Good Schools

It took what felt like a long two months, but I now have concrete projects I am working on at Akanksha and I am feeling settled in Pune.

At the Akanksha Foundation, we work to “impact the lives of children from low-income communities, enabling them to maximize their potential and change their lives.”  We do this through formal and informal education initiatives – our schools and our morning and afterschool centers.  Our schools work within the government system through a private-public partnership model; we operate in municipal school buildings and follow the government outline of standards and skills to master, but our management, teacher training, and curriculum development is  all NGO-run.  I work in our four schools in Pune and our five schools in Bombay (though obviously more closely with our Pune schools).

Akanksha schools, on average, have 40% more school time than traditional municipal schools.  My first project is to try to map how that extra time is spent at each of our schools and to then try to figure out the best dimensions along which to measure its impact (academic achievement, social development, school culture, etc.).  I spent the last month designing and administering a survey to gather the “how time is spent” aspect of the research and I am now compiling that information.  Just on the surface, my visits to each school and conversations with school principals revealed that, especially among our lower grades, time for play and for development of fine motor skills are a result of longer kindergarten days.

As Akanksha schools mature and as we make plans to open additional schools, we are looking for ways to more systematically measure our impact.  Students at each school are given five formative assessments (homework, quizzes, projects, portfolios, etc.) throughout each term and then a summative, usually written exam at the end of each term.  Currently, teachers and principals write these summative assessments and they tend to be different from school to school.  Akanksha is beginning to design common assessments to administer across schools, and my second project is working with the group developing our kindergarten through third standard English language assessments.  Right now we are looking at the skills outlined by Education Initiatives for each grade and creating “power objectives” that we think we need to be sure to test at each level.  We are aiming to have a finished product by the beginning of February.

My final project is more closely aligned with the data analysis skills I was hoping to use and refine during my fellowship year.  I am working with one of our schools to better organize and utilize first term summative assessment data to inform classroom instruction.  I am currently working just with our secondary school but hope to expand this work over the year. [Thanks to Brooks Ambrose for your STATA help from afar]

Pune is beginning to cool off a bit and I’m looking forward to chilly winter mornings and evenings.  I am fully moved into my apartment, and except for the nightly ants that swarm my sink and the 2-3 cockroaches who like to visit each morning, there have been no disasters (Lauren and Ashley, I’m looking at you and your falling roof).  My friend and downstairs neighbor Nazneen and I cook dinner together almost nightly (hilarious video food blog coming soon) and my Hindi is starting to get good enough for me to not get as ripped off when buying vegetables.  I’m looking forward to having visitors in a few weeks and to seeing all the Fellows at our midpoint conference.

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