Combining Theories for the Practicing Educator

By David Genovese, Brooklyn College Academy at Brooklyn College, NY


Developing enlightened educational theories, to enable conceptual ideas to flourish within the practicing classroom, ensures the continuation of learning.  Theory and practice are symbiotic relationships, which if presented correctly can meld vision and mission into a school’s culture.  In 2010, Brooklyn college Academy (BCA) was presented with the opportunity to pilot Dr. David Conley’s EPIC C-PAS project.  EPIC C-PAS is a rigorous college readiness project which allows for a high level of student preparation.


After listening to Dr. Conley speak about the EPIC project during the annual MCNC Principal’s Leadership Conference, it became apparent to us that his theories might work in our school environment. As a well established Early College High School, with a faculty entrenched in Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s), the next step was to renew and enculturate ourselves into Dr. Conley’s project. The tools and skills necessary for a successful college student lies in the preparation required during their high school years.  The EPIC project was the next intervallic climb.  The PLC’s served to support and invigorate new and veteran teachers.  Grade level PLC’s, instead of content based professional development, proved to be a more successful action and helped the faculty understand the progressive theories offered by Dr. Conley.  During the 2010-11 school year, Dr. Conley’s Key Cognitive Strategies were discussed and analyzed in our PLC’s. Embedding these strategies into the instructional mindset was somewhat successful; the “practice” needed more work.


In February of 2011, Dr. Cece Cunningham, Executive Director of the MCNC, introduced us to Dr. Richard Elmore and the process of “Instructional Rounds” at the Principal’s Leadership Conference.  Immediately it clicked that this was the tool for us to use to explore how the Key Cognitive Strategies manifested themselves in our classrooms.  Elmore’s Instructional Rounds process enabled us to begin to explore our work by instituting a best practices model.  The Instructional Rounds became the vehicle for our faculty to explore our classrooms, celebrate best practices and learn from each other how our students are absorbing the skills found in the KCS.


In the article “Improving the Instructional Core” by Dr. Elmore, he states “language is culture and vice versa” (p.6).  This was a statement that resonated with us.  The language of the Key Cognitive Strategies needed to be developed in order to renew the work of building a culture of college readiness. In the sixth principle of instructional improvement, Elmore states “we learn the work by doing the work” (p.10). This in itself seems like common sense, however when a faculty of 27 teachers is being immersed into the work, it takes on a greater meaning.  Teachers doing common work and seeing it in action within each other’s classrooms builds the language of the Key Cognitive Strategies amongst them and thereby builds the culture of college readiness in the school. We started this journey by taking our faculty on a weekend retreat and unpacked Dr. Elmore’s article along with some team building activities.


Our first set of “Instructional Rounds” took place on October 5, 2011. Because Brooklyn College Academy is located on two school sites, it was important that the “Instructional Rounds” take place on the same day. Teachers were asked to use one of their prep periods to conduct their portion of the rounds. Using protocols on low inference observations and note taking worksheets, provided by our school’s support network, the faculty successfully completed the task. Each faculty member was assigned to a team of three teachers to look at three or four classrooms. Even one of our student teachers from Brooklyn College was involved on one of the teams. Each teacher had a specific role when entering the classroom. The specific roles were observing student work, recording student actions, and recording teacher actions. Every classroom visit lasted between ten and fifteen minutes. The teachers rotated their roles in each classroom.


Immediately following the regular school day, faculty and administrators debriefed the rounds during our professional development time immediately following the regular school day.  The debrief included the teacher teams looking at their observation worksheets again and determining five or six items that would fit the definitions of the Key Cognitive Strategies and writing them down on sticky notes.  They then placed their notes on large posters of graphic organizers that contained definitions of the KCS.  We then conducted a carousel activity to give everyone a chance to see and document these best practices.  A lengthy discussion ensued regarding the process and several of the items that were posted on the charts. The faculty ended the session by completing a personal reflection on the work. Research and problem formulation were the two strategies that were found to need more attention.  As we moved through the share out, it was clear that the language was becoming easier to use and began to transform our culture.


The reflections were rich and rewarding.  The faculty appreciated the opportunity to see each other’s classrooms.  As an administrator, I was impressed with the creative delivery of content as well as the high level of activity and engagement in the classrooms. One teacher commented that this process was a powerful tool to use when looking at classrooms and made our professional development session more like a graduate school class.


In preparation of the second set of rounds, we revisited our work. The staff reviewed the findings of the first set of rounds and completed a “warm and cool” protocol in relation to the discoveries made.  Again, it was found that our classrooms were very engaging and that the work should center around moving our students toward more independent thinking and elevating the classroom task as outlined in Elmore’s educational core. These discussions were rich and deep and allowed us to take another step toward renewing the culture of our school. The faculty completed exit slips at the end of the session. A graphic web of these thoughts and reflections was created and hung as a poster in one of the staff’s public areas. (see below)


The second set of Instructional Rounds was completed on December 14, 2011.  Following the same theoretical protocols, faculty teams were changed and then scheduled to see different classrooms. Feedback from the first set of Instructional Rounds suggested that we make this change.  During the debrief after the second set of Instructional Rounds, some of the discussion focused on the idea that teachers were integrating more higher order thinking questions as well as elevating their classroom tasks. Also, a portion of the session focused on planning lessons and units around the KCS.  Teachers talked about how the KCS is not necessarily at the forefront of their planning (content is the main focus) but they are thinking about implementing these strategies in classroom tasks, homework, and projects.


So far, combining the Key Cognitive Strategies and the Instructional Rounds model has allowed us to begin the process of exploring and renewing the work we do with our students.  To be lifelong learners, a quality that is essential to creating college ready classrooms, we must continue this symbiotic relationship of theory and practice. By doing this, we are working to give our students the best possible educational experience and a wonderful beginning of a rich and rewarding college experience.

Read Take Aways from First IR Debrief

The Key Cognitive Strategies, C-PAS, and the Common Core State Standards

by Kathy Moran, Research Associate, MCNC


“I really like the Common Core because the focus, in English especially, is more on analyzing and supporting an argument than on rote learning… The idea of problem solving and supporting arguments fits in perfectly with C-PAS.  To me, it feels like the same thing… I’ve found that when I culminate each unit with a C-PAS –like task, students remember more.  (In referring to a project)…they internalized not only the facts and the theme of justice, but also how to research and learn independently.  It’s so like C-PAS and the Common Core and it works!”

Elizabeth Billard, Brooklyn College Academy


CCSS, PARCC, SMARTER, KCS, EPIC, C-PAS* – are all these acronyms giving you a headache?  Today, the educational focus is on college and career readiness and all of the preceding acronyms, each in their own way, aim to prepare graduating high school students for their next steps.  And as we struggle to keep up, we may well wonder if there is any commonality and continuity in all of these.  And we also may wonder where the work of MCNC (another acronym) fits in all of this. Here’s a look at a little history of what MCNC has been doing.

The founding member schools of the Middle College National Consortium (MCNC) were primarily interested in helping underserved youth gain their high school diplomas.  In the 1970’s and the 1980’s when many of the MCNC schools were founded, the high school diploma was seen as the key to a successful social and economic future.  However, our world has changed considerably and we now see the high school diploma as necessary but not sufficient.  Our students need to be ‘college-ready’ and to succeed in college.  Hence, MCNC’s Design Principles were retooled and the Early College Initiative was launched.  Among other things, MCNC students are expected to publicly demonstrate  intellectual inquiry through research in a variety of media.  Assignments and assessments are to be of multiple types, scaffolded, and developed in progressive stages toward college readiness.  The key works are ‘multiple’, ‘scaffolded’ and ‘progressive’.

Dr. David Conley and his colleagues at the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC) have spent over a decade analyzing the content of thousands of entry-level college courses and the expectations of those who teach these courses.  They found that college instructors expected students to be proficient in a number of cognitive strategies that have become known as the Key Cognitive Strategies, (KCS):  Problem Formulation, Research, Interpretation, Communication, and Precision and Accuracy.  To assess ‘college readiness’ in these areas, EPIC developed the College-ready Performance Assessment System (C-PAS) with tasks designed for English Language Arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.  The tasks themselves require students to think deeply, consider multiple approaches to problem solving, think in terms of public communication of findings.  The tasks provide progressive assessments, building on prior learnings, that lead to college readiness. 

When the Middle College National Consortium began its association with Dr. Conley’s EPIC in the spring of 2010, the aim was to pilot EPIC’s C-PAS in mathematics at selected MCNC schools.  The math pilot continued into the fall of 2010, and the spring and fall of 2011.  During this period, some schools have joined the pilot and some have withdrawn.  Current participant schools include South Carolina: Brashier Middle College Charter High School, Greenville Technical Charter High School, Greer Middle College Charter High School , New York: Brooklyn College Academy at Brooklyn College, MCHS at Buffalo, New York, Michigan: Genesee Early College High School, Mott MCHS at Mott Community College, and California: , MCHS at Contra Costa College, MCHS at Los Angles Southwest College. .

During the math pilot period (2010 and 2011), teachers and representatives from EPIC met at MCNC Winter and Summer Conferences to receive training in the C-PAS online system, using the task bank, and scoring.  Teachers provided feedback on the tasks themselves and the process and EPIC made adjustments based on their feedback.  In addition, teachers and EPIC representatives ‘met’ online in MCNC’s online community of practice, Polilogue, to discuss teaching strategies to implement the Key Cognitive Strategies and to introduce and administer the C-PAS tasks.

In the spring of 2011, it was decided to extend the pilot to other areas assessed by C-PAS – English Language Arts and science.   During the fall of 2011, teachers new to the pilot used that time as an induction period to acquaint themselves with C-PAS and to prepare themselves and their students.  In the spring of 2012, tasks are expected to be administered in English, math and science.  Brooklyn College Academy will test the social studies tasks in the spring and other schools will be invited to extend to social studies preparation.  By the fall of 2012, all C-PAS subject areas will be piloted.

At the same time, the Key Cognitive Strategies were introduced to all attending MCNC Winter and Summer Conferences.  Many schools are introducing the KCS school-wide, whether or not their school is participating in the C-PAS pilot.  During the same period while MCNC schools were piloting C-PAS, the national conversation was around the Common Core State Standards and the development of assessments for the CCSS.

To date, some 46 states have signed onto the Common Core but implementation by individual states seems to be lagging due to budget restraints.  Nonetheless, everything seems to point to eventual implementation.  What can we expect?  Dr. Conley has studied the CCSS in detail and notes, The standards identify the cognitive processes and learning strategies that students need in order to acquire and retain curriculum content”.(Building on the Common Core).  While the language in the CCSS might differ slightly from that used for the Key Cognitive Strategies, the cognitive abilities expected from students are the same.  Therefore, we can conclude that the Teaching and Learning sections of MCNC’s Design Principles, the Key Cognitive Strategies, and the expectations in the Common Core State Standards are complementary.

MCNC is well positioned to meet the challenges of upcoming Common Core State Standards and their proposed assessments.   More information can be found at:

Educational Policy Improvement Center and C-PAS –

Common Core State Standards –

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) –

SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium –

Consortium Matters: The First National Early College Jam

November 2, 2011

MCNC sponsored the first national Jam on “Taking the Best of Early College to Scale” in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Jobs for the Future, North Carolina New Schools Project, Gateway to College, The Texas High School Project, and the University System of Georgia. Almost 400 people completed the pre-Jam registration and over 200 participated in the Jam. All of the Jam partners have deep experience as intermediaries and practioners in the Early College movement.

The level of commitment was evident in the passion with which everyone spoke about the students and the work. What quickly became evident as the registrations rolled in the weeks before the Jam is that despite many local adaptations, there is almost unanimous agreement about the program components necessary for students to be successful:  engaging demanding academic work coupled with a very high level of student support sets up the expectations for hard work for all students.  While there is no single model, the Early College High School Initiative Design Principles give common shape to all the Early Colleges. Every participant outlined how the high school is changed to provide the support and preparation for college courses.  Collaboration with the college was seen as key to a successful program.  In fact, the adaptation of Early Colleges to local circumstances is often driven by the higher education partner.


Every participant weighed in on the need to be clear about the target population: students underrepresented in higher education and first in family.  There was also widespread agreement that just opening up dual enrollment to this population without the adequate supports would spell disaster not only for the participants but also for the Early College Initiative in general.


What Early Colleges also share is the evidence that EC’s produce better outcomes for their students. High School and College faculty and administrators testified to the transformative nature of the Early College for their students. Uniting to prove the success of the EC’s across the country is an important job ahead of us.


Middle College and Jobs for The Future are partnering to host a Jam on “Practice and Research” on February 29th that will expand and unify our efforts to provide policy makers and school decision makers with the data they need to scale Early College.

For the full report on “The Jam on Taking Early College to Scale” go to


Academy of Health Sciences Forges New Maryland Partnership

By Raven Hill, Senior Writer/Editor, Prince George’s County Public Schools, and

 Mona Rock, Coordinator of Public Relations, Prince George’s Community College

 After years of research, planning, and consultations, representatives of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) and Prince George’s

Students attend Summer Bridge Program

Community College (PGCC) opened the first middle college high school in Largo, Maryland, and a few miles from Washington, D.C. The Academy of Health Sciences @ Prince George’s Community College focuses on preparing students to enter a college program in the health sciences field, providing students with the required curriculum for a public high school diploma, and the opportunity to earn an associate degree in General Studies. In July 2011, the first class of students, 100 incoming ninth-graders, arrived for a three-week summer bridge program. Today, students are thriving and completing a rigorous curriculum to address the county’s need to build a qualified healthcare workforce. A class will be added each year until the academy reaches full enrollment, roughly 400 students, through twelfth grade.

How it all Began

In 2007, school system officials began exploring ways to enhance program choice options amid declining enrollment. At the conclusion of discussions with PGCC representatives, the systems jointly developed plans for this historic school.

PGCPS and PGCC key administrators formed a workgroup to research and determine the feasibility of the formation of a middle college high school on the main campus of PGCC. A subgroup of PGCPS and PGCC administrators visited existing middle colleges, Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy, Los Angeles, CA; Challenge Early College HS, Houston, TX; Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College HS, Long Island City, NY and participated in the Middle College National Consortium Summer Institute, as part of their extensive research on best practices. They saw the alignment between Early College/Middle college high schools and college partners as it relates to dual enrollment and the rich collaboration between high school and college faculties in working collectively to ensure student success. Although the costs of EC-MC high schools may be higher per pupil than in comprehensive high schools, in the long run it benefits students and the communities that they serve

Dr. Charlene Dukes, PGCC, and Dr. William Hite, PGPS, Sign M.O.U.

Dr. Charlene Dukes, PGCC, and Dr. William Hite, PGPS, Sign M.O.U.

From this initial work, a strong partnership was formed. The partners established several committees (i.e., Budget, Curriculum, Facilities and Technology, Marketing, Recruitment, Security and Transportation, and Student Services) that allowed administrators and faculty to develop a comprehensive implementation plan, including a student application and selection process to ensure equitable participation from all areas of Prince George’s County.

The application process provided for 50 percent of the seats being allocated to students identified as traditionally underserved (i.e., at-risk, economically-disadvantaged students and first- generation college students). Other criteria for admission included completion of the Academy Summer Bridge Program. The Academy received nearly 1,000 applications for the inaugural ninth grade class.

“One of the primary predictors of student success in college is their exposure to college-level work during their high school years,” said Dr. William R. Hite, Jr., Superintendent of Prince George’s County schools. “Students in our Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College will not only have access to college-level academic work, they will also be exposed to an enriching and supporting college environment.” The Academy is expected to provide primary and secondary benefits to Prince George’s County stakeholders.

“Students enrolled in the Middle College Health Sciences Academy will graduate with a high school diploma and, at the maximum, an associate degree,” said Dr. Charlene M. Dukes, President of Prince George’s Community College. “Our significant partnership with the Prince George’s County Public Schools gives us the opportunity to work together and meet the educational needs of our community through an educational program that offers students and their families a fast track to a collegiate experience.”

The Academy of Health Sciences will also challenge teachers and administrators to see all students as college students. The goal is for educators to take lessons learned from the college to enhance academic programming at all Prince George’s County high schools. The path toward increasing the opportunity to earn dual-enrollment credit will be built upon the school system’s pilot work in this area. With the Academy of Health Sciences, school system, and community college, officials expect to move toward making a higher education realistic for all students.


Academic Program

PGCC and PGCPS share a commitment to student success and completion. Students enrolled in the Academy of Health Sciences will be presented with every opportunity for success and will benefit from the knowledge and expertise of individuals at both institutions. PGCC faculty members and PGCPS teachers work together to ensure student needs are met and collaborate on challenging course offerings. Graduates of the Academy of Health Sciences will be well-prepared to enter one of PGCC’s Health Sciences Clinical Programs or pursue studies at a four-year college or university.

PGCC Health Sciences Clinical Programs


The four-year academic plan blends high school and college courses. Ninth-graders take rigorous high school classes, and college courses are gradually introduced and become the program’s foundation by twelfth grade. Students are supported by the presence of academic coaches and a framework that allows high school teachers to work with students on days the college course is not in session.


Student Profile: Toria Hawkins

Toria Hawkins is your average high school freshman enjoying a not-so-average high school experience. Hawkins lives in Largo and attended Benjamin Foulois Creative and Performing Arts Academy and Phyllis E. Williams Elementary School. She is a member of the student government at the Academy of Health Sciences.

As part of the inaugural class of students, Hawkins and approximately 100 other ninth-graders are working simultaneously on

Toria Hawkins

requirements for their high school diplomas and associate degree. For Hawkins, a 15-year-old aspiring psychiatrist, it is the opportunity to start building a career path. Her grandmother told her about the new school last year.

“I knew the academy would be a good start for psychology classes,” she said. “We’re being challenged more than the normal classroom. We still get to have the social aspect of high school, but with the academics, we’re getting so much of an advantage.”

Her classes include a mix of science classes that explore psychology, biology, chemistry and ecology concepts; advanced mathematics; honors-level English; history, and Chinese. Though she felt intimidated on the first day of classes, Hawkins said she is now more at ease. “Now I feel like this is my school as well as the college students’,” she said. “We’re all here for education. It fits now.”

As she looks towards the future, Hawkins points to Georgetown University and Howard University as her top two choices for college.  For now, she is focused on her studies, extracurricular pursuits – student government is a way to “help out my community,” she says – and getting everything she can out of this unique high school experience.

“The teachers at our school want us to succeed,” she said. “Going into high school, you want the normality of the high school experience. I know this looks frightening and you may think there are going to be drawbacks. But you have to take that risk. This is like the normal high school, but we’re taking it a step further.”

Point of View

Principal, Kathy Richard-Andrews


I began working on this historic initiative in April 2007 with regional assistant superintendent Bruce Katz. Our main challenge was to identify funding for the program. We went to several middle college schools across the country to discuss their best practices. I was most impressed by the level of confidence MC-EC students articulated about being able to handle the demands of a college curriculum and their academic success in earning college credit. We were particularly interested in how they were able to get most students to complete the requirements for a high school diploma and associates degree.

One of our “lessons learned” was the understanding of the power of the summer school program for our incoming freshmen, who are

Superintendent Hite, Principal Richard-Andrews and President Dukes

transitioning from middle school to high school and college life. Having them come here in July really prepared them for the introduction into college life. Our students were able to benefit from the having the space as exclusively theirs. Getting accustomed to high school is one challenge, but getting accustomed to being on a college campus is completely different. They were the youngest students on this campus, barely out of middle school. We saw so much growth from the summer to the fall, and now the spring. That summer school experience is invaluable in helping these young people make the transition.


It’s been most rewarding watching the students grow – emotionally, socially, and academically – and seeing them come together as a team. They support each other. We don’t have “mean kids.” There’s a respect between them that makes me want to cry.


My greatest challenge is to ensure that all parties involved – my community college, my parents, my school district, my staff – are on the same page, that we all share the vision and understand the mission of the school design. We are new. We are the first middle college in Maryland. There’s no model in DC or Virginia. No one else in the area has studied the concept on the same level that I have, so I have to make sure they understand what it’s going to look like from year one to year two to year three to year four.

If this were a marriage, Prince George’s Community College would be the perfect groom. This is a real partnership. As far as I am concerned, this serves as the model for the nation of how it should look and feel when we talk about school systems partnering with community colleges. The adults on this campus protect our students, care for our students and want to see them succeed.

The Accolades Keep Coming

Since its opening, the Academy of Health Sciences has received significant attention. In addition to tremendous news coverage in the Washington metropolitan area and in national higher education publications, Prince George’s Community College was honored as one of President Obama’s White House Champion of Change. College president Charlene M. Dukes accepted the recognition for PGCC’s partnership with the PGCPS to create the middle college and the college’s impact in the community and innovative approaches to solving long standing challenges in helping individuals achieve their educational and career goals. “Its opening is evidence that despite the economic challenges of today, our public school and college leaders are facilitating learning in transformational ways for tomorrow’s leaders as one solution to global competitiveness in the decades ahead,” Dukes said.

For more information about the Academy of Health Sciences, visit