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EPIC Schools: Putting Young Men of Color in the Center of the Design (Part 1)

December 8, 2014 by
Harvey Chism

Harvey Chism

This article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. Read the entire EPIC North series with parts one, two, and three.

I’ve visited a lot of schools. I’ve seen confident students before. But the students at EPIC North took me totally by surprise.

Even though they were only in their second month of school, twenty ninth-graders streamed into the library, surrounding me, shaking my hand, introducing themselves, and… networking?

The questions flew at me from all sides. Where are you from? Why are you interested in EPIC North? What company do you work for? Have you met any of the staff at EPIC before? You do, how did you meet Harvey? Then two students sat down next to me with the clear intent of continuing the conversation: Now that we’ve met, what can I tell you about EPIC North?

I wasn’t interviewing students – they were interviewing me! When ninth graders know that they have powerful voices and aren’t afraid to use them, it’s clear that something special is happening. (more…)

Carroll Gardens School for Innovation (MS 442): Intentional School Design

December 5, 2014 by

carroll gardens

This article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. For the full story, start with my overview of the Magical Mastery Tour and the three biggest takeaways. You can also read the report on Bronx International High School

Carroll Gardens School for Innovations (MS 442) has only been using a mastery-based structure for three years, but it’s definitely one of the most well-developed competency-based schools I’ve visited. It’s the best example of a school designed so that personalized, mastery-based education works as well for students in special education as it does for all students. In other words, it’s a universal approach that works across a diverse population.

Thanks to Michael Preston, Jeremy Kraushar, and Joy Nolan for their leadership in bringing CGSI to the attention of CompetencyWorks. I am grateful to the extraordinary educators at CGSI for sharing their insights: Deanna Sinito, Principal; Noreen Mills, Assistant Principal; Liz Reale, technology and problem-solving teacher; Lisa Genduso, math coach and problem-solving teacher; Grace O’Shea, science teacher; Eric Silberberg, special education teacher focused on science; Jared Sutton, math teacher and technology specialist; and Connor Allen, science and problem-solving teacher.

The CGSI Approach

CGSI has created an integrated approach. Or perhaps I should call it an intentional approach, as every policy, practice, ritual, and routine reinforce each other and contribute to the culture of learning. Even though I saw each of the strands in all of my visits to the classrooms, it’s nearly impossible to pull out any single one as distinct from the others. I haven’t seen anything quite like this model in my many school visits, so I’m just going to call it the CGSI approach. (more…)

First Stop of the Magical Mastery Tour: Bronx International High School

December 4, 2014 by

BxIHS

This article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. For the full story, start with my overview of the Magical Mastery Tour and the three biggest takeaways. You can also read the report on Carroll Gardens School for Innovation.

Inspiring. I know no other word to describe the students and staff at Bronx International High School (BxIHS). Arrived from all around the world, the 400+ BxIHS students come to the school with hope, drive, curiosity, creativity…and little or no English.

Designed as a high school to serve new immigrants, BxIHS “accepts students who score at or below the 20th percentile on the Language Assessment Battery (LAB-R) and have been in the United States fewer than four years.” Students enter with a wide range of academic experiences behind them, some having spent little or no time in a formal education setting.

Regardless of background, the two things all the students share is a desire to learn English and to complete high school. Staff members, many of whom were English language learners at one time in their own lives, work collaboratively and joyfully in an “outcomes” approach to ensure that students reach proficiency in language/literacy, content, and skills. (more…)

The Big Three Takeaways of the Magical Mastery Tour

December 3, 2014 by

ThreeAlthough there were many takeaways from my visits to schools in New York City (what Jeremy Kraushar of the Digital Ready team referred to as the Magical Mastery Tour), I’ve selected three to write about here, as they respond to questions we’ve received over the past six months.

Please note: I’m using mastery-based, the term used by NYC, and competency-based interchangeably.

Most of these findings are based on schools that are doing tremendous work in developing highly developed mastery-based models. Descriptions of Bronx International, EPIC North, Bronx Arena, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, and Maker Academy will be published in the coming weeks. However, one insight discussed below came from a school that shared the difficulties it was having developing a prototype model. While it’s important to learn from challenges as well as successes, schools trying their best to innovate don’t need the light from the internet shined upon them, so we didn’t write up a case study in that particular case. (more…)

Magical Mastery Tour

December 2, 2014 by
Digital Ready

Photo from the Digital Ready Website

In October, Jeremy Krausher, Joy Nolan, and Michael Preston of Digital Ready organized what can only be called the Magical Mastery Tour. (Click here if you’d like the Beatles to accompany your reading.) Don’t be misled by the name Digital Ready – this team, based in the Office of Postsecondary Readiness at the New York City Department of Education, is promoting student-centered, personalized, mastery-based learning drawing on blended learning to increase and enrich learning opportunities for students. Their work is supported by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. We were joined by Julian Cohen, Senior Executive Director for the Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships, and Debbie Marcus, OPSR’s Deputy Executive Director of Sustainability and Strategy, on part of the tour. I am so grateful to everyone for sharing their knowledge about schools and providing greater depth to my understanding of how competency education is taking root in New York City.

During the three-day Magical Mastery Tour, we visited Bronx International High School, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, EPIC North, Bronx Arena, and Urban Assembly Maker Academy (one of the Carnegie Corporation Opportunity by Design schools). In-depth descriptions of each will be published over the coming weeks.

Innovation is alive and well in the New York City schools. Bronx International and Carroll Gardens School for Innovation are two of the most developed competency-based models I’ve seen. Bronx Arena is challenging assumptions of traditional schooling every chance they get. EPIC North and Maker Academy (with only two months under their belts) are already on their way to pushing our understanding of how competency education can serve as the backbone to very different school models. (more…)

Shifting to Mastery-Based Approaches in New York City Public Schools

August 27, 2014 by
Revell, student at FDA VII.

Revelle, student at FDA VII. From FDA VII video.

“I want to achieve, I want to get high grades; [mastery-based learning] is a great way to map out exactly how to get there.”

         — Revelle, student at Frederick Douglass Academy VII, Brooklyn NY

A small but growing number of New York City schools are making assessments more meaningful for teachers and students through mastery-based approaches to learning. There are early and encouraging signs that mastery can motivate and engage students who have experienced previous academic failure by providing a clear outline for what they need to learn. The video below demonstrates these powerful effects at Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School (FDA VII) in Brooklyn:

Mastery-Based Learning – Featuring Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School from Digital Ready on Vimeo.

Starting Out Small

While school-wide implementation models have been a source of inspiration, more often than not, a shift toward mastery starts on a much more compact level. Last year, teachers at FDA VII “took the leap” by transforming their curriculum and grading policies to reflect student learning more transparently. This year, school leadership hopes to take it school-wide. At Brooklyn International High School and Hudson High School for Learning Technologies, teachers have worked alone or in small groups to pilot new ways to deliver content broken down by skill, and provide more granular feedback in distinct areas of learning. (more…)

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