Wednesday, March 21, 2001

America's Choice may be 1st choice for CPS redesign

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The president of a nonprofit company that provides education reform models for schools came to Cincinnati on Tuesday to tell Board of Education members how America's Choice can help redesign the district's high schools.

        Only one board member met with John Porter, who said Cincinnati's plans are among the best he has seen. There are 240 schools using the America's Choice curriculum and materials; 30 are high schools.

        “Cincinnati has put more structure into what schools can work around,” said Mr. Porter, a former principal and superintendent. “There is a fine line between being too prescriptive and too generic.”

    How America's Choice will work with Cincinnati high schools.
    At Aiken and Taft:
    • This summer: Three-day leadership academy to start training, with a two-day follow-up in the spring.
    • In fall and spring: Seven sessions for principals to discuss planning issues, implementation and professional development; five days of literacy training; a one-day math institute, and on-site technical assistance days to focus on using standards and how to increase the focus on reading.
    At Withrow and Western Hills:
    • This summer: Three-day leadership academy, with a two-day follow-up in the spring.
    • In the fall: Four principals meetings; four days of literacy training; four days of on-site technical assistance.
    • In the spring: three principal network meetings; a one-day literacy institute; a one-day math institute, and three days of on-site technical assistance.
        America's Choice started in 1989 as part of the National Center on Education and the Economy. It recently was awarded $13 million in a contract with the U.S. Department of Education to continue research and development of its high school programs.

        Cincinnati Public Schools wants to hire the Washington, D.C. company to work with teachers and staff at Aiken, Taft, Western Hills and Withrow high schools.

        A $340,000 deal would provide curriculum, materials and teacher training, as well as planning sessions to help schools design new classes and new methods.

        Board members did not approve the deal at its March 12 meeting because members wanted more details about the services Mr. Porter and his staff would provide.

        Board member John Gilligan said Tuesday's meeting answered a lot of his questions.

        “It's clear that the administration doesn't have the technical people and the resources to do this job within the kind of time frame they've been handed,” Mr. Gilligan said.

        The board is scheduled to vote on the contracts again at its March 26 meeting.

        America's Choice standards and curriculum fit Ohio's state standards, which were created using the America's Choice model.

        The model focuses on teaching students to reach certain educational expectations or standards. Teachers must determine what a student's academic training should look like at the end of high school, Mr. Porter said.

        Students would leave these new high schools having met certain academic requirements, some with advanced placement credits, others with internship experience in a career.

        All students from America's Choice schools are guaranteed not to need remedial work in English and math.

        The America's Choice structure fits well with Cincinnati's plans to redesign its five neighborhood high schools into “preparatory academies,” where ninth- and 10th-graders will focus on the basics of reading, writing, math and science.

        Students then will be promoted to the “senior institute” of their choice for 11th and 12th grades. The institutes specialize in such subjects as information technology, university preparation and vocational education.

        The district wants to open redesigned high schools at Aiken and Taft in August. Taft would offer a senior institute in information technology.

        Western Hills and Withrow will spend next year planning.

        America's Choice has offered high school programs for two years and is about 50-50 in its overall success, Mr. Porter said.

        He said schools need three to five years before extensive positive results are seen. But changes in attendance, training and the quality of student work are apparent within six months.

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