Sunday, January 22, 2017

What are your dreams for me?

A parent’s dreams for their child drive school achievement best when they are updated at least annually, and discussed at home.
Due to ongoing improvements in student achievement in schools with active Time Capsule Projects, Dallas ISD is preparing to place the two letter writing lessons from the Time Capsule Project into the DISD Language Arts curriculum.  Beginning in the 3rd grade, and then annually through the 12th grade, all students will have these two connected letter writing lessons each year. A 10-year Time Capsule component may be seen as an additional alternative.

With these two lessons added to the writing curriculum, hopefully a core of volunteers will form at each school to help in the writing and collection of letters from students, and then the storing and returning of them to students a year later.  This will happen for all students except, of course, the students no longer at the school, the students who went on to middle school or high school the previous year. Those final year letters are not returned for a decade.  They must be stored for the reunions that volunteers help plan and coordinate in 10 years.  


This is exceptionally rewarding volunteer work! Observing students begin to become serious about planning their futures, and then the reunions, are all powerfully positive events. Volunteers see progress happen, and students who are proud of achievements.

The letter writing instructions change for students in their final year in their school before leaving for the next school in their educational process.  The letters written the last year in a school are written with plans and dreams focused 10 years into the future.  These final envelopes remain in the school time capsule vault, or are otherwise stored, for a decade, until the class 10-year reunion.  It is recommended the final letters be written during the last month in the school year. These letters will be documenting plans as they existed at the end of this time in the child's education in that elementary school, or middle school, or high school. 

Needless to say the complexity and quality of the letters will grow from year to year.

The first letter writing assignments are recommended for the start of each school year in all grades except the final grade in each school.  That final 10-year letter should be written toward the end of the school year.

The letter writing process starts with students writing one or more letters to their parents, and/or other important people in their lives. They write this letter to ask for a letter back about that person's dreams for them.  This "What are your dreams for me?" letter also requests one story from their family or cultural history to be included in the letter. It is a story that the person writing the letter considers so valuable they would like that story to be passed on someday to the student's children.

Such a story would strengthen a child's awareness of their own heritage, their roots, and their community history.  These letters will provide priceless connections, priceless records of family stories.  A different story should be told each year.


A note from the school is attached to each student’s letter written.  The note will reinforce details about the letter writing assignment. It recommends everyone writing a letter go over it with the student before the student brings the letter back to school. Priceless conversations will happen.
Back at school with the letter(s), the first thing students do is prepare a self-addressed envelope for all these letters.  The return address on the envelope should include their teacher's name, the date, and the school's return address. It will be addressed to them at their home address with email address and cell phone number also recorded on the envelope.

Students then write a letter to themselves about their goals and how they will achieve them.  This student letter may include other stories students want to remember. When finished, each student places their letter, and all their other letters from parents, relatives and others, into the self-addressed envelope they prepared. This completed envelope is then placed into the school’s time capsule, on the shelf dedicated to each student's class, or it is otherwise stored by the school.
Each year the previous year’s envelope is returned to each student before the next letter writing process. In their next request letter to each relative students include the letter written by that relative the year before. The year-old letters are read before new ones are written to update dreams and plans, and to see what was being thought about a year earlier. How has the writer of the letter seen the student change?  

Students may want to reclaim these older letters to have a file of them at home that will grow over the years.  It is a growing process. 

Students are reminded of it often if they are in a school with a 500-pound Time Capsule Vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby that they pass daily. They see the vault and maybe they are reminded of the letters that are in it from their family. Hopefully the vault is even under spotlights to increase visibility and reinforce the value of planning for the future.
This year will be the third 10-year reunion at Quintanilla Middle School. It will be in April or May of 2017 for the 8th grade class of 2007. It’s scheduled before Career Day to secure volunteers for Career Day from the students coming to the reunion to pick up their decade old letters. 

On Career Day 2017, these volunteers from the Class of 2007 will talk to current students about life after middle school, their employment and preparation for it, and what they would do differently if they were 12 again.
Such annual goal-focused letter writing is now moving into the elementary grades in several DISD elementary schools. Writing this letter to parents and other adults prepares a student to be more open to what they will receive back in the letters they will receive.  
It is never too early for a child to discuss their life plans with parents and others. 

As the years pass, with this letter writing between parent and child happening, the potential for parental involvement in school will grow.  Parents will improve in their understanding of what is happening in school. Their understanding of goals possible with education will improve. They will be more comfortable asking questions.

The School Effectiveness Indices for the involved schools will continue to rise, especially above schools with a less active Time Capsule Projects.   See some of the data and history of this project as it improved over the years. See http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2016/10/dallas-isd-time-capsule-project_28.html

1-22-17 Bill Betzen, bbetzen@aol.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ten largest Texas ISD's & letter grades given in 2016

The people of Dallas can be very proud of recent progress in Dallas ISD! While the letter grading system has multiple issues, it also reflects some of the progress in DISD, the highest poverty large urban district in all of Texas! In spite of that poverty, DISD did well, including having the highest post secondary (college) readiness grade of all 10 districts!
Ten Largest Texas ISD's and letter grades given in 2016 by the Texas Education Agency 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

KIPP has over 65% more revenue per child but is not spending that much more on Instruction!

There is a general pattern in charter schools having higher student turnover, (http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2012/04/kipp-truth-academy-student-movement.html), a charter student dropout rate that is many times higher than ISD's, and a teacher turnover rate twice that of ISD's. The result is an average charter school teacher tenure that is less than half that of ISD's. (Verified at the blog at the last link below.)
Today I discovered that one of the more prominent charter schools systems, KIPP, also has an unusually large amount of money per student more than Dallas ISD, and KIPP is NOT spending correspondingly more on student instruction! While charter schools on average spend 5 percentage points less of their budget on Instruction, that number is usually about 40% of revenue. At KIPP that number is closer to 30%!
Texas Education Agency Snapshot data shows that the 2 KIPP schools in Dallas are both getting about 70% more per student in income (Item 73 shows $17,979 for KIPP vs $10,595 for DISD) than Dallas ISD. However, they are only spending about 25% more on instruction (Item 88 shows $6,000 for KIPP vs $4,801 for DISD. 2014 expenditures were almost equal between KIPP and DISD even though the income per students was almost as high as 2015!) It makes you wonder where the extra money goes, and wonder even more why the percentage of all students passing all tests (Item # 23) is only 2 percentage points higher for KIPP than DISD (67% vs 69%).
Given a more select student population (impossible to avoid when parents both select the school and must have resources to provide transportation to the school) KIPP should be doing much better. KIPP teacher turnover is almost double that at DISD, and average teacher tenure is only 2 years compared to 10 at DISD, so those are certainly factors. Higher teacher turnover is a very common pattern at charter schools. Look at the data at https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/perfreport/snapshot/2015/district.srch.html
Unless the charter schools are able to lessen transparency surrounding their operations, and keep parents quiet about what is happening to their children in school, the true public schools, ISD's, will win this war. Meanwhile what is the loss to students? See more data for the entire state of Texas for charter schools and ISD's, with a comparison to DISD, at http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2016/12/review-of-2014-2015-texas-education.html

Monday, January 2, 2017

Building Self Respect

For fewer behavior problems and higher achievement in high poverty, urban schools

Children without life goals develop into adults without life goals. Behavior problems, teen pregnancies, and criminal behavior are all more common, while academic achievement is much more rare without life goals.
As students advance though school they have increasing ability to identify, document, and update life goals. Sadly, it is too rare that this growing ability is used for what should be a consistently recorded annual event in each student’s development, an event their parents or guardians should also be actively involved in so that they also can also identify their goals for their child. What are their goals as parents?  This project encourages parental involvement in the development of priceless parental goals for every student.
As both parents and students develop the ability to identify and update life goals, self-confidence and self-respect grows for all involved. With that growth, behavioral problems decrease and teen pregnancies will almost disappear. The best birth control in the world is self-control built on the foundation of a solid vision on one’s future life and goals. Negative behaviors lessen, and the potential for criminal behavior almost disappears, as a student’s grasp of future goals strengthens.
Such a future focused, life goal identification project called the Time Capsule Project, is now 12 years old in Dallas ISD. Quintanilla Middle School began a goal-focused project for student motivation in 2005. It started only with letters by 8th graders to themselves about their goals for 10 years into the future.  Those letters were to be opened after a decade in a huge vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby with 10 shelves inside for 10 years’ worth of letters.  The graduation rates at the high school most students attended immediately began to improve every year as discipline problems and other negative behaviors decreased.  
In 2009 parents and guardians were invited to join in with their own letters to their child about their dreams for their child. While only as many as 1/3 of parents wrote such valuable letters, that practice was encouraged as the evolving Time Capsule Project spread to 7 more middle schools.
All Time Capsule Project schools have seen their School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) measurements improve significantly faster than other DISD middle schools during the three academic years from 2013/14 through 2015/16. (See documentation in blogs at www.StudentMotivation.org.)  The two oldest Time Capsule Project Schools have the highest three years average SEI of all 35 middle schools in Dallas ISD!  The remaining 5 schools had an average three year improvement of 6.7 points on their average SEI while the 24 remaining non-magnet middle schools in DISD had their annual SEI scores go down an average of 0.7 points.
In spite of this impressive increase in SEI scores for Time Capsule Project schools, the level of parental involvement by writing a letter to their child has rarely, if ever, gone above 30%. That changed in May of 2016 after the above SEI progress was documented. 
In the past, the request for this parental letter had always came from school staff in a letter sent home.  In May of 2016, Quintanilla changed the source of the request, and decided to have all three grades in the school to be involved.  The request for parents to write to their child about their dreams for their child now comes directly from that child in a letter the student writes in class to their parents.
Immediately the percentage of parents writing a letter to their child increased almost threefold to as much as 85%! When the request comes directly from their child, parents respond!
Remember, Quintanilla also stopped limiting involvement to only 8th graders. They expanded this priceless goal-centered letter writing between parent and child to all grades.
Due to the immediate success of these changes it is now recommended that Time Capsule Project schools have all students write one letter to each parent, and/or involved relative, each year asking them to write a letter back about their dreams for the student. Students in the fourth grade and above should also ask that one story from their family history be included in each letter, a story to be passed on to grandchildren. This strengthens a child's awareness of their family heritage, their roots, and provides priceless documentation of it.
A note from the school can be attached to each student’s letter sent home. It reinforces details about the Time Capsule Project. It recommends everyone writing a letter go over it with the student before the student brings it back it school.
At school, students then write a letter to themselves about their goals and how they will achieve them.  This letter includes stories students want to remember. When finished, each student places their letter, and all relative letters received, into the self-addressed envelope they should have addressed as the first thing to do in class, before writing their letters.  They use their complete home address with email and cell number placed in the second and third lines of the address above the street number and name on the envelope. The return address should have teachers name, the class, and the date the letter is written.  Addressing envelopes is critical so letters are not lost. The completed envelope is placed into the school’s time capsule, on the shelf dedicated to each student's class.
Each year the previous year’s envelopes are returned to students before the next letter writing process. In their request letter to each relative students include the letter written the year before. The year-old letters are read before new ones are written to update dreams and plans.
It is a growing process. Students are reminded of it as they see the 500-pound Time Capsule Vault often, passing it several times daily in the school lobby, where it should be centrally located under spotlights.
This process changes for students in their final year in their school before leaving for the next school in the educational process.  That last year letters are written with plans and dreams focused 10 years into the future.  These final envelopes remain in the time capsule for a decade, until the class 10-year reunion.
The third Quintanilla Middle School 10-year reunion to pick up letters will be in 2017 for the 8th grade class of 2007. It’s scheduled before Career Day to secure volunteers for Career Day. On Career Day, these volunteers talk to current students about life after middle school, their employment and preparation for it, and what they would do differently if they were 13 again.
Such annual goal-focused letter writing is now moving into the elementary grades in at least two DISD elementary schools. At what age could a child write such a powerful request to their parents in a letter? Writing the letter prepares the student to be more open to what their parents will write back.  
It is never too early for a child to discuss their life plans with parents. Nothing increases the potential for fewer behavioral problems than having an active vision of one’s future life, a vision that parents are involved with.
1-2-17 Bill Betzen, bbetzen@aol.com