A new choice for schools
It’s what you teach — along with how you teach it — that encourages students to learn. A national program under way in 19 Tulsa schools shows the results.
Oliver Wallace, principal of Central High School, says America’s Choice’s focus on increasing student achievement aligns well with the goals of the school’s fine and performing arts magnet program.
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Marilyn Pippin, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Foster Middle School, says that before America’s Choice, getting her students to write a few lines “was like pulling teeth.”
Reading was also a challenge. She says her students were two to three years behind grade level in their literacy skills, and some had never finished reading a book in their lives.
But during the fall 2009 semester, all of this began to change.
That’s because Pippin had learned better ways to teach and reach her students, thanks to the national educational organization America’s Choice and its Ramp-Up curriculum.
Non-readers became bookworms and student reading levels jumped two to three years.
Foster Principal Darin Schmidt says literacy became a school-wide focus.
As part of America’s Choice’s 25 Book Campaign, he and Foster staff encouraged students to read at least 25 books during the school year. They enticed students with movie and end-of-year parties, prizes and public-address announcements from Schmidt describing his favorite books.
In the classroom, Pippin used America’s Choice-developed units, such as a mystery unit and Civil Rights Movement unit, which included specific books and lessons, to engage students. Her students also traveled to Cooper Elementary School to read with preschool students. They chose the books themselves, as well as created story maps and lesson plans.
As a result, Foster’s library more than doubled the number of books checked out to students.
“They just like to read now,” Pippin says of her students.
For America’s Choice leadership, these results are among a growing number of success stories from affiliated schools across the country.
America’s Choice began in 1989 as a program of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization. It became a for-profit subsidiary of NCEE in 2004.
America’s Choice offers “comprehensive, proven solutions to the complex problems educators face in the era of accountability,” according to its website. The organization works with 1,000 elementary, middle and high schools across the country, including Tulsa and Oklahoma City public schools.
Overall the organization works to provide outstanding learning opportunities for students and professional development for teachers, says Ken James, executive vice president and chief operating officer for America’s Choice.
“That’s the key,” he says. “It’s research based and based on the best practices that we’ve found … in the most high-performing districts and countries in the world as we’ve formatted our work.”
Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) first partnered with America’s Choice in May 2009. Financed with more than $3 million in federal Title I funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, America’s Choice is working with the district to implement the Rigor and Readiness Initiative into 19 middle and high schools. The initiative, which America’s Choice developed with ACT Inc., the company that creates the college preparation test, includes the Ramp-Up and Navigator curricula. Offered in math and literacy, Ramp-Up targets students who are far behind grade level and Navigator focuses on honing specific skills in these areas.
Earlier, America’s Choice representatives visited TPS classrooms to observe instructional approaches and share their observations with district leadership, James says.
They then worked with the district to develop a “plan of action,” he says. After schools introduced the initiative in fall 2009, America’s Choice continued to provide support through meetings with district leadership, principals and teachers, as well as regular site visits.