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April 2010
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Announcing The Challenge Network
Since its founding twelve years ago, Houston A+ Challenge has played a vital leadership role in education improvement efforts throughout the greater Houston area.  By bringing school leaders and others concerned about public education together to learn and to examine issues of shared concern, A+ has forged networks where none existed before.  In December 2009, the Board of Directors adopted a new strategic plan for Houston A+ Challenge that will guide the organization’s work over the next several years.  The Challenge Network, a multi-year, multi-district partnership launching in July 2010, marks a key component of this new strategic direction.  

The Challenge Network will partner Houston A+ Challenge with five area school districts.  The staff will work intensively with principals, teachers, and students in selected middle schools within these districts identified as ready and willing to raise the bar to better prepare students for post-secondary success.  The goal of the Challenge Network initiative is bold:  By the end of the program’s second year, participating schools will significantly increase the number of students who are “on track” to be college ready, as initially measured by commended or equivalent performance on the state-mandated English language arts or math test. 

Currently, Houston A+ Challenge is seeking highly motivated, skilled and talented people to join a team of Performance Coaches who will be deployed at school sites to build teacher capacity and drive student achievement. A+ is also seeking two executive level leaders to manage the new programming: The Director of School Performance and a Senior Director that will report directly to the Executive Director of Houston A+ Challenge.  If you are dedicated to making a difference in the education of Houston’s children and are committed to post-secondary success for all students, consider applying to join the team.  For more information, click here.

Keep an eye out for additional details about the Challenge Network and other Houston A+ Challenge initiatives on the A+ website and in upcoming issues of eNotes.

From the Headlines: School News

College Readiness Overlooked in Social Studies Fight
Kate Alexander, Austin American-Statesman, March 19, 2010

Texas has earned widespread recognition for being the first state to adopt college readiness standards – but according to Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), a member of the Senate Education Committee, ideological battles have overshadowed college readiness in the recent debate over the state’s social studies standards.  An analysis conducted by the Austin American-Statesman indicates that while the existing standards for U.S. government, U.S. history and world history give insufficient emphasis to the higher-level thinking skills that students will need to succeed in college, fewer than 5 percent of the revisions proposed to these standards increase the emphasis on higher-order skills or address other concerns pertaining to college readiness.  

To read the full article, click here

American Universities Are Accepting More Minorities Than Ever —Graduating Them Is Another Matter
Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert, Newsweek, February 19, 2010

“For the first time in American history, there is the risk that the rising generation will be less well educated than the previous one... Studies show that more and more poor and nonwhite students aspire to graduate from college—but their graduation rates fall far short of their dreams. The graduation rates for blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans lag far behind the graduation rates for whites and Asians. As the minority population grows in the United States, low college graduation rates become a threat to national prosperity.”

To read the full article, click here.

New Randomized Study Demonstrates KIPP’s Impact
Jay Mathews, Washington Post, March 5, 2010

A new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study entitled “Who Benefits From KIPP?” is the first to use a randomized control group method to study the impact of KIPP's long school days, rigorous instruction, and school culture on fifth through eighth graders.
Critics of charter schools like KIPP often argue that they outperform local public schools either because they “cream” the best students or because their weakest students drop out (or both).  But a study of the KIPP Lynn charter school in Massachusetts finds no evidence of either.  Among the study’s key findings:

  • Students who applied to KIPP Lynn had somewhat lower test scores than Lynn students, on average
  • Students who won the KIPP Lynn lottery were much less likely to change schools than those who lost the lottery
  • KIPP Lynn raised achievement more for weaker students
  • KIPP Lynn students made significant gains in math and reading, compared to the control group

The new study emphasizes that KIPP Lynn’s results are particularly impressive for special education students and for students with limited English proficiency, each of which comprises about a fifth of the school’s population. 

To access the full study, click here

Quote for the Day -- “The picture of diversity—black, white, and brown students cavorting or studying together out on the quad—is a stock shot in college catalogs. The picture on graduation day is a good deal more monochromatic. ‘If you look at who enters college, it now looks like America,’ says Hilary Pennington, director of postsecondary programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has closely studied enrollment patterns in higher education. ‘But if you look at who walks across the stage for a diploma, it's still largely the white, upper-income population.’" – Quoted in Newsweek, “Minority Report,” February 19, 2010. 

To read the full article, click here.

rss From the Field

Teacher Leadership at Challenge Early College High School
Ask Josh Silberman, a teacher at Challenge Early College High School in Houston ISD, what he loves most about teaching you’ll get a variety of answers – among them, the chance to lead in the school. Currently, Josh is working on a new reform project sponsored by Houston A+ Challenge that partners Challenge with Quest High School in Humble ISD. It’s a natural partnership. Quest, a small school that features a senior exhibition project, is planning to become an early college; and Challenge, a small early college, is looking to make the senior year more meaningful. Furthermore, Challenge has a history of teachers in leadership roles advancing the school’s mission, and Quest has a similar tradition of cultivating leaders from the inside. In fact, Principal Kim Klepcyk was formerly a teacher at Quest.

For A+, the partnership provides an opportunity to examine how schools can learn from each other through replication and demonstration. On February 26, a busload of Quest High School students, faculty, and administrators visited Challenge Early College High School for a day of learning and sharing organized by Silberman and Cross. The two spearheaded an agenda packed with student-led activities and classroom visits. What’s more, while administrators from both campuses worked through district-level details, teacher leaders Ty James and Christopher Phlegar from Quest collaborated with Silberman and Cross to further develop the implementation steps for each campus.

The efforts of teacher leaders are having a significant influence on both campuses. The widespread changes in practice that these two schools are attempting are dependent on the work of campus leadership that extends from and beyond the classroom. When campuses realize how to use and value teachers for the many and varied talents they offer in and beyond a campus, meaningful and creative work such as this occurs.

Are You a Teacher Leader? Check out www.teacherleaders.org for valuable resources, articles, and news.

New Report: Stuck Schools
A new report from The Education Trust entitled Stuck Schools: A Framework for Identifying Schools Where Students Need Change—Now!  shows that schools characterized as “low performing” are not all the same; in fact, they vary considerably.  While some low-performing schools have remained “stuck” year after year, for example, others have made rapid and substantial gains. 

This new report is the first in a four-part series delving deeply into school achievement and improvement patterns.  The authors warn against policy responses that reward any and all gains among low-performing schools.  As Kati Haycock, Education Trust’s president, states: “In the short term, this analysis can help state and local policymakers make smarter investments in school improvement. In the long run, it can help improve federal policy. Both will help make schools better for kids—and that, in the end, is what we are all after, right?” 

On The Bookshelf

Mount Pleasant: My Journey from Creating a Billion-Dollar Company to Teaching at a Struggling Public High School
A new book entitled Mount Pleasant, published by Portfolio Print, written by Silicon Valley entrepreneur (and potential future California governor) Steve Poizner provides entertaining, highly thought-provoking views on the challenges, joys, and unexpected adventures associated with being a teacher. Although Poizner had years of experience running a billion-dollar company, he writes that the greatest challenge of his life was the year he spent teaching 12th-graders at San Jose's Mt. Pleasant High School. All of his well honed managerial and entrepreneurial skills had not prepared him to deal with many of the issues that arose, such as the time when a student's boyfriend was arrested for bank robbery. Ultimately, however, Poizner re-discovered how wonderful and rewarding it is to learn – whether you’re a student or a teacher.

For more suggested books, visit 'On the Bookshelf'.


Grants and Opportunities
Houston A+ Challenge is pleased to provide a listing of education-related grants, offered by institutions across the city, state and nation. Please contact the grant provider named in each listing for more information about these opportunities.

NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grants aim to improve the academic achievement of students in U.S. public schools and public higher education institutions in any subject area(s). The proposed work should engage students in critical thinking and problem solving that deepen their knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The work should also improve students' habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection. Maximum Award: $5,000 Eligibility: Public school teachers, public school support professionals, and faculty and staff in public higher education institutions. Deadline: June 1, 2010. URL: Click here.

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation Back to School Grants provide funding to assist school libraries or media centers in meeting some of the financial challenges they face in the following areas: 1. Implementing new or expanding existing literacy programs 2. Purchasing new technology or equipment to support literacy initiatives 3. Purchasing books, materials or software for literacy programs. Maximum Award: Up to $5000 Eligibility: Eligibility Quiz. See website for details. Deadline: May 21, 2010 URL: Click here.

The American Honda Foundation makes grants to K-12 schools, colleges, universities, trade schools, and other youth-focused nonprofit organizations for programs that benefit youth and scientific education. Maximum Award: $60,000 Eligibility: Schools and youth-focused nonprofit organizations. Deadline: May 1, 2010 URL: Click here.

The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation offers Academic Enrichment Grants designed to develop in-class and extra-curricular programs that improve student learning. The Foundation considers proposals that foster understanding, deepen students’ knowledge, and provide opportunities to expand awareness of the world around them. The Academic Enrichment Grants provide funding for programs that nurture the intellectual, artistic and creative abilities of children from low-income households. The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation awards grants to individuals in amounts up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of three years, provided the eligibility requirements continue to be met. Maximum Award: Up to $10,000 yearly. Eligibility: Employed by schools or non-profit organizations(e.g. community centers, museums, etc.)…have the background and experience to complete the project successfully…have direct and regular contact with students in grades pre-k to 12…work with students from low-income households…are willing to work in collaboration with the Foundation. Deadline: May 1. URL: The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation.

Target: Early Childhood Reading Grants promote a love of reading and encourage young children to read together with their families by supporting programs such as after-school reading events and weekend book clubs. Maximum award: $2,000.  Eligibility: schools, libraries, and nonprofit organizations. Deadline: April 30, 2010.  URL: Target - Early Childhood Readding Grants.

Target: Arts and Culture in Schools Grants help schools and nonprofits bring arts and cultural experiences directly to K-12 students. Programs must have a curriculum component. Maximum award: $2,000. Eligibility: schools and nonprofit organizations. Deadline: April 30, 2010. URL: Target - Arts and Culture in School Grants.

ING: Unsung Heroes awards program recognizes progressive thinking in education. Maximum award: $25,000. Eligibility: full-time teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, or classified staff members with effective projects that improve student learning at an accredited K-12 public or private school. Deadline: April 30, 2010. URL: ING - Unsung Heroes.

The NEA Foundation's next round of Innovation Grant and Learning & Leadership Grant: applications for these grants are accepted on an ongoing, year-round basis, so it's never too late to apply. Grants fund activities for 12 months from the award date. The NEA Foundation's grants are available for all subjects, including the arts, literacy, science, and technology. Maximum Award: $5000. Eligibility: All U.S. practicing K-12 public school teachers, education support professionals, and higher education faculty and staff at public colleges and universities are eligible to apply. Deadline: Next deadline is June 1. URL: Innovation Grant and Learning & Leadership Grant.

Visit http://www.houstonaplus.org/resources/grants for additional grant opportunities.




April 12
Deadline to apply for the 2010 Summer Externship

May 15
Deadline to apply for the Performance Coach Job Position

Statistic of the Month

• Girls tend to have higher grade point averages than boys (3.09 for girls and 2.86 for boys).
• Boys are almost twice as likely as girls to repeat a grade, twice as likely to be suspended, and three times as likely to be expelled. They are also far more likely to drop out of school.
• Among white students, women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees; among African American students, women earn 66 percent of bachelor’s degrees.

Source: "The Boys Have Fallen Behind" (New York Times)

Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607

Board of Trustees

Maconda B. O'Connor
Founding Board Member

Ann Friedman

J. Victor Samuels

Thomas L. Elsenbrook

Susan A. Bischoff

Bill Crouch
Jonathan Day
Joe B. Foster
Roberto Gonzalez
Shawn Gross
Gasper Mir, III
Karol Musher
Maconda B. O'Connor
Yava D. Scott
J. David Thompson, III
Bobby Tudor
Andrea White

Advisory Board
Leonel Castillo
Michael Dee
H. Devon Graham, Jr.
Jenard M. Gross

Houston A+ Staff

Scott Van Beck
Executive Director

Sheri Miller-Williams
Director, Leadership

Catherine Reed

Director, Finance

Melissa Milios Davis
Director, Communications & Development

Alejandro Morúa
Director, Partnerships & Innovations

Betsy Broyles Breier
Program Coordinator

Angela Prince
Curriculum Specialist

Mike Webster
Teacher Leadership Coach

Principal Leadership Coaches
Marshal Dupas
Debbie Emery
Lachanda Landry
Lawrence Kohn
Lucille Maggi
Charlotte Parker
Betty Rennell
Bonnie Roberts

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Donna O'Neil
Lisa Stein

Terrie Roberts
Events Coordinator

Tuan Amith

Shannyn Piper
Development Intern