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Get to know Hiawatha Leadership Academy, Minnesota's 'most successful school'

Two students at Hiawatha

MinnPost photo by Beth Hawkins

Under new standards adopted by the Minnesota Department of Education, five-year-old Hiawatha is the state’s most successful school.

On Thursday, while rain rattled the windows in their first-grade classroom in Minneapolis’ Nokomis neighborhood, two little girls sat quietly in the far corner. They’d made a little moat around themselves using picture books and were snuggled up together reading "Trumpet of the Swan."

At Hiawatha Leadership Academy, the K-4 charter program that moved into the mothballed Minneapolis Public School building several years ago, and its newer middle-school sister, Adelante Prep, every classroom adopts the identity of a college or university. The kids inside are called after the school’s mascot, which makes the girls Gophers.

Down the hall, in the old-fashioned gym, a group of kids were practicing a musical involving Captain Hook, a slightly distracted alligator and some complicated choreography. A few doors farther, in the St. Mary’s University classroom, middle-school math teacher John Kaczorek (who doubles as Adelante’s principal) was wedged into a student-sized desk next to a boy who needed a little help.

It was, in short, a pretty ordinary day — except that earlier in the week when the Minnesota Department of Education rolled out its new school performance rating system, the five-year-old Hiawatha suddenly became the state’s most successful school.

Last year, when Minnesota asked for a federal waiver from compliance with No Child Left Behind’s failed accountability system, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius instead proposed instituting a system designed by the department. The Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) [PDF] is a combination of scores quantifying proficiency, student growth, progress toward closing the achievement gap and graduation rate.

Unlike the way some states responded to No Child’s standardized testing regime, Minnesota’s new model does not lower the standard for proficiency. In fact, the bar for math rose last year.

The basic idea behind the MMRs: Measuring how well students who start out ready to learn in schools with homogenous populations doesn’t reveal much about how much learning is taking place. Combining multiple measures, by contrast, reveals schools doing outstanding work with disadvantaged students, as well as schools that truly are underperforming.

The data released this week are based on 2010-2011 test scores. A new set, based on 2012 assessments, is expected late in the summer.

Hiawatha’s scores earned it the No. 1 spot on the state’s list of “Reward” schools, the highest-performing 15 percent. The program’s overall score was 99.79 percent of a possible 100. Its achievement gap rating was an eye-popping 99.94 percent. The numbers are all the more astonishing, given that 96 percent of the schools’ 453 students are impoverished, 98 percent are minorities and 76 percent are learning English.

Only one school, the Prior Lake charter Aspen Academy, had a higher overall score of 99.94 percent. Because fewer than 40 percent of its pupils are impoverished, Aspen is not a Title I school, which means, essentially, it has no gap to close.

Nine of the top-ranked 10 schools with student poverty rates of 85 percent or more are charters that employ strategies similar to Hiawatha’s.

Chart of most successful MMR schoolsCourtesy of Charter School PartnersNine of the top-ranked 10 schools with student poverty rates of 85 percent or more are charters that employ strategies similar to Hiawatha’s.

The 10th is the Minneapolis Public Schools' contract alternative Heritage Science & Technology — an odds-beating charter in every respect except its legal designation. Like Hiawatha, seven are members of the Charter School Partners network of high-performing schools.

And here we must pause for Learning’s Curve’s lengthiest Kramer Disclaimer yet: CSP employs Katie Barrett-Kramer, wife of Teach for America President Matt Kramer and daughter-in-law of MinnPost founder and Editor Joel Kramer and Chief Revenue Officer Laurie Kramer. I have never met Barrett-Kramer, and none of the aforementioned Kramers has been associated with any of my reporting on CSP or Hiawatha, except for that whole check-signing bit.

I was invited to tour Hiawatha earlier this year after I wrote about some legislation that would encourage its replication. I heard from several teachers and from the school’s founder and principal, Shannon Blankenship, about its strategies for success.

Two days later, a family emergency forced Blankenship to resign. He has been replaced, at least for the interim, by yet another Kramer, Eli, who was kind enough to inform me when I called him for this story that there is in fact yet another Kramer lurking out there, but not in education circles.

He had better be right. For someone whose ethics demand disclosure of potential conflicts, navigating the Kramer Diaspora has come to feel like running through a jungle laced with trip wires. I plan to demand hazard pay.

Back, then, to our regularly scheduled programming. Blankenship and Eli Kramer both ascribe Hiawatha’s success to the belief system staff and students share.

“We believe that all students have the potential to succeed,” said Kramer when I called him. “And we promise our families — and we really believe in this — that we will do whatever it takes.”

To that, add a combination of strategies: Between longer school days and years, Hiawatha and Adelante students spend 40 percent more time at school; strong leadership; and the expectation that teachers will be relentless in the use of quizzes and other tools to determine, in every class period, every day, where each student is in terms of mastering the material.

John KaczorekMinnPost photo by Beth HawkinsJohn Kaczorek

An example: During my January visit, I spent some time watching Kaczorek, the aforementioned math teacher, figure out where one of his classes stood in relation to a unit involving estimates and the addition of multiple digits.

In every Hiawatha class, kids “punch” an exit ticket. In Kaczorek’s math class, this consists of reporting their answer to the problem of the day by clicking a wireless remote. The students also do their computations on small dry-erase boards, which they leave at their desks.

Literally the moment class lets out, the teacher can call up a bar graph showing how many and which students got the lesson. The unit Kaczorek walked me through started on a Friday, when the right answer eluded about a third of the kids.

On Monday, he chose someone who used an alternate means of arriving at the correct answer and had them walk their classmates through it. After that day’s exit tickets had been tabulated, it turned out the new way had worked for another 10 percent.

The next day, Kaczorek was able to narrow the repetitive portion of his lesson down to the two questions he knew would deliver the most bang. He stuck with the struggling kids until everyone was up to speed.

“We believe you’ve gotta fail before you can learn,” he said.

This approach means extra seat time for kids — Hiawatha’s day runs from 7:30 to 5—and for teachers. Kaczorek spends some two and a half hours a day prepping and analyzing data, and he is expected to keep his phone on at night for students and parents who need help with homework.

“In most schools you actually don’t know whether they got it,” Kaczorek said. “You think, ‘I gave it to them four or five times, I sure hope they got it.’ ”

Other classes’ exit tickets may consist of short, individual conversations to test for reading comprehension and fluency or having science students pose a hypothesis and report its validity.

Other high-poverty, high-performing schools earning MMR “reward” status employ similar strategies.

And indeed, Kramer cautiously tempered his pride in Hiawatha’s rating with a few caveats. The school’s score is as much proof that kids can learn despite their socioeconomic level and English-language-learner status as it is an endorsement of Hiawatha per se.

And with interest growing in creating more gap-closing schools and in replicating their best practices in mainline public schools, Hiawatha could easily tumble in the ratings next year because it gets company.  Hiawatha’s board has a plan to open three more schools in the next eight years — two more middle and elementary schools and a high school — enabling it to serve more than 2,000 students.

And Minneapolis Public Schools just asked Eric Mahmoud, founder of two of the top-10 high-performing, high-poverty schools, Best Academy and Harvest Prep, to open four new “Mastery” schools over the next 10 years. CSP, meanwhile, is busy recruiting new school leaders and helping them plan, finance and staff new programs.

This, in the end, appears to be the reward for being a “reward” school. “If the reward for doing this well is to do more, then we will do that,” said Kramer. “Our work is not done. Our job is to prepare every single child who comes to us for college.”

High poverty MMR Reward schools

The table below, prepared with data compiled by Charter School Partners, lists schools with "Reward" designation under the new Department of Education standards that also have high rates of students living in poverty. All of the schools listed are Title I schools.

District School School Type MMR Achievement Gap Rating Free/Reduced Lunch
MINNEAPOLIS PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. HERITAGE SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY Public 68.65% 72.80% 98.13%
MINNEAPOLIS PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. ANTHONY MIDDLE SCHOOL Public 81.02% 76.43% 36.14%
ANOKA-HENNEPIN PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. UNIVERSITY ELEMENTARY Public 73.39% 76.43% 60.00%
ANOKA-HENNEPIN PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. MONROE ELEMENTARY Public 74.15% 80.41% 38.29%
ANOKA-HENNEPIN PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. MADISON ELEMENTARY Public 79.59% 81.31% 33.01%
CENTENNIAL PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT GOLDEN LAKE ELEMENTARY Public 86.52% 84.27% 47.20%
CENTENNIAL PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT CENTENNIAL ELEMENTARY Public 88.43% 84.14% 23.80%
CENTENNIAL PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT BLUE HERON ELEMENTARY Public 79.57% 77.74% 16.03%
FRAZEE-VERGAS PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. FRAZEE ELEMENTARY Public 85.57% 90.26% 49.30%
KELLIHER PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT KELLIHER SECONDARY Public 77.67% 80.44% 82.73%
MANKATO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT KENNEDY ELEMENTARY Public 81.17% 82.01% 54.68%
MANKATO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT WASHINGTON ELEMENTARY Public 88.56% 85.90% 43.65%
MANKATO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT ROSA PARKS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL Public 76.27% 78.29% 40.66%
MANKATO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT MONROE ELEMENTARY Public 90.79% 90.30% 36.73%
SPRINGFIELD PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT SPRINGFIELD ELEMENTARY Public 87.06% 88.24% 45.64%
CROMWELL-WRIGHT PUBLIC SCHOOLS CROMWELL-WRIGHT ELEMENTARY Public 74.79% 81.24% 40.83%
ESKO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT WINTERQUIST ELEMENTARY Public 78.60% 81.77% 13.30%
WRENSHALL PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT WRENSHALL ELEMENTARY Public 80.15% 85.45% 48.48%
WACONIA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT BAYVIEW ELEMENTARY Public 90.00% 86.93% 13.83%
WACONIA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT SOUTHVIEW ELEMENTARY Public 89.01% 95.19% 12.42%
BRAINERD PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT LOWELL ELEMENTARY Public 85.80% 77.80% 47.36%
BURNSVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT GIDEON POND ELEMENTARY Public 89.70% 90.69% 42.92%
FARMINGTON PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT FARMINGTON ELEMENTARY Public 77.47% 79.60% 28.81%
LAKEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT LAKE MARION ELEMENTARY Public 90.19% 94.93% 19.89%
ROSEMOUNT-APPLE VALLEY-EAGAN ECHO PARK ELEMENTARY Public 74.74% 79.67% 43.53%
ROSEMOUNT-APPLE VALLEY-EAGAN GREENLEAF ELEMENTARY Public 81.44% 84.73% 26.42%
ROSEMOUNT-APPLE VALLEY-EAGAN DEERWOOD ELEMENTARY Public 86.46% 83.04% 19.86%
ALEXANDRIA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT MILTONA ELEMENTARY Public 91.43% 94.75% 56.33%
ALEXANDRIA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT CARLOS ELEMENTARY Public 79.42% 79.42% 41.73%
ALEXANDRIA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT LINCOLN ELEMENTARY Public 78.26% 78.46% 32.77%
EVANSVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT EVANSVILLE ELEMENTARY Public 84.92% 56.96%
MABEL-CANTON PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. MABEL-CANTON SECONDARY Public 81.99% 91.00% 32.09%
ALBERT LEA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT SIBLEY ELEMENTARY Public 74.03% 70.08% 45.50%
HOPKINS PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT GATEWOOD ELEMENTARY Public 75.78% 71.39% 42.88%
EDEN PRAIRIE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT FOREST HILLS ELEMENTARY Public 90.69% 90.08% 34.48%
EDEN PRAIRIE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT PRAIRIE VIEW ELEMENTARY Public 82.04% 85.70% 23.25%
EDINA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT CORNELIA ELEMENTARY Public 75.56% 81.78% 23.25%
EDINA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT CREEK VALLEY ELEMENTARY Public 91.67% 94.59% 8.67%
MINNETONKA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT DEEPHAVEN ELEMENTARY Public 94.73% 95.45% 12.52%
MINNETONKA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT EXCELSIOR ELEMENTARY Public 84.01% 84.22% 9.44%
MINNETONKA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT SCENIC HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY Public 85.60% 88.06% 6.96%
MINNETONKA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT GROVELAND ELEMENTARY Public 79.42% 86.26% 6.16%
WESTONKA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT GRANDVIEW MIDDLE SCHOOL Public 89.33% 94.39% 26.92%
WESTONKA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT SHIRLEY HILLS PRIMARY SCHOOL Public 79.33% 85.05% 26.02%
ST. LOUIS PARK PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. AQUILA ELEMENTARY Public 79.96% 74.56% 48.74%
WAYZATA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT SUNSET HILL ELEMENTARY Public 85.11% 88.82% 24.87%
WAYZATA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT OAKWOOD ELEMENTARY Public 89.74% 90.37% 24.02%
WAYZATA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT BIRCHVIEW ELEMENTARY Public 95.29% 95.96% 22.27%
WAYZATA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT GLEASON LAKE ELEMENTARY Public 84.69% 83.26% 18.03%
HOUSTON PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT HOUSTON ELEMENTARY Public 83.33% 83.23% 46.48%
NEVIS PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT NEVIS ELEMENTARY Public 77.18% 81.13% 53.44%
LITTLEFORK-BIG FALLS SCHOOL DIST. LITTLEFORK-BIG FALLS ELEMENTARY Public 83.53% 88.08% 39.86%
LAKE SUPERIOR PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. WILLIAM KELLEY ELEMENTARY Public 88.02% 87.10% 44.94%
LAKE BENTON PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT LAKE BENTON ELEMENTARY Public 80.78% 41.94%
LESTER PRAIRIE PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. LESTER PRAIRIE ELEMENTARY Public 75.09% 85.13% 25.12%
WAUBUN-OGEMA-WHITE EARTH PUBLIC SCH OGEMA ELEMENTARY Public 74.08% 79.31% 77.09%
NICOLLET PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT NICOLLET ELEMENTARY Public 79.56% 80.13% 20.00%
ROCHESTER PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT PINEWOOD ELEMENTARY Public 75.65% 79.54% 40.98%
BATTLE LAKE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT BATTLE LAKE SECONDARY Public 76.70% 73.33% 34.21%
NEW YORK MILLS PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. NEW YORK MILLS SECONDARY Public 80.40% 67.84% 38.85%
THIEF RIVER FALLS SCHOOL DISTRICT CHALLENGER ELEMENTARY Public 86.87% 90.86% 44.69%
FERTILE-BELTRAMI SCHOOL DISTRICT FERTILE-BELTRAMI ELEMENTARY Public 84.70% 85.51% 40.43%
CYRUS PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT CYRUS TECHNOLOGY ELEMENTARY Public 75.17% 94.90% 46.67%
NORTH ST PAUL-MAPLEWOOD SCHOOL DIST CARVER ELEMENTARY Public 84.13% 80.91% 48.27%
ROSEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT BRIMHALL ELEMENTARY Public 84.61% 88.18% 43.50%
WHITE BEAR LAKE SCHOOL DISTRICT WILLOW LANE ELEMENTARY Public 77.41% 81.44% 53.95%
WHITE BEAR LAKE SCHOOL DISTRICT BIRCH LAKE ELEMENTARY Public 87.91% 85.30% 45.45%
WHITE BEAR LAKE SCHOOL DISTRICT VADNAIS HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY Public 91.10% 91.11% 38.46%
ST. PAUL PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT HIGHLAND PARK ELEMENTARY Public 75.11% 74.12% 54.55%
MILROY PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT MILROY ELEMENTARY Public 91.81% 41.18%
WABASSO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT WABASSO SECONDARY Public 81.02% 83.77% 21.03%
NORTHFIELD PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT BRIDGEWATER ELEMENTARY Public 76.97% 74.95% 34.26%
VIRGINIA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT ROOSEVELT ELEMENTARY Public 80.88% 85.08% 46.04%
PRIOR LAKE-SAVAGE AREA SCHOOLS WESTWOOD EL. Public 86.13% 85.40% 13.85%
ROCORI PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT RICHMOND ELEMENTARY Public 85.57% 83.35% 28.57%
BLOOMING PRAIRIE PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST BLOOMING PRAIRIE ELEMENTARY Public 86.00% 84.45% 40.96%
WABASHA-KELLOGG PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. WABASHA-KELLOGG ELEMENTARY Public 81.59% 77.59% 40.31%
FOREST LAKE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT FOREST VIEW EL. Public 77.27% 73.32% 41.56%
STILLWATER AREA PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. LILY LAKE ELEMENTARY Public 84.49% 81.91% 27.12%
STILLWATER AREA PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. OAK PARK ELEMENTARY Public 79.77% 79.09% 23.42%
STILLWATER AREA PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. AFTON-LAKELAND ELEMENTARY Public 83.42% 84.35% 16.49%
LEWISTON-ALTURA PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST. LEWISTON-ALTURA ELEMENTARY Public 78.14% 89.94% 34.83%
ST. CHARLES PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT ST. CHARLES ELEMENTARY Public 73.54% 71.84% 35.97%
WINONA AREA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT JEFFERSON ELEMENTARY Public 85.29% 80.89% 41.44%
ANNANDALE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT BENDIX ELEMENTARY Public 86.31% 85.28% 30.11%
BUFFALO-HANOVER-MONTROSE PUBLIC SCH NORTHWINDS ELEMENTARY Public 79.60% 69.46% 27.20%
ROCKFORD PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT ROCKFORD ELEMENTARY ARTS MAGNET SCH Public 74.87% 69.16% 31.21%
ST. MICHAEL-ALBERTVILLE SCHOOL DIST FIELDSTONE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL Public 76.54% 88.30% 21.38%
CAMBRIDGE-ISANTI PUBLIC SCHOOL DIST MINNESOTA CENTER Public 90.33% 87.73% 39.80%
MINNEWASKA SCHOOL DISTRICT MINNEWASKA AREA ELEMENTARY Public 82.86% 89.56% 37.34%
MINNEWASKA SCHOOL DISTRICT MINNEWASKA AREA MIDDLE Public 79.05% 74.09% 35.88%
DILWORTH-GLYNDON-FELTON DILWORTH-GLYNDON-FELTON JUNIOR HIGH Public 85.91% 90.32% 25.77%
M.A.C.C.R.A.Y. SCHOOL DISTRICT M.A.C.C.R.A.Y. EAST ELEMENTARY Public 84.38% 90.29% 47.78%
M.A.C.C.R.A.Y. SCHOOL DISTRICT M.A.C.C.R.A.Y. WEST ELEMENTARY Public 74.18% 78.35% 46.79%
NORMAN COUNTY EAST SCHOOL DISTRICT NORMAN COUNTY EAST ELEMENTARY Public 79.73% 81.40% 49.65%
SIBLEY EAST SCHOOL DISTRICT SIBLEY EAST-GAYLORD ELEMENTARY Public 88.37% 89.66% 55.71%
WEST CENTRAL AREA WEST CENTRAL AREA S. EL. Public 73.30% 54.17%
TRI-COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT KARLSTAD ELEMENTARY Public 82.75% 88.52% 60.78%
BELGRADE-BROOTEN-ELROSA SCHOOL DIST BELGRADE-BROOTEN-ELROSA ELEMENTARY Public 84.74% 87.28% 44.33%
G.F.W. G.F.W. EL. Public 88.37% 92.81% 45.90%
A.C.G.C. A.C.G.C. SOUTH ELEMENTARY Public 90.22% 40.00%
LESUEUR-HENDERSON SCHOOL DISTRICT HILLTOP ELEMENTARY Public 83.27% 28.77%
NORMAN COUNTY WEST SCHOOL DISTRICT NORMAN COUNTY WEST ELEMENTARY Public 82.03% 86.98% 58.55%
NORMAN COUNTY WEST SCHOOL DISTRICT NORMAN COUNTY WEST SECONDARY Public 92.78% 95.44% 47.20%
WIN-E-MAC SCHOOL DISTRICT WIN-E-MAC ELEMENTARY Public 83.66% 85.69% 49.78%
HOWARD LAKE-WAVERLY-WINSTED WINSTED ELEMENTARY Public 97.29% 40.39%
LAC QUI PARLE VALLEY SCHOOL DIST. APPLETON ELEMENTARY Public 97.93% 57.58%
LAC QUI PARLE VALLEY SCHOOL DIST. MADISON-MARIETTA-NASSAU ELEMENTARY Public 77.18% 38.85%
CLINTON-GRACEVILLE-BEARDSLEY CLINTON-GRACEVILLE-BEARDSLEY EL. Public 80.18% 86.23% 39.72%
CYBER VILLAGE ACADEMY CYBER VILLAGE ACADEMY Charter 89.31% 87.33% 19.40%
HARVEST PREP SCHOOL-SEED ACADEMY HARVEST PREP SCHOOL-SEED ACADEMY Charter 74.11% 73.52% 92.02%
TWIN CITIES ACADEMY TWIN CITIES ACADEMY Charter 83.37% 91.22% 30.27%
SCHOOLCRAFT LEARNING COMMUNITY CHTR SCHOOLCRAFT LEARNING COMMUNITY CHTR Charter 75.89% 82.07% 53.80%
TWIN CITIES INTERNATIONAL ELEM SCH. TWIN CITIES INTERNATIONAL ELEM SCH. Charter 74.22% 86.72% 95.31%
RIDGEWAY COMMUNITY SCHOOL RIDGEWAY COMMUNITY SCHOOL Charter 78.92% 35.56%
TREKNORTH HIGH SCHOOL TREKNORTH HIGH SCHOOL Charter 77.43% 83.07% 47.40%
MAIN STREET SCHOOL PERFORMING ARTS MAIN STREET SCHOOL PERFORMING ARTS Charter 84.02% 26.12%
ST. CROIX PREPARATORY ACADEMY ST CROIX PREPARATORY ACADEMY MIDDLE Charter 90.03% 92.97% 11.24%
ST. CROIX PREPARATORY ACADEMY ST. CROIX PREPARATORY ACADEMY LOWER Charter 73.39% 78.48% 11.03%
UBAH MEDICAL ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL UBAH MEDICAL ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL Charter 84.15% 87.12% 88.64%
TEAM ACADEMY TEAM ACADEMY Charter 85.48% 83.44% 57.43%
TWIN CITIES ACADEMY HIGH SCHOOL TWIN CITIES ACADEMY HIGH SCHOOL Charter 76.15% 44.23%
HIAWATHA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY HIAWATHA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY Charter 99.79% 99.94% 94.69%
CLARKFIELD CHARTER SCHOOL CLARKFIELD CHARTER SCHOOL Charter 90.28% 71.43%
DAVINCI ACADEMY DAVINCI ACADEMY Charter 93.40% 94.38% 19.80%
GLOBAL ACADEMY GLOBAL ACADEMY Charter 78.56% 80.70% 88.89%
BEST ACADEMY BEST ACADEMY Charter 81.86% 79.67% 93.35%
VALLEY CROSSING COMMUNITY SCHOOL VALLEY CROSSING COMMUNITY SCHOOL Charter 78.48% 85.05% 9.18%

Source: Charter School Partners

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Comments (12)

Most successful schools

Thank you so much Beth for highlighting schools in Minnesota that "beat the odds."

Kudos to Hiawatha

Excellent, informative, and uplifting story. My background and experience is not in education, but from what I have observed as a mother, it is the early years that form the foundation for lifelong learning and success - the earlier, the better. I also like the idea of using alternative learning methods to make sure all students understand the material. Kudos to Hiawatha Leadership Academy!

High Praise!

Coming from you, Mr. Heistad. Since you are Mr. Numbers himself--Heistad is Minneapolis Public Schools departing (sniff) and highly respected director of research and evaluation--do let me know if you see other interesting MMR takeaways?

Inspiring story

Thanks for writing this, Beth. (I especially liked the references to the Kramer diaspora.)

Lots of things stand out in this story, but here's one "Nine of the top-ranked 10 schools with student poverty rates of 85 percent or more are charters that employ strategies similar to Hiawatha’s."

A Minneapolis principal (who hates charter schools) recently told me, "If you let me hire the best teachers I can find, get rid of my worst and extend the school day, my school could compete with any charter in the state."

I think she's probably right. And she could do this with union teachers too. So I say, why not let her?

Unfortunately, the Minneapolis School Board doesn't appears to be interested in offering district schools the same freedoms that it is currently extending to the new charter schools that the school board is authorizing.

Because giving these freedoms to district schools would involve a helluva contract fight with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, something that the board wishes to avoid. It would also involve hiring really good principals and getting rid of less effective ones, which would probably involve a fight with the principals' union, which the board also wishes to avoid.

So instead the district limps along. But both for the sake of student achievement AND union jobs, the board should consider making changes because the trend lines are stark.
Ten years ago, in 2001-2002, Minneapolis had 1,921 students in charter schools and 47,658 in its district schools. In 2011-2012, Minneapolis had 11,125 students in charter schools and 33,503 in its district schools. During those same ten years, the district lost over 1,500 teaching positions.

If the planned charters are successful, the trend will continue. For the sake of everyone, we need change.

Inspiring?

How is this story inspiring? This is a yet another piece written by a reporter whose boss is an education reform bully.

If this charter school follows trends, it most likely will not exist in 5-10 years. Charter schools undermine community public schools, which tend to be far more stable. Teachers in charter schools are not kept around long, and as a result, never have the opportunity to forge longstanding relationships with families and communities. Charters are also able to counsel families out if their children have special learning or behavioral needs. Charters funnel public money into private hands, and that is “reform”?

Look what has happened to the Philadelphia Public Schools, they’re all gone, dismantled by deformers.

Also, aren’t schools more than test prep factories? I have chosen to opt my own children out of any and all standardized testing. As a result, their school’s test scores will drop, how’s that for Race to the Top blackmail?

When will the deforming stop? Only when the Kramers, Gates, Waltons and Broads have empty pockets.

The methodology is flawed.

Read the attached document and you'll see this grid is flawed. This school is the "most successful", although they probably should be applauded.

First point - The threshold the author uses for beating the odds is based on eligible for free and reduced lunch and excludes all but one non-charters school.

Two - Read the MMR attachment. This applies only to Title 1 (receives special state aid) schools. This excludes almost all suburban schools and schools in nice parts of Minneapolis.

Three - Growth is determined by previous testing - so it is possible that this charter may have set the bar too low in the past. So when next years numbers come out, expect this school to under perform.

Four - Growth is determined by race performance vs. whites (yes, this is a touchy subject, but read the attachment) - Typically charter are in areas that aren't diverse.

Five - This school is in a area that is adequately served by the Minneapolis district, so parents have to choose the charter over other outstanding schools.

Take all these things together and you'll find the article is based on a flawed premise.

Add in that the list of schools is based on the "reward" category, which according the the MMR document is the top 15% of title one schools.

Again, the premise is flawed.

A note on methodology

Mr. Livingston, and anyone else concerned with our numbers: This story did not contain the entire state database of some 2,000 schools and their ratings. You can find that table at the Star Tribune, which includes several other categories we eliminated for simplicity's sake. We eliminated, for instance, Title 1 status because these days, sad to say, the percentage of poor kids a school needs to qualify (I think it's less than 40 percent) means some pretty wealthy schools like Wayzata's and Edina's get Title 1 funding. The numbers we got from Charter School Partners plotted only the top 15 percent performing schools, those with "reward" status. The chart we embedded listing the top 10 from that list was intended to show that among those schools that typically do the worst, those with 85 percent or more students in poverty, which correlates closely to race in Minnesota, the top-ranked schools all share some distinctive and important characteristics.

I contacted the state to ask whether they had factored in poverty levels and they have not--yet. Which is why we used CSP's data instead of building a wholly separate, statewide database of our own.

All that said, if you go to the database as published by the Star Tribune, which does not incorporate poverty levels beyond Title 1 status, and sort by the various categories, Hiawatha is going to end up on top in all but one category, the exception noted in this story, in which it was edged out by a non-Title-1 charter in Prior Lake. So if one wanted to pick, we could say Hiawatha was No. 2 statewide, but I don't actually think that's true.

Nor does it account for the reasons why the MMRs are a brave experiment: It is one thing to take a school full of kids who wake up in middle-class homes to good breakfasts and parents who have time to invest in, say, reading to them, and keep them performing at grade level or above. It is entirely something else to take a building full of children who lack that stability and indeed may lack English language proficiency and literate parents. This is why there are no Title 1 schools in the reward category.

Is that fair? Maybe not. What high achiever likes to be left out, right? I'd give you that. But I do not think that detracts from the lesson of the day, which is that we can reach children regardless of poverty level or circumstance. Better to focus on strategies that can be employed right away in the non-reward classrooms, no?

Beth Hawkins - A statistic to fit the story

If you read prior articles by Beth, you will see the same pattern.

Charters damage communities and public schools

Many studies have shown that charters, on average, do no better than public schools. So why advocate for weakening our public school system? Charters take money away from neighborhood schools.

Interesting to note that Hiawatha Leadership Academy is run by Beth Hawkins' boss's son, Eli Kramer.

Watch as Education for all Changes

There are a few scary details in the article.

Schools are moving to charter = no union = little teacher rights

They need to work teachers like shift workers with hours like that article.

7:30-5! And they need to be available with their cell phone all night! No privacy at all!

It is a sad truth to know that teachers in title 1 schools need to give up all they have to show a touch of growth. The average life span of teacher is going to be only 5 years at this rate.

Good for the school, but I doubt the readers of the article are picking up on some of these scary truths.

Couple things

First, in your research did you find any high school beat the odds programs? I would love to see what they are doing.

Secondly, the flashy things are not always what gets things done. We need to make sure ALL kids have a great neighborhood school to go to. This divide and conquer attitude of "just give me all the bet teachers" is reprehensible if you think about it.

No matter what industry, the average worker will be, you guessed it, average. How do we make an extraordinary system out of a bunch of ordinary folks? That needs to be the focus.

Look at how Best Prep/Harvest Prep teaches. Forget about that headline grabbing crap, and look at their teaching methods. They are right there on the website.

They employ Response to Intervention, (RTI) a schoolwide, team based collaborative approach
They devote time to PLC's so teachers can work together, not in competition
They employ data teams, which is a collaborative and positive use of data on a daily

All of these practices take average teachers and turn them into productive teams

Maybe do a story on the way Harvest Prep has changed teaching, not just the flashy longer day, fire teachers, etc.

A story that you should cover

How come no one asks question about Minnesota Transitions Charter School and their Virtual High School. How does a publicly funded charter school afford to run commercials during the KQRS morning show. At one time they were running between 5-10x per week. Based on my experience those spots sell fro $1,000-$2,000 per commercial unit.

Even if they bought cheap inventory and got luck they had to be spending $5,000 a week on commercials. Could you imagine if our public schools wasted taxpayer money like that? It would be on every TV station and the public uproar would be deafening.