Monday, November 12, 2012

Will extra school days pay off?

Project LIFT is looking at spending up to $4.7 million a year to add 20 school days for students in nine west Charlotte schools. When Zone Superintendent Denise Watts recently updated the school board on the prospect, board member Eric Davis had a question:  How will you measure the academic value of those extra days, apart from all the other improvement efforts?

"That's something we struggle with,"  Watts said.  The $55 million, five-year project to improve the life prospects of some 7,100 students is working on several fronts, from recruiting better teachers to strengthening family involvement.

If it works,  one of the challenges will be teasing out the value of each change.

When it comes to shrinking summer break and adding school days,  Watts and her crew start with the premise that the kids who are most at risk of failure are the ones most likely to lose ground during long school breaks. They're showing this video to illustrate the problem.

They're also looking at reports and research,  including this American School Board Journal article about summer programs that work, this WestEd summary of efforts to extend the school year, and this 2010 summary of the academic research on the benefits.  Short version:  There are signs that extra time in school can make a difference,  but it's no silver bullet and it costs a lot.

This past summer,  LIFT went with the less radical option of offering voluntary summer programs to about 1,700 students,  at no charge to their families.  Some went to BELL camps (read an Observer article about this summer's BELL programs here).  That program did pre- and post-testing that showed some benefits, Watts said.  But about 100 students who were offered the chance to attend didn't accept,  illustrating one of the challenges of optional summer camps,  Watts told the board.

Other students went to Freedom Schools, a summer reading program that's growing in the Charlotte area (read an Observer article here).  That effort got "mixed reviews" and doesn't have the same kind of data on academic gains,  Watts said.

Skeptics and cynics have been vocal about Project LIFT.  Some of you will say all this shows that it's a waste of money,  that  "those kids"  are destined for failure and  "those families"  aren't pulling their weight.

At this point,  I'm willing to give the leaders of the philanthropic board and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools credit for being candid about the immensity of the challenge they've tackled.  Breaking the cycle of poverty and school failure is extraordinarily difficult. Even measuring the results is going to be tough.  If the leaders were whipping out glowing reports at the outset,  I'd be much more wary of their willingness to do that work.

Davis told Watts that he expects her to ensure that CMS can measure the value of investing in a longer school year.

" 'Ensure' is a strong word,"  Watts said.

"It sure is,"  Davis replied.  "That's why I'm using it."


Wiley Coyote said...

Project LIFT is looking at spending up to $4.7 million a year to add 20 school days

$23.5 million over 5 years? That's 43% of your money right there, assuming LIFT will pay for it and not taxpayers.

Everytime I read a story on Project LIFT, millions of dollars are being spent on this and that.

At the rate I keep reading, they will run out of other peoples money before 5 years.

Be prepared taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a summer arts program near the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC during the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic. The mayor and city of Washington thought it would be a dandy idea to PAY middle and high school students to attend a summer arts program that also funded a paid staff in an effort to "get kids off the streets". Our first performance was entitled "Stop the Killing!". About 30% of kids enrolled in the program rarely bothered to show up to receive their participation paycheck - like a participation trophy with benefits. The mayor's wife and children came to our performance before the fine mayor was arrested for smoking crack in a hotel room with an unidentified woman.

Although I appreciated the employment opportunity, I think it would be nice to have some supporting evidence that the latest program concocted by politicians and billionaires for the purpose of improving the lives of children and education of young minds actually works.


Anonymous said...

I can't make this stuff up.

BolynMcClung said...


…..there is much to be worried about.

I carry around in my wallet the six focus areas from L.I.F.T.’s website:

1.)) Enhance teacher and school leadership quality
2.)) Increasing learning time beyond the regular school day
3.)) Access to technology
4.)) Increased parental and community involvement
5.)) Policy changes to give more freedom to school leadership
6.)) Outline a broad outreach program to engage leaders and citizens on the west side in the effort to improve schools

A news release on the website states it will use proven reform models and practices drawn from across the country.

If I were a school board member I’d want a specific report on the six points and the news release. I’d want a detailed financial statement to show the public. ….and an explanation of how L.I.F.T got those extra 20 days without a firm plan to use them. I heard about those extra days mid-summer and knowledgeable folk I asked seem to know little about them. I’m wondering if they will be an albatross.

I was at the start of the last Board workshop that Ann mentions in her story. I was surprised that Ms. Watts’ presentation began with a rehash of what I had seen in July. That bothered me. I thought there would have been more to tell.

There is a lot riding on L.I.F.T. no matter who is talking. Quite frankly, suburban residents see it as resegregation that will halt busing. Others see it as proof that CMS can be split into three parts. I see it as a long term way to lower the cost of education.

But if L.I.F.T. isn’t more closely monitored by the Uptown offices, all of us will be disappointed….as well as the westside families. In five years it might still be 2012……And I suppose that answers the question Dr. Morrison recently asked all nine board members; “What will CMS in 2017 be like?”

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

In 2017, Dr. Morrison will be history.

Anonymous said...

Bolyn, Exactly where do you get this "suburban parents seeing this as resegregation that will halt busing" Are you implying that suburbanites support it so that their kids don't have to go to school with poor kids? How do you know that? Isn't it possible that suburban parents have seen the results of busing and honestly believe it is better for everyone to have a strong school in their neighborhood? How many suburban people have you heard say "Go Project Lift, let's resegregate."? Actually pretty funny considering how diversity is growing by leaps and bounds in the suburbs.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of LIFT and extra school days and such...

When is CMS, and every other school system in the US, going to realize that parents no longer need the kids home all summer to work on the farm? We are not an agrarian society anymore. This whole 9-month school year model is more than 100 years out of date.

While the dedicated, hard-core leftists will continue to scream at the top of their lungs that there is ONE, and ONLY ONE, way to improve education, and that is to spend more money on it, I say we try everything available - including throwing out the old "school year must be Aug-May so kids can work on the farm" model out the window.

Bill Stevens said...

Just as the judge said at the conclusion of the Kansas City school integration effort, the kids may as well not atended high school. They did not progress any more even with the extra money that the state taxpayers kicked in.

Yes, let's learn from other reform programs. But let's not look at them through rose colored glasses.

Finally, if LIFT can not "ensure" it provided any of the gains, such as the false gain of graduation rates done simply by changing a few grades by adminstrators, then will this community finally learn its lesson about this huge waste of human and financial resources?

Jim said...

Why, of course! If nine months of the same old same old produces inferior results, just add another month! Shazaam!

Anonymous said...

Wiley, Stop giving Denise the answers to her budget. You know she did not actually compute that into her budget. Eric Davis still does not know that their is no accountability or measurement for the program he approved (LIFT)? What a tool he is.

Anonymous said...

OK I think we need to separate Project LIFT from anything CMS is doing or will do in the next years. Project LIFT is adding days to the school calendar and making the calendar year-round to accomodate the extra month of school. Wouldn't we all LOVE that. So, if this works, WHO is going to pay for this long term? It certainly does not fit into the CMS Budget! We are teaching people to live like millionairs without the income to back it up. In my opinion Project LIFT is not serving their community - you want to help, help them see the value in education, teach them to work and live within their means, teach them to reach farther... If we set the bar low they will rise to meet it there, DOWN there. Raise the bar, expect and believe they can do MORE, AND THEY WILL!

We should be challenging ALL our communities to rise to the task!

Wiley Coyote said...


If you honestly believe a LIFT scenario implemented nationwide will save money in public education, I have some prime beach front property in Siberia I'd love to sell you.

BolynMcClung said...

TO: WC....a simple reply

The power of public education is unquestionably untapped. It isn't money that is holding it back. It is will: which in my way of thinking, can not be purchased.

It is likely in the future that more education can be gotten with less money, that more education with more money.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Boyln, you are somewhat right the will part. It not only has to do with the lack of will of those who perfer to live off the backs of those who are the productive class but it is also the will of politicans to tell the community organizers they have grown tired of their old banter and lack of progress trillons of dollars have been thrown down the hole for.

When the decision is finally made to cut this society apart and make them pretty much have to rely on themselves will any progress be made. The liberal media, like the Charlotte Observer editorial staff have not been our community's best asset.

Anonymous said...

The REAL reason behind not wanting year round schools:

None of the $SIX FIGURE$ Principals in CMS want to have to work 12 months out of the year. Most do very little in July.

In private none will vote for it.

Anonymous said...

The "Summer Learning" video is based on a lie.

The "gap" is not just between middle and lower income kids.

Sure there is a small gap there when measured within the same ethnic groups.

The larger gaps are between the ethnic groups, particularly between Blacks and just about everyone else, including Hispanics.

Lower income white kids (as measured by FRL enrollment) still do better than middle class (non-FRL kids) who are black on the various standardized tests they are given.

This is a fact that can be verified by examining standardized test scores.

I don't know why people persist in telling the lie about income causing the gap.

Maybe because they just want people to throw more money at the "problem".

Anonymous said...

Project Lift has a seperate Human Resource Officer ?!!?

Does the taxpayers of this county know about this? I think not.

Anonymous said...

They have to have a seperate HR Officer. CMeS has hired the last 3 that are some of the most incompetent in the country. God help the school system and the taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

If more time in class and more money were the solutions, we would have solved all of our education challenges long ago....