Tulsa school board hears from EdLabs official about school-turnaround efforts
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, February 15, 2013
2/15/13 at 5:43 AM
The Tulsa school board held a special meeting Thursday with a noted Harvard economist who is engaged in school-turnaround efforts in Houston and Denver.
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard described the visit by Roland Fryer as "exploratory" in nature, and although several school board members had met privately with Fryer several months ago, it was his first introduction to the full board.
Fryer is director of EdLabs, a Harvard-based education research and development laboratory devoted to eliminating the racial and socioeconomic difference in education achievement, commonly referred to as the "achievement gap."
Over the last three years, Fryer and his team of researchers have been working with some of the lowest performing public schools in Houston and Denver to see whether techniques that have worked in high-performing charter schools can also raise scores in traditional public schools.
He explained that their approach was based on a two-year analysis of dozens of high-performing charter schools and hundreds of variables in their approach to education.
What they ended up with were the five tenets that now guide their turnaround work, including providing more time on task and daily tutoring by professionals to help students catch up.
"There's no rocket science here," Fryer told the school board.
He conceded that the research's still-early results are mixed.
"We have had great results in math but nothing to write home about in reading," he said. "Those results are consistent with high-performing charters."
In Houston's "Apollo 20" school sites, the school day has been extended by one hour to allow tutoring to be staggered throughout the class schedules. Fryer said they hired hundreds of tutors, including many NASA retirees, and found that a modest $20,000-a-year salary was enough to attract nearly 1,200 applicants because of the promise of making a difference in the lives of children.
He mentioned that in some cases, teacher-turnover rates have been higher than 50 percent, mostly because of the greater demands for time and professional development.
All of the EdLabs schools use frequent benchmark assessments so teachers can adjust as needed throughout the year, including reteaching material when necessary.
"What ineffective schools do is teach, teach, teach, and in April, the kids take the tests. Two weeks before the school year is over, they get the test results, and they try again next year," Fryer said.
It was no coincidence that several representatives of the George Kaiser Family Foundation attended Thursday's meeting, as a significant portion of Fryer's work in Houston and Denver has been supported through outside funding.
The EdLabs project in Houston costs $1,867 more per student than what Houston Public Schools was originally spending. But ever the economist, Fryer told the board that EdLabs had calculated that, taking into account the higher rate of income those students will eventually earn and the taxes that can be collected on that additional income, the return on the investment by Houston's donors would be 22 percent.
Board member Bobbie Gray said she was impressed, and member Lana Turner Addison said, "I am hopeful that Tulsa Public Schools will consider working with you in the near future."
Board President Gary Percefull asked about the disparity between EdLabs' results in student math and reading scores.
"I am not satisfied with it," Fryer replied. "In fact, I'm obsessive about it."
Five tenets of EdLabs
Original Print Headline: TPS board hears 'turnaround' report
- Human capital management ensures that teachers and school leaders are qualified and accountable for results.
- More learning time is necessary for students whose achievement is lagging.
- Data-driven instruction means results of frequent assessments are used to adjust teaching throughout the school year, not just after end-of-year state test results are received.
- "High-dosage" tutoring is a routine part of students' school day.
- Creating a culture of high expectations increases academic achievement, attendance and graduation rates.
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Roland Fryer: The noted Harvard economist expects the changes to reap profits