Tag Archives: De La Salle North Catholic High

Who says Black children can’t learn? Some schools get it

22 Mar

People want an education for a variety of reasons. Some have a love of learning. Others want to attend a good college or vocational school. Still others, see an education as a ticket to a good job. Increasingly for schools, the goal is to prepare kids with the skills to attend and succeed at college. In order to give children the skills to succeed, schools need teachers who are effective at educating their population of kids. There are many themes in the attempt to answer the question, what will prepare kids for what comes after high school. What will prepare kids for what comes after high school is a good basic education. The schools that provide a good basic education are relentless about the basics.

Sharon Otterman has a good news story in the New York Times about how a relentless focus on the basics can yield results. In Brooklyn School Scores High Despite Poverty Otterman reports:     

To ace the state standardized tests, which begin on Monday, Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, finds money for coaches in writing, reading and math. Teachers keep detailed notes on each child, writing down weaknesses and encouraging them to repeat tasks. There is after-school help and Saturday school.

But at the start of this school year, seven or eight students were still falling behind. So the school hired a speech therapist who could analyze why they and other students stumbled in language. A psychologist produced detailed assessments and recommendations. A dental clinic staffed by Lutheran Medical Center opened an office just off the fourth-grade classrooms, diagnosing toothaches, a possible source of distraction, and providing free cleanings.

Perfection may seem a quixotic goal in New York City, where children enter school from every imaginable background and ability level. But on the tests, P.S. 172, also called the Beacon School of Excellence, is coming close — even though 80 percent of its students are poor enough to qualify for free lunch, nearly a quarter receive special education services, and many among its predominately Hispanic population do not speak English at home.

In 2009, the 580-student primary school, tucked between fast-food restaurants and gas stations in a semi-industrial strip of Fourth Avenue, topped the city with its fourth-grade math scores, with all students passing, all but one with a mark of “advanced,” or Level 4. In English, all but one of 75 fourth graders passed, earning a Level 3 or 4, placing it among the city’s top dozen schools.

On average, at schools with the same poverty rate, only 66 percent of the students pass the English test, and 29 percent score at an advanced level in math, according to a New York Times analysis of Department of Education statistics. And though it is less well known, P.S. 172 regularly outperforms its neighbors in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, where parents raise hundreds of thousands a year for extra aides and enrichment.

The school’s approach, while impressive in its attention to detail, starts with a simple formula: “Teach, assess, teach, assess,” said Jack Spatola, its principal since 1984.

Mr. Spatola attributed the coaches and other extra help to careful budgeting and fighting for every dollar from the Department of Education; the school’s cost per pupil, in fact, is lower than the city’s average. [Emphasis Added]

What this school does well is know its student population and design assessments and interventions targeted at its population of kids. It is an example of the think small not small minded philosophy.    

Betsy Hammond has penned The Oregonian story, Predominantly African American AP calculus class is exceptionally rare, marked by camaraderie and success:

The mood is cheerful as seniors in this small calculus class at De La Salle North Catholic High begin a warm-up exercise. They’re seeking the integral of x divided by x-squared minus four.

They work fast, cranking out steps that rely on u-substitution and the anti-differentiation rule. Clearly, they find this a cinch.

Teacher Scott Reis asks for a volunteer to show the answer on the board, and Alex Faison-Donahoe jumps up: “Mr. Reis, let me do it!”

The eagerness and camaraderie in the room at the private North Portland school are not what you might expect in a tough Advanced Placement calculus class, but they’re genuine.

Even more unusual: Two-thirds of the students, including Faison-Donahoe, are African American; only one of the 15 students is white. .

That’s a sharp contrast with other advanced high school math classes in Oregon. Among the state’s 42 public schools that enroll at least 25 African Americans and offer calculus, just five had even a single black student in calculus, according to recently released federal civil rights data from 2009-10. No school had more than five black students in the course.

Schools that enrolled substantial numbers of African Americans but none in calculus included Beaverton’s Westview High, Portland’s Grant and Madison high schools, and David Douglas High in outer Southeast Portland, the federal data show.

Only Roosevelt High, also in North Portland, has come close to matching private De La Salle’s track record. It has 31 students in AP calculus this year, including 10 African Americans and five Latinos….

De La Salle, a low-cost Catholic high school that enrolls promising students from low-income backgrounds, didn’t end up with a predominantly black calculus class easily or by design.

Students admitted to De La Salle as freshmen arrive, on average, a year and a half behind academically. They come from schools including Portsmouth, Ockley Green and H.B. Lee middle schools — high-poverty schools with low test scores.

But they also are hungry — to learn, to work hard, to get to college. “This is a tough place with a high bar,” says Principal Tim Joy. “The primary thing we look for (in applicants) is desire….”
A culture of success

Lisa Delpit, author of the new book “‘Multiplication is for White People’; Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children,” says widespread underestimation of black students’ abilities to succeed at rigorous academics is societal and begins before African American children start school.

She says Reis and De La Salle have overcome the problem in exactly the right way — by assembling a big group of black students, not just a handful, to take a demanding class, then helping the students form a sense of community.


Another example of a school that is relentless about the basics.

There are certain elements that successful schools share. The Wisconsin Department of Education has a good guide about successful schools. Chapter One, Characteristics of Successful Schools, lists key elements:



A vision represents clearly articulated statements of goals, principles, and expectations for the entire learning community. A common unifying vision is achieved when the administration, teachers, support staff, students, families, and demographically representative community members are able to clearly communicate that vision through the daily operation of the school district. A vision becomes a guiding force when all educational decisions are based on its framework and goals.


A clear vision is like a good road map. Without a good map it is difficult to determine where you are going and, impossible to know when you arrive. A dynamic vision engages and represents the whole community and outlines a path to follow. The vision allows school leaders to create a compelling view that excites and engages other constituents to join in the educational journey.

Key Ideas

  1. Effective schools have a clearly defined vision for the improvement of learning for each and every student.
  2. Emphasis is on the achievement of a broadly defined set of standards that includes academic knowledge, skill, development, and standards of the heart.
  3. Goals are framed in a way that can be benchmarked through the school year and measured at year’s end. Progress is recorded and used for improvement efforts.
  4. Communication about the goals as well as progress toward them is a regular part of school activities among all constituents.

Successful Schools Have a Vision That:

  1. is accompanied by other strategic planning. Strategic planning is a data-driven process that guides decision making, as well as program implementation components such as:
    • goal statements
    • means to accomplish the goals
    • timelines
  2. links education standards to teacher expectations and student performance
  3. fosters district wide expectations and experiences that result in all students mastering challenging standards at proficient or above levels
  4. engages the entire learning community to take responsibility for all students’ learning
  5. includes carefully defined terms that are known and supported by all constituents
  6. is developed with representation from a wide variety of publics and demographic groups
  7. drives resource allocation in the learning as well as the broader community
  8. allows the societal, academic, and organizational components of education to operate in a seamless manner
  9. articulates the learning community’s commitment to both excellence and equity in the organization
  10. embraces the dual mission of creating in each student solid and rigorous academic achievement and civic caring and responsibility

Note, De La Salle North Catholic High is one example of what is possible with school choice.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©