Rock Center   |  February 15, 2012

Making a Difference: Public, charter schools form partnership

Rock Center Special Correspondent Chelsea Clinton visits Central Falls, R.I., where a public school and charter school have formed a unique partnership to better serve their students. Rather than compete with one another, a group of public school teachers are working with teachers from The Learning Community charter school to devise programs that have already raised students’ test scores. 

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: pleased to have another report from Chelsea Clinton . This time it's good news about educating our kids, and this happened because some adults decided to set aside their differences. You may know about the fierce rivalry between public schools and charter schools in some places. Both of them get their funding from taxpayers, but too often they compete rather than cooperate, in part because while charter schools are public schools , they operate by different rules. But in one Rhode Island town, teachers from both institutions have decided to come together. And as Chelsea Clinton reports, what they've achieved really is making a difference.

Unidentified Boy #1: The polar bear is the largest member of the bear family.

CHELSEA CLINTON reporting: In Mrs. Thurber 's second grade classroom in Central Falls , Rhode Island , there's something special going on, and it could change the way kids are taught to read across the country. Here class begins with a lesson on the rug.

Ms. JILL COTE: Smart readers can use the table of contents...

CLINTON: There's something called turn and talk time, so everyone is engaged.

Unidentified Boy #2: What's this thing about the two books?

Ms. COTE: And sometimes you have to use some of your other reading skills like inferring.

CLINTON: Kids use reading strategies to help their learning and their comprehension. So what are some of your favorite reading strategies, Ashley ?

ASHLEY: Sketch it.

CLINTON: Sketch it. What is sketch it?

ASHLEY: When you read all the book, you make little pictures .

CLINTON: And that helps you remember the book?

Unidentified Girl: It kind of changes it like you're reading a book and a little after it's like something that happened to you before,

it' make like a connection about it.

Ms. COTE: Because remember we talked about the overview?

CLINTON: It's not just the strategies that are special, it's how these public school teachers came to use these strategies. It began when they adopted an approach to reading that was working in a local charter school . Lacy, what's your favorite strategy?

LACY: Retelling.

CLINTON: What's retelling?

LACY: You got to tell the teacher the story again.

Ms. NANCY CHENARD: One of my students did mention that you didn't know anything about retelling.

CLINTON: I didn't. I didn't. I didn't know retelling. And there were all sorts of things that were novel to me.

Ms. CHENARD: We've been talking a lot about not...

CLINTON: Public school teachers Nancy Chenard , Diane Jasper and Cheryl Thurber are working with Learning Community charter school teachers Christine Alves and Jill Cote . This picture of seeing charter school teachers and District Republic schoolteachers is a rare one here in Rhode Island and across the country. Why do you think it is so rare?

Ms. CHENARD: Sometimes public school teachers can perceive charters as a threat, a threat of resources, of taking resources, of taking personnel, taking jobs. And that is not the kind of relationship that we have.

Ms. CHERYL THURBER: It wasn't we're a brand-new charter school , we're just going to come in and give you this program because we know it's going to work. They have a similar student population as us.

Ms. DIANE JASPER: All our fears were put to rest quickly because we all share the same goal, that it's the student achievement , it's getting them to be readers.

Ms. CHENARD: When we looked at nonfiction books yesterday...

CLINTON: Gone are the textbooks. Kids choose what they want to read. Class is now twice as long. There's daily independent reading and one-on-one time with the teacher for every student every week.

LACY: Communicate with others.

CLINTON: With one another.

LACY: With one another.

CLINTON: That's great. Teachers from both systems meet regularly to share ideas and the lesson they're learning in their own classrooms.

Ms. CHRISTINE ALVES: We just keep it dynamic. We make decisions right there on the spot about how to meet the needs of every single student in the class.

Ms. THURBER: You have that freedom and that -- your ability to use your professional judgment what's best for those 20 kids in front of you. It goes to the kids who are in the middle, it goes to the kids who are ready to thrive and it goes to the kids who may need a little remediation.

CLINTON: When the program began three years ago, only 37 percent of kids in kindergarten through second grade were reading at or above the national benchmark. By the end of the first school year, 66 percent were. That's a 29 point jump in just eight months.

Ms. SARAH FRIEDMAN: That is just an unbelievable accomplishment and something that should be celebrated in this field of education.

CLINTON: Sarah Friedman and Meg O'Leary are co-founders of the Learning Community charter school where the reading program began. They hope partnerships theirs will become the rule, rather than the exception.

Ms. MEG O'LEARY: In many ways we've kind of been set up to point the finger at one another or to compete with one another, and there's not time or resources to do that.

CLINTON: Do you think this is replicable elsewhere in the country?

Ms. O'LEARY: Absolutely.

Ms. FRIEDMAN: Yes. Definitely.

CLINTON: If there could just be one message about why your collaboration together is so critical to the difference you're making for your students, what would it be?

Ms. JASPER: We're teaching them that in life you have to work together with other people. You have to be able to work towards a common goal.

Ms. THURBER: Whether you work in a charter school or a private school , our main focus is these kids. And I don't think it matters what kind of building or school you teach in, these kids, for the hours that they're here, are our babies.

WILLIAMS: Their babies. First of all, welcome back.

CLINTON: Thank you, Brian .

WILLIAMS: Second, this town was last in the news for this crushing budget crisis, and how has that affected these reforms?

CLINTON: Well, the school district and the city itself were declared bankrupt in August. And we learned just last week that 25 percent of the teachers in the district received layoff notices. And when we talked to the superintendent, she said that she thought she'd have to cut 25 percent of her total budget in the next five to seven years, and that she's worried about being able to sustain this program, even in kindergarten through second grade. And she's certainly has had to put on hold her ambitions of expanding it up to fifth grade, which is what she'd initially hoped to do.

WILLIAMS: And how has the rap on charter schools changed? Am I correct in that their charter originally was to be kind of an incubator for innovation, good ideas?

CLINTON: That's absolutely right. It's the 20th anniversary of the charter school movement formally, and initially it was very much seen as an incubator for innovation, and then a responsibility for that privilege of then disseminating those innovations across districts. Yet when we talked to the Gates Foundation they said they know of only 16 districts out of almost 16,000 in our country in which this type of real meaningful, productive collaboration is happening.

WILLIAMS: It'll be nice to see more of it.

CLINTON: I agree.

WILLIAMS: Chelsea Clinton , a pleasure.

CLINTON: Thank you, Brian .