The Manhood Development Program

Akintunde Ahmad

African American Male Achievement

Welcome to Oakland, California, the most diverse city in the United States. In Oakland, you can find it all. Every ethnicity, every language, every religion. From artists and athletes and academics, to bikers and dancers and teachers, this city truly captures the beauty that encompasses all forms of humanity. Oakland is a special place. On one hand the success of the city’s sports teams, growth in job markets, and unique culture are to be praised and celebrated. On the other hand, the city’s criminal justice system and socio-economic education inequalities are in desperate need of fixing. While some demographic groups can live in Oakland and reap all of the benefits that this amazing city has offer, other marginalized groups are being forgotten and left to deal with the burden of being on the receiving end of the city’s economic and social inequality. To be blunt, the African-American community in Oakland is in need of healing. Specifically, African-American males are consistently getting the short end of the stick when it comes down to what cities like Oakland have to offer. Black males are the lowest achieving pupils in our nation’s schools, the most likely to be arrested and incarcerated, and the most likely to fall victim to gun violence.  These issues are intersectional, with education, incarceration, and economic inequality being the main issues that need fixing. These problems have persisted throughout history, and while there has been much talk about the problems, there haven’t been many effective solutions. However, the Manhood Development Program in Oakland, CA is taking on the challenge to change the narrative for black men by infiltrating Oakland Unified School District’s classrooms and implementing strategies and programming that target the city’s most troubled demographic group.

Why African-American Males?

So why exactly do cities need programs targeting and assisting African-American males? Lets look at the statistics. A Pew Research study tells us that across the United States, “black children were almost four times as likely as white or Asian children to be living in poverty in 2013, and significantly more likely than Hispanic children” (Patten and Krogstad, 2015).

Graphic Taken From Pew Research Study, 2015

A report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education states that in the 2012-13 school year, the national graduation rate was 59% for Black males, 65% for Latino males, and 80% for White males (Schott Foundation, 2015). According to a report done by the Sentencing Project, if current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime (Sentencing Project, 2013). Now, lets shift the focus to Oakland specifically. When it comes to incarceration, a 2013 report stated that 73.5 percent of juvenile arrests in Oakland are black males, even though they make up only 29.3% of the Oakland Youth population (Black Organizing Project, 2013). When it comes to education, black males have consistently had the lowest graduation rates in Oakland’s public school district. In 2011-2012, African-American males graduation rate was 52.4%, compared to a district graduation rate of 66.8% (Oakland Unified School District, 2014). When observing overall inequality, a report by the Alameda County Public Health Department stated that compared to a white child born in the Oakland Hills, a black child born in West Oakland is 13 times as likely to be poor and a four times less likely to be reading at grade level in the fourth grade (Brown, 2016).

Graphic Taken From The Community Assessment, Planning, Education, and Evaluation Unit of the Alameda County Public Health Department, 2015.

Introducing the African-American Male Achievement Program

The evidence is clear. In cities like Oakland, African-American boys need help, and in more ways than one. In order to effectively change the narrative for African-American males, programs must attempt to combat not only issues that exist on school campuses and in the classroom, but also account for the economic inequality, mass incarceration, and disparate rates of violence that effect young black men. Thankfully, in Oakland, CA, the Office of African-American Male Achievement is doing something to change that. By bringing in African-American male teachers to the classroom, teaching curriculum focused on African-American history, and building personal mentorship relationships, the Manhood Development Program has been a model for other urban districts to look to to successfully uplift its black males with the hopes of having them graduate college ready. In 2010 the Oakland Unified School District created the Office of African-American Male Achievement, spearheaded by Chris Chatmon, with the vision of stopping “the epidemic failure of African-American male students in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD)”, and the mission of creating “the systems, structures, and spaces that guarantee success for all African-American male students in OUSD” (OUSD, 2017). The Oakland Unified School District is the first school district in the United States to create a department dedicated to addressing the specific needs of African-American male students. While there had many initiatives in the past that tried to combat the issues that African-American males in the district faced, Oakland’s Board of Education, Urban Strategies Council, and the East Bay Community Foundation came to the conclusion that in reality, these past efforts had done little to nothing to actually impact the experience of the district’s black males (OUSD, 2017).

Following the inception of the Office of African-American Male Achievement, or AAMA, the Manhood Development Program (MDP) was then initiated in 2010. This was the flagship program of the newly created department, aimed at implementing the change they wanted to see on the ground level. The program functioned as such: African-American male instructors were handpicked based on their cultural competency and ability to relate to youth, in addition to their past teaching experiences. Each instructor taught an elective course that was offered five days a week during the school day. Class sizes ranged from 20-25 students, with classes mixed up based on student achievement level. One third of the class was high achieving, one third was average, and the other third was under-achieving. The program was originally instilled in only three schools in OUSD, but currently functions in twenty-four schools throughout the district, existing in elementary, middle, and high schools (Wisely, 2016).

The Manhood Development Program revolved around three central goals:

1) Decrease suspensions and increase attendance. 2) Decrease incarceration and increase graduation rates. 3) Decrease the opportunity/achievement gap and increase literacy. One of the first steps at achieving these goals is getting a commitment from the students to standards of the Office of African-American Male Achievement (Watson, 2014).

The Standards of Brotherhood

  1. Respect for ourselves and each other.
  2. Keep it 100 (Tell the truth)
  3. Lift Ups, No Put Downs
  4. Look out for each other
  5. Play Hard, but Also Work Hard
  6. Represent Your Best Self At All Times
  7. Be On Time
  8. Be responsible for your own actions
  9. Build the Brotherhood
  10. Trust yourself and others in the brotherhood

With these agreements made, the instructors then work on building a family environment in the classroom and across all students in the district. Students refer to one another as “Brother ____” or “king”, terms that reinforce the value that each individual has, and the familial community the program wishes to instill amongst its members. A district leadership council exists amongst the students with representatives from each school, making sure that program ideals and values line up across the different schools. Students attend leadership conferences together, and travel as far as New York City to learn about what it means to be a black man (Brown, 2016). Students also participate in the annual African-American Male Achievement Symposium, where each school’s class showcases what they have learned about black manhood at Oakland’s historic Fox Theater. And the instructor’s serve as much more than just teachers. They act as mentors and vouch for their students, often serving as the intermediaries between their students and the other teachers in the school when issues arise.

In the classroom, the curriculum is structured around studying black history, building self-esteem, and learning professionalism. It’s much more than just academics. Students are also learning life readiness skills. Younger students learn about the narratives and images of historically significant black people. The high school students go even deeper, covering everything from ancient African civilizations to the Civil Rights movement to current issues like Black Lives Matter. But it doesn’t stop here. Students learn skills like how to tie a necktie, dress professionally, or how to present themselves in public. They talk about the struggles that they face on a day-to-day basis as black men, with issues ranging from gun violence in their communities to how to deal with police brutality (Lee, 14). These are issues that most black male students are not often afforded the opportunity to openly discuss, rather it be amongst peers or structured in a classroom. By having an older black male that has experienced similar situations, Manhood Development Program teachers are able to facilitate dialogue that stimulates emotional and mental growth out of black male students that other instructors just would not be able to achieve.

The Change

Now, lets examine some of the statistics of the district since the founding of AAMA and the instillation of the Manhood Development Program. The graduation rate for African-American males increased from 51% in 2011-12 to 61% in 2014-15, a major 10% jump. The number of African-American males on the honor roll rose from 20% in 2013-14 to 32% in 2015-16, a 12% increase. The suspension rate fell from 22% in 2010-11 to 10% in 2014-15, a 12% decline.  The chronic absence rate fell from 19.7% in the 2011-2012 school year to 18% in 2013-2014. The number of students in the juvenile justice system fell 40%, from 273 in 2010-11 to 164 in 2014-15 (Wisely, 2016).

Graphs obtained from the OUSD District Data Website

 

Based on these charts, it is easy to see that since the founding of the Office of African American in 2010, the district’s African-American males are making improvements. To give more statistics, grade point averages are now 25 percent higher for Manhood Development Program students than for Black male students who haven’t taken the course. District-wide, the Black male graduation rate has improved from 42 to 57 percent since the course was introduced.  The number of Black male high school seniors who qualify for admission to the University of California (UC) or California State University is 6 percent higher among the Manhood Development Program participants than for non-participants (OUSD,  2017).

And while these metrics on academics, behavior, and attendance are important, there is even more data pertaining to how the Manhood Development Programs have affected students attitudes and approach in school. Look at these statistics. 43% of students report that their teachers respect them versus 77% for the MDP participants. 44% of students report that their other teachers want them to get good grades versus 85% for MDP. 65% of students report that their other teachers expect them to succeed versus 92% for MDP (Watson, 2014). Clearly, the instructors in MDP are having an impact on student’s lives that exceeds just their academic performance.

Why Does It Work?

Representation matters. According to a 2017 study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, “exposure to a black teacher during elementary school raises long-run educational attainment for black male students, especially among those from low-income households” In addition, estimates suggest that exposure to a black teacher in primary school cuts high school dropout rates by 39%, and also raises college aspirations along with the probability of taking a college entrance exam (IZA, 2017). In a report on reflections from black teachers, the educator’s experiences in the classroom reflect what research has proven. “Teachers of color bring benefits to classrooms beyond content knowledge and pedagogy. As role models, parental figures, and advocates, they can build relations with students of color that help those students feel connected to their schools. And they are more likely to be able to enhance cultural understanding among white colleagues, teachers, and students”. The report went on to say “Black teachers in our sample, much like in other research, felt they had an easier time building connections with students, especially Black students, because of perceived cultural and experiential similarities. They said this immediate, surface-level connection with many Black students helped those students trust them and feel safe in their care” (Griffin and Tackie, 2016). So, just by having a black male teacher that they can relate to on campus, student’s learning experiences are transformed. The feeling that they have somebody that they can trust and turn to with their issues subsequently affects their viewpoints towards their overall learning experience.

In addition to the students being able to see themselves in their teachers, the culturally relevant topics that they study also help with garnering interest in academics. While so many of the schools that have the highest percentages of students of color are teaching to standardized tests, and neglecting relevant social studies, the Manhood Development Program’s curriculum actually engages its students in topics that they can relate to. One Huffington Post article reads “we should be preparing these students for the challenges of race in America with a broader knowledge base and more elective courses. Instead, we are robbing a generation of students of ownership over their identity by turning the social sciences into collections of reading quizzes” (Hartmann, 2017). The intersectional academic skills of black male students in Manhood Development Program are improved by using engaging topics to gauge student interests. The language used in the program also adds so much value. The use of the N-word is prohibited, and as previously stated, students refer to each other as king or brother in order to reinforce the ideal that each student has immense value, and should be respected and treated as such.

The Future of the Program: Oakland and Beyond

While the Manhood Development Program has had a significant impact on district achievement scores for black males, in reality, the amount of black males who are actually enrolled in these programs is but a fraction of the African-American males in the district. An MSNBC article reported that in 2014, the program was only reaching about 400 students a year, roughly 4% of black males in the district (Lee, 2014). In 2016, the program existed in 24 schools and served over 800 students (Wisely, 2016). Each year, the Office of African-American Male Achievement strives to scale up this program to reach more of its young black males by instilling the MDP in more of the district’s schools. The effects of this program have proved to be nothing but positive, however at the end of the day it takes a lot of money for these kinds of programs to function over long periods of time. The program currently has an annual operating budget of $3.5 million, with half funded by the district and the other half funded by private donors (Wisely, 2016). In a district that has recently called for $25.1 million in cuts over the next 18 months, the future of the Manhood Development Program could be in jeopardy (Tsai, 2017). Without increased funding, realistically there is no way for the program to reach more of the black male students in need in Oakland.

The Office of African American Male Achievement has been transparent about its process of coming to existence, and has made its curriculum and operating methods open for other districts to replicate. There are plenty of districts across the United States that could benefit from implementing a Manhood Development Program, and the hope is that other district’s administrators and officials will recognize the impact this program has had in Oakland and bring a program like it to their respective city’s. In 2014, Minneapolis Public Schools launched their own Office of Black Male Student Achievement, which has already showed promise in improving the academic achievement of its students (Wisely, 2016).

What’s Next?

In 2016, Oakland founded its Department of Equity, with the mission of “eliminating the predictability of success and failure that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor, interrupting inequitable practices, examine biases and create inclusive and just conditions for all students, discovering and cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests that every student possesses, understanding that we must first ensure EQUITY before we can enjoy EQUALITY” (OUSD, 2017). As a result of the foundation of this department, three new programs have been developed to target the city’s other demographic groups in need. There are programs for African American Girls and Young Women Achievement, Latinx and Indigenous Student Achievement, and Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement. These programs will be launched in the 2017-2018 school year, so there is no data on their effectiveness yet, but the hope is that they can replicate the successes of the Office of African American Male Achievement.

 

Conclusion

Many cities across the United States have struggled with finding effective methods of combating the inequalities of society. Far too often, African-American males are the demographic group that is impacted most by this inequality. In 2010, the Office of African-American Male Achievement was founded in the Oakland Unified School District. Its flagship program, the Manhood Development Program, implemented an Afro-Centric academic curriculum with self-esteem building techniques taught by African-American male teachers into classrooms throughout the district. Graduation rates increased, alongside grade point averages and attendance rates. School suspensions declined, while attitudes towards Manhood Development teachers were reported to be far more favorable than that of other teachers. The successes of this program are clear, and the hope is that this program is able to expand in the Oakland Unified School District, and be replicated across the United States in urban cities like Oakland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

 

The Black Organizing Project, Public Counsel, and ACLU of Northern California. “From Report Card to Criminal Record: The Impact of Policing Oakland Youth.” US Human Rights Network. N.p., 08 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Brown, Patricia Leigh. “Lessons in Manhood for African-American Boys.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

The Community Assessment, Planning, Education, and Evaluation Unit of the Alameda County Public Health Department. “How Place, Racism, and Poverty Matter for Health in Alameda County – Documents.” The, 25 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Gershenson, Seth, Cassandra M. D. Hart, Constance A. Lindsay, and Nicholas W. Papageorge. “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers.” IZA. EconPapers. N.p., 21 Mar. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Griffin, Ashley, and Hilary Tackie. “Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflections From Black Teachers.” The Education Trust. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Hartmann, Jennifer. “Teaching Black History to Our Students of Color.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 03 Feb. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Howard, Tyrone C. “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy.” Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education. 2011. Print.

 

Klein, Rebecca. “These Schools Made A Commitment To Black Boys And Are Now Seeing Big Results.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Lee, Trymaine. “How Oakland’s Public Schools Are Fighting to save Black Boys.” MSNBC. NBCUniversal News Group, 15 July 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Oakland Unified School District. “African American Male Achievement.” Oakland Unified School District / About Us. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017. Retrieved from www.ousd.org/Domain/78

 

Oakland Unified School District. “African American Male Achievement.” Oakland Unified School District / District Data. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017. Retrieved from www.ousd.org/Domain/78

 

Oakland Unified School District. “African American Male Achievement.” Oakland Unified School District / Events. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017. Retrieved from www.ousd.org/Domain/78

 

Oakland Unified School District. “African American Male Achievement.” Oakland Unified School District / Frequently Asked Questions. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017. Retrieved from www.ousd.org/Domain/78

 

Oakland Unified School District. “African American Male Achievement.” Oakland Unified School District / Programs and Services. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017. Retrieved from www.ousd.org/Domain/78

 

Oakland Unified School District. “Office of Equity.” Oakland Unified School District / Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017. Retrieved from www.ousd.org/Page/15687

 

 

Oakley, Doug. “State and National School Districts Copying Oakland’s Black Male Achievement Office.” East Bay Times. East Bay Times, 15 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Patten, Eileen, and Jens Manuel Krogstad. “Black Child Poverty Rate Holds Steady, Even as Other Groups See Declines.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 14 July 2015. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

The Schott Foundation for Public Education. “Black Lives Matter: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males.” Schott Foundation for Public Education. The Schott Foundation for Public Education, 01 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

 

Tsai, Joyce. “Oakland: School Superintendent Calls for $25.1 Million in Cuts, Orders Hiring Freeze.” East Bay Times. East Bay Times, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Watson, V. The Black Sonrise: Oakland Unified School District’s Commitment to Address and Eliminate Institutionalized Racism, an evaluation report prepared for the Office of African American Male Achievement, Oakland Unified School District, Oakland: CA. December 2014.

 

Whitney, Spencer. “75 Percent of Juvenile Arrests in Oakland Are Black Males, Says Report.” Oakland Local. N.p., 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 03 May 2017.

 

Wisely, John. “First-in-the Nation School Program Turns Boys into Strong Black Men.” Detroit Free Press. N.p., 27 Nov. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

Aspire Public Schools

Akintunde Ahmad

Hannah Alexander

Franklin Eccher

Tran Le

 

CMO Report

Aspire Public Schools, California

Introduction

While there may be charter management organizations (CMOs) that fail their students in providing a quality education, Aspire Public Schools is a model of a successful CMO. In existence for 19 years, Aspire serves over 16,000 students in 40 schools throughout California and in Memphis, Tennessee (however this report used data only from Aspire California schools). Aspire was founded on the mission to prepare all students for college, and based upon students’ yearly academic performance and college acceptance rates, Aspire appears to fulfill its stated purpose. Aspire consistently surpasses the available public alternatives. This CMO can pursue its goal of sharing its practices in order to help catalyze education reform in public schools across the nation. By building on its history of reform, Aspire has the capacity to become an education leader.

 

Methods

In order to evaluate data from the Aspire Public Schools of California, we used an online random number generator to conduct a sample of six Aspire schools: East Palo Alto School, Inskeep School, Summit Charter Academy, Richmond Tech Academy, and Capital Heights School. We then compared federal, state, and CMO data for these six schools with data for the school districts geographically surrounding them.

History, Pedagogy, and Mission

In 1998, public school educator Don Shalvey joined forces with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reed Hastings to launch Aspire Public Schools, one of the nation’s first charter management organizations. Their mission was to: “grow the public charter school movement by opening and operating small, high-quality charter schools in low-income neighborhoods…and prepare these students for college” (“The History of Aspire”). For the past eight years, 100% of Aspire graduates secured admission to a four-year college or university. Aspire has stayed true to Dr. Shalvey’s vision of preparing students to earn a college degree. In regard to student demographics, this CMO serves predominantly low-income students. It values racial diversity and believes that the varied backgrounds of students and families help create a rich educational environment. Additionally, in order to ensure that students and families feel safe on their campuses, the schools do not collect any information about the immigration statuses of students, and have enacted policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and national origin (“Commitment to Students”).

 

School Demographics

Aspire Public Schools monitors the racial and ethnic balance among its students annually, engaging in a variety of strategies to try to achieve a student population that reflects the community while honoring parent choice. In 2014, 8% of its students had disabilities compared to 12% in surrounding districts, and 28% were ELL compared to 25% in local districts (U.S. Department of Education).

Using data from the 2014-2015 school year, this graph compares the percentage of students of color in each school to that of the school’s district. SOC enrollment in the selected sample of Aspire schools is higher than in surrounding districts, except in the cases of East Palo Alto and Summit. In 2014, 79% of students between 5 and 17 years of age were from low-income families, compared to 74% in the districts they came from. Based on enrollment data alone, the Aspire mission of inclusivity holds true.

 

Using data from the 2014-2015 school year, we compared the percentages of students who received free and reduced lunch (FRL students) in the individual schools with that of their corresponding districts. While East Palo Alto School is a definite outlier, as it had no FRL students, the other four schools had a majority population of FRL students, three of which had larger percentages than the districts in which they belong (there was no free and reduced lunch data for the fifth school, Richmond Tech Academy). It is evident that Aspire serves disadvantaged populations, a goal that accentuates their exceptional standardized testing performance, graduation rate, and college prospects (Fensterwald).

 

Student Achievement

In 2014, the overall attendance rate for Aspire Public Schools was 96%; the attrition rate was 3.5%; the graduation rate in 2013 was 83%, compared to the California state average of 79%, and college attendance for 2012-2013 was 87%. The graduation rate for network students from low-income families was 84%, compared to the state average for that group of 73%. Aspire students graduate with over 15 college credits already complete, so their completion rate of college courses required for admittance to California State or University schools is higher than that of local districts and California as a whole (U.S. Department of Education). Unfortunately, however, there is no available data on the college success and graduation rates of students who graduate from Aspire schools.

 

Additionally, the California Standards Tests are given to students in grades two through eleven each spring, and over the past four years, more Aspire students have scored Advanced/Proficient (A/P) than typical students in neighboring districts (that serve similar demographics of students) and statewide.

School Discipline

 

On average, the in-school suspension percentage of this CMO’s schools is higher than that of the surrounding districts. In three of the charters, the Aspire school’s rate of suspension is about three times higher than the district average. This may be the result of Aspire schools having stricter disciplinary practices than their surrounding districts, even though they do not outwardly display or advertise having a “no-excuses” policy. The only other available disciplinary data about this district and this CMO’s schools concerns school related arrests, but there were only school related arrests in Inskeep Aspire School. The percentage of arrests in Aspire Schools is less than that of the their surrounding districts, and the data is not available to see if these arrests are the result of violent or nonviolent incidents. However, the data does show that Black and Latino students are most likely to be arrested. Disciplinary action in the Aspire schools is decided by the CMO’s Board of Directors, and each individual school’s Advisory School Council (ASC).  An ASC consists of the principal, two teachers, two parents, one member of the chartering district’s Board, and one community member at large. It acts as an initial discipline review board, addresses school safety issues, reviews parental concerns, determines budget priorities, and sets policies that are unique to the school (“Accountability”). There are no areas of the Aspire Public Schools’ publications that advertise the schools as “No Excuses”, and the school has no history of “No Excuses” practices, as the CMO only results to expulsion if a student has a history of misconduct, such as over twenty suspensions in a single school year,  or if a student’s presence causes continuous danger to other students (“APS Student Family Handbook”).  There is no public controversy concerning student discipline with Aspire Public Schools.

Marketing and Media

The Aspire Public Schools advertise themselves as being inclusive, diverse, and accessible. On its home page, one will find a huge picture of a classroom of all black and brown students, the primary demographic of Aspire Public Schools in California. These schools operate on the platform of college for certain, with the slogan “make college the expectation, not the exception” also clearly visible on the APS home page (“Commitment to Students”). They are open about their inclusivity, as they also advertise on their website (including on their homepage) that they serve undocumented students and students of undocumented families (“Commitment to Students”). In addition, the Aspire website provides its enrollment directions in Spanish, to ensure that the large Latino population that they serve can properly matriculate to their schools.  In the media, Aspire Public Schools have been mentioned, surprisingly, in opposition to budget cuts of district schools, even if more funding is directed towards charter schools like their own (Toll et.al, USA Today). There is also an ongoing litigation between the California Department of Education and the Concerned Parent Association, concerning the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and the APS website notifies its parents and students with directions to anyone wishing to object to presenting their personally identifiable information (“Accountability”). This implies that Aspire schools cater to the educational needs of immigrant families, regardless of their legal status.

Accountability and Oversight

Each Aspire school is governed by Aspire’s Board of Directors, but they encourage all stakeholders, including families, staff members, administrators, and community leaders, to take responsibility in the students’ education process. Each year, Aspire compiles information concerning progress across various metrics into an accountability report, which is available to the public. These reports include student enrollment demographics, teacher’s credentials, students CAASPP test scores, school climate data, class sizes, student fitness standards, and employee salaries. The Aspire data seems to be consistent with the state data and meet state standards. Aspire Public Schools is also committed to equal opportunity for all individuals in education, and is a Title IX compliant CMO (“Accountability”). It clearly displays that it is a 501(c)3 non-for-profit CMO, and states that because it is often easier for a group to work together to run a charter school, they banded different individuals of different areas together to run multiple charter schools (“FAQs”). Aspire provides lists of their different donors and investors and includes the range of donations that each person or organization gave for the operating year (“Partners and Investors”). In terms of how much of this money goes to the school compared to the CMO, there is no information readily available. Aspire Public Schools has not had any financial scandals or questionable financial interests in the media.

 

Funding

The Aspire CMO website shares its financials dating as far back as the 2008-2009 fiscal year, as well as some transparent information about its sources of funding. Aspire Charter Schools receive funding from a broad range of sources, both public and private.

The CMO receives federal, state – from California and Tennessee – and local funding from property taxes. In the 2015 fiscal year, the highest proportion of funding came from the state followed by federal and local funding (“ Quarter Financial Report”). The Aspire CMO is additionally funded through private grants and contributions from donors. The list of  “Partners and Investors” includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings, both donating more than $1 million to the CMO. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has a history of supporting charter schools, hoping to “increase the number of academically strong seats in charter networks that serve students of color and low-income populations”(“Charter School Growth Fund”). The Foundation has worked with Aspire because it is a “high performing CMO”(“Aspire Public Schools”).  Hastings, too, is an outspoken advocate of charter schools – currently serving on the board of the KIPP Foundation and previously serving on the California Board of Education (Huddleston, 2016). The Bill and Wells Fargo, Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and Chevron are among other higher profile institutions to donate to the CMO (“Partners & Investors”).

 

Staffing

Although the Aspire website argues that “Aspire is not a teacher-training institute” (“Effective Teachers”), the Aspire Public Schools network does offer its own comprehensive programs for earning teacher credentials, referred off-hand as being “Aspiratized” (Tucker 2011). Essential to this program are Aspire’s “Instructional Coaches,” or existing teachers who operate in two-year mentorship roles for new teachers, and the “Teacher Effectiveness Model,” a framework for reflective practice and self-evaluation (“Teacher Development”). Aspire also offers a Teacher Residency Program for prospective college graduates which, although an attractive financial option, has only attracted a few dozen students per year since its inception. That said, Aspire schools suffer from teacher attrition as much or more than their surrounding districts, like in Oakland, where the retention rate for Aspire teachers is only 75% (Mongeau 2015).

As explored above in “Student Achievement,” Aspire’s graduation and college enrollment rates are significantly higher than its surrounding districts, a clear positive indicator for Aspire’s pedagogy. Aspire’s pedagogy of teaching relies heavily on the “Blended Learning” model, which incorporates self-guided online learning in the style of services like Khan Academy. Data is perhaps Aspire’s most important driver of teacher improvement. In fact, each Aspire school has an actual “data driver,” or a teacher given the additional responsibility of implementing available data into teacher evaluation and feedback. This blend of hard data with best-practice resources helps to develop the standardized Aspire brand of pedagogy (“Teacher Development”).

 

Relationship to the District

Aspire, in line with the original rhetoric of charter school pedagogy, stresses heavily its commitment to collaboration and shared best-practice. However, we were unable to find any specific examples or evidence to demonstrate a relationship between the pedagogy of Aspire schools and the surrounding districts.  The Aspire websites states, “To date, our collaboration with other school systems has taken a wide variety of forms ranging from instructional to financial.” Aspire opens its doors to tours and partnership meetings with other schools, and intends for its “College Ready Promise” to be a message not only for Aspire schools but also for the broader district as well. Interestingly, Aspire developed its own online school evaluation system, Schoolzilla, available for free to educators, which processes data into tangible guidelines for improvement and is currently in use in 500 schools in ten states (“Collaboration,” “Schoolzilla”). That said, while stressing the importance of the district context, Aspire seems to focus more on the expansion of their own charter network, and not necessarily on nurturing other individual partnerships. Aspire makes a concerted effort to interact with the surrounding community and to be transparent in its pedagogy and offerings, but focuses more on their own practice in their push for new charters rather than their impact on the districts in which their schools reside.

 

Conclusion

Aspire’s mission is to build the public charter school movement by opening high-quality charter schools in low-income neighborhoods and  preparing these low-income students for college (“The History of Aspire”). This mission set forth by Aspire launchers Don Shalvey and Reed Hastings addresses the purposes of education set forth by Labaree of democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility (Labaree, 1997). Public schools should offer a quality education that provides all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, the tools to succeed civically, economically and socially. The Aspire CMO believes that the expansion of its network of high performing charter schools is accomplishing that through the expansion of the opportunity to attend college.

The students in high performing schools are better equipped to engage civically and to advance socially and economically. Aspire’s students outperform both their district and state peers in California Standards Tests in math and language arts. This high performance of Aspire’s predominantly low-income students has led to an eight year long 100% acceptance rate to four year colleges. Aspire’s “College for Certain” mentality addresses the purposes of education by noting the opportunities provided by a college degree. Namely, the students’ acquisition of skills needed to “support themselves and a family throughout life,” and the ability to contribute their time and talents to their communities” (“College for Certain”). Aspire’s high performance gives its students the opportunity for higher education, better equipping students to achieve better social position as well as become better citizens, fulfilling the role that a public school should.

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References

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