Academy Prep in St. Petersburg is a private middle school that only enrolls low-income students.
It’s 7:30 a.m. and the fifth through eight graders at Academy Prep in midtown St. Petersburg are lined up outside to recite the school pledge. It’s a cool February morning and they’re a little fidgety until Head of School Gina Burkett raises two fingers above her head and all goes quiet.
The pledge starts with “ Standing in this room are the greatest, most committed, most responsible people this world has ever known.”
That may sound slightly immodest but getting these kids to believe they are capable of great things is a big part of the curriculum here.
You see, Academy Prep is a private middle school exclusively for children whose families live below the poverty level and it is paid for entirely with corporate and private donations. It’s in one of the poorest areas of Pinellas County.
The school was started 17 years ago when the owners of a local resort overheard their employees talking about the problems their kids were having in the local public school.
So, using their own money and private donations they, along with some retired educators started this not-for-profit school in the heart of one of St. Petersburg’s most troubled neighborhoods.
They had to add fractions to find a total for the amount of cake or glasses of apple juice students consumed.
Then, they had to divide the total to find the average.
Along the way, the students frequently took a peek at charts hanging around the room. Called anchor charts, these diagrams were drawn by students in the other 5th grade class and laid out each of the steps they used to create a line plot.
As Miami-Dade schools have switched to Florida’s Common Core-based math standards anchor charts are an important addition to classrooms, said Michelle White, who directs math instruction for the school district.
“It tells a learning story,” White said. “When you walk in I can look at anchor charts and see what concepts have been covered.”
i-Ready tests each student, identifies the concepts which he or she is struggling with and then delivers lessons, games and other activities to help the student master them. And this can all happen without the teacher’s help.
Salazar divided her class in half. While students worked in groups on line plots, the rest of the class worked by themselves on i-Ready lessons.
Working with just a dozen students — instead of 24 — allowed Salazar to spend more time with each on the complicated line plot lesson, which included more math concepts than usual. Salazar planned to switch the two groups the next day.
Experts say it means big changes to how math is taught. More focus on understanding concepts and solving problems multiple ways. Less memorization of formulas and grinding out worksheets full of similar problems.
Math is a constant conversation for Jessica Knopf and her fifth-grader, Natasha.
They talk about math at the dinner table. They send questions and answers by phone. They sought tutoring in online videos.
“When this Common Core stuff starting coming home,” Knopf says, “it wasn’t something I could just scribble and go ‘Oh, here it is.’ No. I had to stop. I had to think about it. I had to go online to Khan Academy. I had to bring my husband in. It wasn’t logical.”
Anya Kamenetz is an education reporter for NPR and author of a new book on testing in U.S. schools.
Lots of people think there’s too much testing going on in schools right now. It’s one of the most contentious issues in education.
Lawmakers want to scale back the amount of time Florida students spend taking tests.
But at the same time, Florida is rolling out a new test tied to new math and language arts standards — known as Common Core.
NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz researched the history and use of standardized exams for her book, “The Test.”
Kamenetz sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida education reporter John O’Connor to talk about what students are losing — because of all the tests.
Q: What was your view on testing before you started work on the book and did it change at all during the course of reporting and writing it?
A: As I began to be an education reporter, first I was a higher education reporter. And I was very enthralled with, sort of, innovations in higher ed. And when I turned my attention to K-12, partly because I had a child of my own, I realized that there was very much less scope for, sort of, innovation in K-12.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Editor’s note: As schools around the country celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday holiday, we’re reposting this essay from former South Florida teacher Jeremy Glazer about race in education.
Here’s a question:How do you teach a class of all black students in an all black school that Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation decades ago?
That isn’t a hypothetical question, but one I remember clearly asking myself. I was teaching American History for the first time in one of our nation’s many embarrassingly homogeneous schools. I could not, with a straight face, teach my students that segregation had ended. They’d think that either they or I didn’t know what the word segregation meant.
But, as a beginning teacher, I was afraid of telling too much truth. Brown’s legacy is not a hopeful story about law, or government, or progress, and it seemed like a particularly cruel lesson in power, racism, and injustice. I wanted to be both honest and gentle to my students and probably failed at both.