At the International Academy of Saginaw, math is taught through a proprietary curriculum of the school’s management company, SABIS. Called “Teach-Practice-Check,” it’s “really just good teaching,” said Justin Doughty, director. Material is taught, practiced as a group, practiced individually and checked for mastery.
Advanced students are christened “prefects” and enlisted to help slower peers. Doughty said it’s a way to keep faster learners from being bored, and makes sure everybody stays abreast of the lesson.
Whatever it’s called, the technique seems to be working -- International Academy of Saginaw was one of six charter schools in its socioeconomic category to reach 100 percent at or above proficiency on the state’s Michigan Educational Assessment Program test of 4th grade math skills. The six were schools where more than 40 percent of students qualify for free lunches, a generally accepted threshold of economic disadvantage. The rest are Benton Harbor Charter School in Benton Harbor; Weston Preparatory Academy in Detroit; Pansophia Academy, Coldwater; West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science in Grand Rapids; and AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School in Southfield.
Among schools with fewer than 40 percent economically disadvantaged, perfect scores were earned by Hillsdale Preparatory School in Hillsdale; Creative Technologies Academy in Cedar Springs and the Martin Luther King Jr. Education Center Academy in Detroit.
By earning such scores, these schools are deemed Academic Champions in 4th Grade Math by Bridge Magazine. As part of its "Academic State Championship" coverage, Bridge Magazine used a database to analyze results from all of Michigan's charter schools on eight academic measures, then divided the results into two groups based on the socioeconomic characteristics of their student bodies.
Philip Yaccick, principal of Weston Academy, said, the key to success is regular and continuous monitoring.
“We assess students throughout the year and compile an individualized plan for each student,” Yaccick said. Students are taught in “whole-class groups, small groups, one-on-one, after school or summer school,” to keep them performing. The school has also invested heavily in technology, including (interactive white boards), net books for every student, document cameras and other teaching aids, along with an online curriculum, Yaccick said.
Weston has a large majority of economically disadvantaged students -- the principal estimates more than 90 percent -- and keeps parents engaged with monthly family fun nights.
“We feed them, have a theme and a speaker,” he said. “It’s a wonderful and amazing parent academy.”
At Hillsdale, Headmaster Stephen Philipp also believes parental involvement is a key to success. With no bus transportation, parents and teachers meet often, usually in the carpool lane, and talk about student progress before it becomes a problem.
At the end, though, students have to like what they’re doing.
“Starting young, we focus on a lifelong love of learning, said Steven Palmer. “We want them to want to be here, not have to be here.”
Nancy Derringer has been a writer, editor and teacher in Metro Detroit for seven years, and was a co-founder and editor of GrossePointeToday.com, an early experiment in hyperlocal journalism. Before that, she worked for 20 years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she won numerous state and national awards for her work as a columnist for The News-Sentinel.