Houston-based YES Prep wins the first Broad Prize for charter school management organizations.  We’re pretty high on YES here at BW – we work with them – and it’s a well-deserved accolade for a network that is changing lives and changing the education landscape down there. They’re not a household name like some other CMOS, but visit if you get the chance.

13 Replies to “YES!”

  1. Congratulations to these schools. Pay them a visit and I guarantee you will see poor but motivated and well-behaved students. Visit their parents and you will find poor but caring parents who filled out applications and signed contracts promising cooperation to get their children into these schools.

    These charter schools, with the help of the Broad Foundation, discovered the “secret” to a good school. It is this: a good school has a population of hard-working, well-behaved and motivated students. Their parents might be poor but they are generally loving and caring.

    This “secret” was first discovered by parochial schools that took poor immigrant children and gave them a decent education. These schools usually admitted only the children of parents who applied and paid a small fee or volunteered their time. As everyone knows, students who didn’t “measure up” were asked to leave.

    As a person who taught in poor schools for most of my career, I know that all poor people, like all people in general, are not alike. The majority of poor parents are good parents who want the best for their children just as the rest of us do. These are the people who opt for charter, parochial and magnet schools. Some go to work in affluent communities so they can enroll their children there.

    Go into any poor school and you will find vastly different situations for the children, although they do belong to the same “demographics.” “Jose” might be the son of hard-working Mexcans nationals who make a living by mowing lawns and cleaning houses while “Isobel” is the daughter of a single mom who has the same income but is not able to provide a stable environment for her daughter. Jose might be surrounded by a loving, extended family while Isobel wanders the streets alone each afternoon and evening, getting her meals where she can. It is Jose whose family will seek something better for him but research will list him and Isobel as being part of the same demographic. I know from experience that Isobel’s mother often doesn’t even know when school begins in the fall and just sends her child to school when the neighbors do. This is the parent who doesn’t even fill out the emergency cards, let alone an application to a “better” school.

    Every child deserves a good school within a safe environment and not just the kids lucky enough to have parents who care. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Mr. and Mrs. Broad went into a low-performing public school and asked, “What can we do to assist these teachers and children to make this school work for everyone? How can we prevent the disruptive child from stealing education from the well-behaved? How can we assist the teacher overwhelmed with 35 students in her class? How can we mentor the child who is absent from school a third of the time? Is there a “way out” for every child and not just the lucky few?

    I am not against schools that exlude others or are designed to attract the motivated. I sent my own sons to such schools but let’s not lie about it.

    Today there are two stories in the news: students who taunted an elderly bus monitor and a teenager who set another child on fire. This is the “elephant in the room” of education: very poorly behaved students who disrupt education for everyone else. That’s the real problem we face and excluding these students and saying “Oh, now we have a good school” will not solve anything. What we need more than anything else in education is the truth.

  2. “What we need more than anything else in education is the truth.”


  3. Linda: I heartily agree with your opinion: “These charter schools, with the help of the Broad Foundation, discovered the “secret” to a good school. It is this: a good school has a population of hard-working, well-behaved and motivated students. Their parents might be poor but they are generally loving and caring.”

    Supportive parents (who expect good behavior from their children and help the school staff maintain that level of behavior) are CRITICAL to a school’s success. Why more people don’t pay attention to this (instead of all the teacher bashing going on today) is beyond my ken.

    As you noted, it’s not the wealth, per se, of the parents, but their committment to their child’s education and their supportive attitude toward the school that matter. While this type of parental involvement is more highly concentrated in upper income/education families, I’d assume, it is by no means a staple in all upper income households and similarly is not absent in many poorer ones.

    Let’s stop blaming teachers and put more of the emphasis for student success where it more appropriately rests: On the attitudes and involvement of those students’ parents (and, of course, on the students themselves!).

  4. Linda and Attorney,

    How do you explain, then, that the YES Prep kids — if they had such remarkable family support — were scoring abysmally in Grades K, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5….before they arrived to YES?

    If your thesis were correct, wouldn’t we expect

    a. High entering test scores for these kids

    and therefore

    b. Low GAIN scores for YES, because it’d be hard to vault kids

    Alternative thesis

    YES is better at choosing teachers, training them, encouraging them, supporting them….than the school down the street.

  5. MG: In my opinion, many well-intentioned kids (and their families) are hurt by attending school with other less-well-behaved kids, who serve to disrupt class and distract the teacher’s attention. When I worked as a teacher, there would often be a handful of disruptive children that made it hard for the other kids to focus and for class to progress normally.

    In my opinion, what makes some of these charter and/or private schools different is that they can sift out those children and only let motivated kids attend. To my knowledge, many of these schools make families (parents and students) agree to a behavior contract and, therefore, can enjoy the support of the parents in enforcing attendance and behavior standards for the students.

  6. MG:

    I’d like to answer you with this personal anecdote:

    In the early 1980s I visited my son’s fourth grade class in an affluent, mostly-white school. The children had been divided into two classes: the high achievers and the low achievers. My son, along with other immature boys, had been in the “dumb” classes since second grade. Each year his standardized tests were lower than the year before.

    During my visit I noticed that the behavior of the students was very poor. The teacher, a Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA, was spending most of her time trying to engage the children and keeping control of the class. I went home to report this to my husband who said, “We can’t send our child to a school like that.”

    We started looking around and visited a number of schools at Open House. I chose the school with the best student work. This was a parochial school with a modest tuition.

    My husband and I almost immediately noticed that the poorly paid teachers at this school did not seem as “sharp” as the teachers in the public school and a few were so unprofessional that we laughed on the way home from a conference. My son’s favorite teacher was unable to pass the CBEST to get a public school job, but everyone loved him and he later became principal.

    Still, there were no disciplinary problems at this school. One boy who didn’t behave was asked to leave. Every time I visited the school, the children were on task, teachers were free to teach without interruption, and parent volunteers protected students from bullying on the playground.

    Slowly but surely my son’s test scores started to improve. After high school he went on to UC and then to Stanford where he earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

    So to answer your question directly, MG, we know that the quality of the student population of any school (preschool or Harvard) has a profound effect on achievement. Kids learn a great deal from one another. Obviously, they profit from a classroom that is orderly and conducive to learning.The smart, well-behaved children in the traditional public school might have been greatly affected by the low-performing, poorly behaved students. Once they got to the charter schools where these children were excluded, their achievement improved, as it did for my son.

    Another thing to consider are the tests themselves. Private, parochial and charter schools are not as carefully supervised as traditional schools in regard to standardized tests. I know my son’s parochial school drilled the students on the exact test items. One year the teacher even sent the actual test home for “homework.” That year my younger son scored at the 99th percentile. Still I sent my sons to this school because of the behavior and achievement of the other students (based not only on tests but on observed performance). I must have made the right decision because my younger son went on to graduate from Harvard.

    Again, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with these selective schools but the research is very clear: a high performing school has high-performing students while a low-performing school has low-performing students. If you want to change the latter school dramatically, find a way to get rid of your worst students. That’s what most charters, parochial and private schools do. If you want to improve achievement for ALL students, find a way to ensure proper behavior for everyone. It would also help to honor our teachers and find ways to keep 50% of them from dropping out after a few years.

  7. Linda, um, uh, thank you for the stories.

    Attorney, if I understand, you’re saying that you believe the entering cohort of YES kids are those who

    a. Were really well behaved, with great families
    b. But low achieving, basically illiterate, based on exam scores

    So once freed of the misbehaving kids in their old schools, you believe, they flourish, not b/c the YES teachers work particularly hard or do anything particularly well, but mostly because they’re now surrounded by other similar kids?

  8. Linda: Thanks for sharing your experiences on this topic. I particularly agree with your final paragraph: “Again, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with these selective schools but the research is very clear: a high performing school has high-performing students while a low-performing school has low-performing students. If you want to change the latter school dramatically, find a way to get rid of your worst students. That’s what most charters, parochial and private schools do. If you want to improve achievement for ALL students, find a way to ensure proper behavior for everyone.”

    In my experience both as a teacher and as a student, I’ve noticed that student behavior (e.g., behavior of student himself AND his classmates) is critical in creating high-achievement for the school.

    I agree with you that in order for schools to overcome the problem of persistently poor behavior in some students, they either need to (1) Eliminate these students; or (2) Come up with a way to manage their behavior on a school-wide basis. In my opinion, either way could work. For example, I worked at a private, military-style school one summer where the students mostly came in with a history of behavior problems, but the entire school worked to impose immediate, consistent consequences for misbehavior. Of course, this worked in large part b/c it was a private, boarding-style school that was exempt from regular public school rules and politics AND the families supported the school and knew their kids could be kicked out for not behaving appropriately.

    Overall, I still don’t know why the ed-reformers spend so much time ignoring the elephant in the room: Student behavior/conduct. It influences everything from teacher retention to the learning of the other students to the teacher’s ability to plan a lesson each day. If I were in charge of failing schools, I would make student behavior and attendance my number one priority.

    Maybe we should try to change the prevailing attitude from “attending school is a right” to “attending school is a privilege, conditional on behavior and respect.”

    That attitude may sound kind of draconian, but if you’d seen the types of behavior that so many kids get away with today (and the horrible effect of this behavior on the school as a whole), you might consider it.

  9. Thanks, Attorney DC. You always get the point of my stories.

    To be more succinct: The test scores of any school that has a selective student population are almost always higher than schools that take everyone. Even when the teachers are excellent, as they undoubtedly are at the YES schools, the higher test scores are mostly attributable to the characteristics of the student bodies and their families.

    Isn’t it interesting that in this time of “data” in education, so many people are ignoring the results of many years of research?

  10. Linda: With all our good ideas, I wonder that more ed-reformers don’t listen to us? On that note, why does it seem like education reformers never get the opinion of actual teachers (or retired teachers) when they’re making their policy recommendations?

  11. Attorney DC: Basically teaching is “women’s work” and you know what that means. We won’t see real progress in education until teaching becomes a full profession with the kind of autonomy taken for granted in other professions. A teacher can be a real expert on teaching children to read but she will never be acknowledged as such as long as she is “just a teacher.” As I have said many times, one of the primary causes of our educational problems is the low regard many of our citizens have for teaching children. This is an ingrained cultural characteristic and that’s why it will be so difficult to change.

    Yesterday I read this fascinating book entitled “The Other Wes Moore “(by Wes Moore). It’s the true story of two black men with the same name who were born blocks away from each other in Baltimore. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran and business leader while the other ends up with a life sentence, convicted of the murder of a police officer.

    Although both young men were raised by single mothers, one mother had the resources and the determination to get her children out of the dangerous neighborhood and school, whereas the other (although loving) did not. It’s clear to see that a child raised in a high-crime neighborhood, where almost every kid is a drug dealer, has a good chance of becoming a drug-dealing criminal. One serious mistake the mother of the criminal makes is to leave her young children unattended while she works. One huge support would be to provide high-quality child care for parents who need it. Also, we learn that the mother of the unfortunate Wes Moore was a student at Johns Hopkins but had to withdraw when her Pell grant was discontinued. Could there have been a better investment for taxpayers than to pay this woman’s tuition? How would that have changed her life and that of her son? How much would it have save the taxpayers in the long run if she had been helped when her kids were little?

    Teachers know that ten-dollar tests and all-black test-prep academies are not going to save these children. We need to find a way to offer them a safe environment along with social and medical supports. It is a well-known fact that teachers in inner-city schools would never enroll their own children there and it has little to do with their colleagues. Likewise, few if any, “reformers” would enroll their own children in KIPP or YES Prep (or whatever it’s called). To me, that says it all. These schools might help a few, but they are not the answer.

    Fortunately there are more and more people who ARE listening to teachers. Once the effects of this recession have worn off, I think we’ll see some dramatic changes for our least advantaged children: public school open enrollment, subsidized housing in ALL communities, small community schools with experienced teachers, mentors and supports for the children. We need to think outside the box. For example, perhaps suburban teachers would be paid to take small groups of children into their homes for “home schooling.” Basically we need to get children out of impoverished, high crime neighborhoods. The children are literally dying there and we’re all paying a high price. We need to shed our distinction of having the highest child poverty rate of all advanced countries. It’s a national disgrace. It’s time to put a stop to education by zip code. We can do better and I believe we will.

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