Entries by William Donovan

A Tale of Two City Schools: Worcester Tech and Putnam Academy Become Models for Recovery

This report focuses highlights turnarounds at two Massachusetts schools, Worcester Technical High School and the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield, that were once known for high dropout rates and low graduation rates. The report shows that these schools now excel due to new leadership, community investment, and committed teachers. The report analyzes how Worcester Tech and Putnam Academy — schools with high numbers of low-income and special needs students — leapt from the bottom of Massachusetts voc-tech rankings to become leaders among local schools. The Pioneer paper includes interviews with administrators and presents several recommendations that could help transform struggling voc-tech schools.

Online and On Course: Digital learning creates a path for at-risk students

Digital learning, the use of computers and the internet to study courses taught in the classroom, is viewed by many educators as a breakthrough to helping those at-risk students stay in school and earn their diplomas. The flexibility afforded by digital learning, with students working on their own time at their own pace, is a way for students to meet the requirements of their courses while handling pressing responsibilities outside of school, problems at home or personal issues.  Yet parents should scrutinize digital programs closely. Their quality and effectiveness vary widely. Students are poorly served by point-and-click assessments with no engagement, virtual schools with videos instead of real teachers and programs without pacing and scheduling support.

Virtual Learning, Concrete Option: How virtual differs from remote learning during the pandemic

After schools closed in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students, families and teachers had to shift learning from in-class to online. But the switch to remote learning was hasty and disorganized in many school districts. Families struggled with the technology and coordinating schedules at home, while teachers tried to shift the in-person model to teaching through a computer. The dissatisfaction caused many families to believe that the remote learning they were experiencing was what takes place in full-time virtual schools. In fact the two are much different.  This report includes information on how to distinguish between questionable and quality virtual programs.

Homeschooling in Uncertain Times: COVID Prompts a Surge

After steadily increasing for years, the number of parents choosing to homeschool their children skyrocketed during the pandemic, and policy makers should do more to acknowledge homeschooling as a viable option, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Madison Park II: Capitalizing on Employment Opportunity

This report reviews the co-operative education program at Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, which places students in paid positions with local employers. The study finds that the program lags far behind other Massachusetts vocational-technical schools in terms of both placements and number of employer contacts.  But with the school as a whole beginning to improve after years of turmoil, the co-op is also showing promising signs.

Madison Park Technical Vocational High School Turnaround Update

Four years after it began to implement a turnaround plan, Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School is showing clear signs of progress, but its performance continues to lag behind that of other vocational-technical schools in Massachusetts, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Shifting Special Needs Students to Online Learning in the COVID-19 Spring

This report by Pioneer Institute and ASU Prep Digital addresses the problem that school closures due to COVID-19 have separated more than seven million K-12 special needs students from support they receive in the classroom, and shows how online learning can be appropriate for most of those students if teachers and parents work as a team to provide each one with what he or she needs.

Breaking the Code: The State of Computer Science Education in America’s Public Schools

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has further transitioned education towards electronic devices, computer science education in K-12 public schools around the country faces a number of daunting challenges. These include insufficient access to computer science classes and clarity about computer science curricula, inadequate teacher preparation, and uneven interest on the part of institutions of higher education.  

Cristo Rey Schools: A Model of 21st-Century Catholic Education

This paper examines Cristo Rey schools, why they work, how they work and what parts of their education/business design can be successfully transferred to other Catholic high schools. It will look at the Cristo Rey Network, a cooperative organization formed to standardize the Cristo Rey approach, offer resources to the individual schools and help promote the spread of Cristo Rey schools to cities that can support them.

Homeschooling: The Ultimate School Choice

This report recommends that states do more to acknowledge the viability of homeschooling as an educational option, and provide direction and information for parents seeking non-traditional schooling. Download Report:

Expanding Educational Opportunities: Best Practices in U.S. Summer Enrichment Programs

This report is the second of a three-part Pioneer Institute series of studies on summer enrichment programs with a particular focus on opportunities for disadvantaged students. It highlights best practices in the field by profiling a range of summer programs. The authors urge summer enrichment programs to partner with entities that help place disadvantaged children in educational programs to help the schools and non-profits recruit students. They also urge programs run by schools to use academic-year faculty.

Survey of Summer Enrichment Programs at Independent and Parochial Schools in Massachusetts

A survey of more than 70 Massachusetts private and parochial schools found that most offer academically-oriented summer programs, which have been found to prevent summer learning loss and can help close the achievement gap among student groups. The survey is the first of a three-part study that will yield a comprehensive guide to summer enrichment programs in the commonwealth.

Advanced Civics for U.S. History Teachers: Professional Development Models Focusing On The Founding Documents

A resurgence of interest in civic virtue and a new emphasis on teaching civics in our schools is needed in our country. Teachers need opportunities beyond college to learn the intricacies of government and how to teach it. Pioneer Institute reached out to four professional development programs with nationally known reputations to learn more about their offerings.

Charter Schools in New Orleans: Lessons for Massachusetts

While the remarkable turnaround in New Orleans was accelerated – and perhaps even made possible – by the very storm that nearly destroyed the city, it still has education experts looking for lessons that might be applied elsewhere. This paper looks at the public school reform efforts of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and its impact on student achievement. It also offers recommendations on how urban public schools in Massachusetts, which historically underperforms the commonwealth’s suburban school districts, could benefit from New Orleans’ experience.

Online Learning 101: Starting a Virtual School And Its Challenges

Since the late 1990s, when the first fulltime virtual schools appeared, educators, IT professionals and government officials have been working through the practical issues involving technology, personnel, administration and funding. Around the country adoption of online learning has occurred in varying degrees. States such as Florida and California have been leaders, while elsewhere specific school districts have aggressively embraced the new model.

Regulating Virtual Schools

This paper discusses the issues surrounding the regulating of full-time online schools and draws on research conducted in Massachusetts and other states. It includes commentary from educators, academics, government officials and non-profit researchers. It is presented at a time when still more than one-third of the states do not offer a full-time virtual school option and there are no national policies for their oversight.

Virtual Schools, Actual Learning

This paper is intended to provide background information for those exploring MI-time virtual schools and online learning. It draws on interviews with education officials, virtual school directors, district superintendents, researchers and non-profit executives, as well as data generated by previous studies on the topic.

Houses of Learning

This paper is intended to act as a guide for charter school founders and directors to accomplish what has been called the “devilishly difficult” task of financing a charter school, finding a location, assembling a development team and building the facility, among other requirements. It draws on interviews with charter school administrators, trustees and policy leaders in Massachusetts and other states, as well as data generated by previous studies on the topic.