Friday, June 28, 2013

Project LIFT, Freedom Schools split up

Last summer, Freedom School Partners helped launch Project LIFT by holding reading camps at eight schools that feed into West Charlotte High.

Students in Freedom School last summer
This summer the two groups have gone their separate ways.

For LIFT leaders, it's proof of what they said when they launched their school improvement quest:  If private donors are going to put up $55 million, educators must be ruthless about spending it on programs that demonstrate an academic payoff.

"It's a quality program,"  Denise Watts, Project LIFT Zone superintendent, said of Freedom Schools, "but not necessarily the program we need to accelerate student learning.  They are great, but just not for the content that we're working on now."

Freedom Schools,  a program created by the Children's Defense Fund,  offer students a focus on reading, self-confidence and cultural awareness.  Classes are taught by college interns.

Building Educated Leaders for Life, or BELL, also worked with Project LIFT kids last summer. That program,  taught by certified teachers,  offers sessions in literacy,  math and science.  At the end of last summer,  BELL had produced gains that could be measured on the exams given at the start and end of the session.

This summer four of the eight LIFT elementary and middle schools are bringing their students back in July,  using a year-round calendar to reduce academic losses during the long summer break. Project LIFT just announced that the Arts & Science Council has been chosen to provide free enrichment programs (focused on arts and sciences, naturally) during fall, winter, spring and summer breaks for those students.  Students from the other schools are getting BELL summer classes again.

For Freedom Schools,  the split with Project LIFT is a setback to a planned expansion in the Charlotte area. Last year there were 25 sites and 1,600 students across the county;  this year there are 19 sites and 1,200 kids.  Executive Director Mary Nell McPherson says the local group is back to building its program the way it always has,  working with churches,  universities,  schools and other groups willing to provide volunteers and financial support.  Five new host sites signed on this summer, she said.


Anonymous said...

A missing component of the LIFT initiative is an emphasis on student and parental responsibility for academic achievement. When the teachers are the sole entity responsible for achievement, what stake do the students really have with regards to their own education? This is one factor why some charter school movements, such as Canada's Harlem initiative, have higher academic achievement than the public school counterparts. Calls and visits from administrators go home and there are actually consequences for actions/inaction. All children can learn but EVERYONE meaning EVERY stakeholder needs to accept responsibility with the student being held responsible for the choices they are making.

Wiley Coyote said...

...If private donors are going to put up $55 million, educators must be ruthless about spending it on programs that demonstrate an academic payoff.

WOW! Really?

What about the hundreds of millions of tax dollars spent on education in CMS each year? Just because LIFT is getting $55 million in private funding, why do those dollars get more of a sense of "ruthless" urgency?

Ms. Watts, the academic payoff should be no different using tax dollars since money is money, no matter where it comes from.

Anonymous said...

6:52 You are right on. If CMS wants to do something really revolutionary they would enact programs at all the schools, particularly elementary, that make the parents more accountable for their children's education and success. Requiring parents to come to parent/teacher conferences is a start (or child doesn't start new quarter), also offering fun day/evening math, science and grammar courses once a month per grade level at school with parent and child in attendance together, parents and children completing work/project together. Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Another split up seems to be Meck ACTS with Parents Across America. What's happened here? Meck ACTS' founder's connection with this group was touted on this blog and has frequently been mentioned in Observer education articles. Diane Ravitch's name has disappeared from PAA's webpage. And PAA is nowhere to be found on Meck ACTS webpage. What's going on, Ann? Don't tell us that politics could be involved in such high minded groups!

Pamela Grundy said...

Just to set the record straight, MecklenburgACTS remains an affiliate of Parents Across America, and Diane Ravitch remains a supporter of both groups. None of these relationships has ever been in question. But of course, folks eager to find trouble can always imagine that they have.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Watts , Keep blowing smoke and I am sure you have a exit plan for LIFT. With LIFT you gained a job after you left CMS. I am sure your group of close advisors wants to keep that $55 million in your inner circle. Answer me this question- what happens to LIFT zone in 3 years when funded is used on your bloated salaries?

Anonymous said...

Can I get an AMEN bothers and sistas

Anonymous said...

Report from Andrew Russo, This Week in Education June 5.

Update: Key Members Depart "Parents Across America"

Pamela Grundy said...

As I noted in the comments to Russo's article, he was mistaken when he said I had left Parents Across America. I stepped down from the board because of workload, but remain part of the organization.

Anonymous said...

Ask which other LIFT programs from last year were cut - you may be surprised. Some big ones.

Then ask if it had to do with paying for the new year long calendar.

Bruce Taylor said...

I agree with Denise Watts that Freedom School is a quality program, and the Center for Adolescent Literacies at UNC Charlotte has conducted evaluation research since 2009 supporting this. This research has shown consistently that the majority of Scholars (students) in Freedom School programs are gaining and maintaining in their ability to read during the summer months when so many students--especially those at risk due to poverty and other factors. Summer learning loss is no small thing. Research has shown that the cumulative effects of summer learning loss on students can mean that some start middle school two years behind their peers in their ability to read. On average, 55 to 60 percent of Scholars show gains in their reading ability as measured by the Basic Reading Inventory. Another 25 to 30 percent maintain and eight to 10 percent show declines. When our research team asked Scholars about the program--what they liked and what they'd change--they said overwhelmingly that the high-interest, culturally relevant books, the college-age interns, and the activities related to reading were engaging. Freedom School Partners has helped to fill a much-needed gap in summer programming in our community--programming that has a strong literacy component--so that fewer youth at risk of experiencing learning loss during the summer see gains or retain what they learned during the school year. For any who are interested, I'd suggest reading the Freedom School evaluation reports at our website:

Bruce Taylor, Ph.D.
The Center for Adolescent Literacies at UNC Charlotte

Wiley Coyote said...


I'm confused.

From the Freedom School website I read this:

Freedom Schools operate six weeks, Monday – Friday, and work to build confidence and sense of self-worth in scholars while preventing summer learning loss — which is the biggest contributor to the growing achievement gap.

What "achievement gap" are they referring to? White/Black? Black/Hispanic? White/Hispanic?

To hear CMS sing their own praises, they're closing the "achievement gap".

So which is it?

Ann Doss Helms said...

Wiley, no one in CMS claims they've eliminated any of those gaps, though yes, there's been talk about "closing" them forever.

Anonymous said...

@11:01 Start with TFA

Funding loss is not about academics.

Wiley Coyote said...


I said closing. Not eliminating, which is why I asked the question.

Again, which is it? Closing or widening?

You posted many results over the years and I've commented to them, as did Gorman, stating based on the "gains in closing the gap", it will take another 15 years to do so - if then.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

All this maters little to none in the grand scene of education. Ms. Watts got a job after she quit the system and Kojo got some pride restored. None of their schools got reopened. No grades or graduation increases are measured via LIFT. They have 3 more years to go and then it's kaboom back to regular funding. I just hope CMS is still open in 3 years! Who will replace Heath in that time frame?