere else in this country, for that matter, is going to be the quality of the teacher in the classroom. And we have all kinds of research to support that.

Educator 4
>> Yes, pay is part of it but a lot of it is, what are those support systems that are in place to keep through?

Educator 1
>> Arizona is one of the worst in this category. We spend less per students than just about every state in the country. That also translates into teacher salaries. We have teachers that make $24,000 a year.

Educator 5
>> What was concerning for me was the United States we are recruiting teachers from the bottom third of our college graduates. Within thing they pointed out from Finland all teachers immediate a master's degree. What do we need to do to make that change to actually produce quality people to be quality teachers?

Educator 6
>> Is it really the teacher program that's causing that or the mentality that anyone can teach? That for me is a professional educator who went to college to be an educator I find that to be a bit offensive.

Educator 3
>> I think we have to look at the curriculum, the work force, the working conditions, the funding. It's not -- it is not a simple issue.

Ted Simons
>> Here to talk about education in Arizona are Dr. Gene Garcia, vice president of Education Partnerships for Arizona State University. He has a background in teacher education and he's a member of the state's English Language Learners Task Force. Michael Block is chairman and Co Founder of Basis Schools which includes charter schools in Tucson and Scottsdale known for their academic rigger and John Wright, President of the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teacher organization. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us here on Horizon.

John Wright
>> Pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons
>> John, you were at one of the forums last night. Your reaction from what you saw and what you heard.

John Wright
>> Yes. We had about 40 people over at a central Phoenix location. And across the state four forums, 163 people. And for me it really was the process as much as the content to find value in. Because we had teachers, other school employees, district superintendents, principals, legislators, and parents, community members come and talk about these questions that the documentary posed. And what we really find is people want to talk about education improvement, and education reform, and the public schools for their children. And I think what we really need to recognize is that the 21st century has very different needs for our schools, very different needs than the system was designed to meet. And to have the conversation about what we look for in those schools and then how we rebuild and reform those schools to meet those needs.

Michael Block
>> I would think that in part, we are a victim of our own success. I'm old enough to remember the Sputnik era, and American schools have been -- have been compared unfavorably with schools around the world over a number of years. We probably have gone down relative to the rest of the world but we were always a little bit worse than the European and Asian schools. But we had a great, we had a great system relative to the rest of the world. We had more freedom. We had some better legal system. I think now we're a victim of our own success. That's spread all over the world and we have to compete now.

Eugene Garcia
>> I think the landscape has changed drastically. The demographic reality is not what it was in the 1950s or 1960s even in the sputnik era. I think we are now talking about being globally competitive and other people are catching up. We woke up and saw what we need from education is something very different than what we were doing. And I think the documentary tries to do that. It talks about globalization and what we have been trying to do to sort of keep up. It's not, I agree with Michael in that it's not just a matter of just doing what we have been doing and getting better at it. Other folks are actually doing better than what they were doing way back when we were great.

Ted Simons
>> Are there countries -- and I know you have been to Finland. Finland was referred to in the documentary. Are there countries doing things that we can learn? Can we learn from these countries?

Michael Wright
>> I'm sure. Finland only has 5 million people. I think we can learn from their high expectations and the way they train teachers. We went to Canada before that which is two or three depending on how you measure it. And we went to B.C. this is a state essentially, a province, very much like the federal system in the United States. A lot I think to learn from their high expectations.

Eugene Garcia
>> I think there's also another, in other countries interventions earlier on. For instance, in Europe, four-year-olds are in school. They are in preschools. So those are ways that we think not only about what our rigorous standards are and so forth but the entire system. When do you start? How do you move families and kids into places called schools?

John Wright
>> There's a lot to learn. Both in how we provide our education, but also in how we set our policies for education. Because what we found and what the documentary taught us when we watched it was the slope of improvement in growth for America's public school students has been fairly steady. But many other countries realized that was not good enough for them and they increased the investment, they increased the expectation, they increased their attention and those other slopes have been very much steeper and that's why they have surpassed us.

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