The four ‘R’s’ – a charter school that works


CAT, City Arts and Technology High School, a charter school in San Francisco, California, adheres to the four R’s (rigor, relevance, relationships and results) to listen to each student and strengthen their voice with “basic skills and motivating ideals.” And it seems to be working for them. According to the article below, “Three-fifths of CAT students come from poor homes, but about half score at proficient or advanced levels on state tests. A remarkable four-fifths of all seniors enter a four-year college.”

In an article for by Raymond J. McNulty of the American Association of Administrators, he cites a five-year study involving 75 high schools in 10 states. The initiative, known as “Models, Networks and Policies to Support and Sustain Rigor and Relevance for All Students,” is led by the International Center for Leadership in Education, which has enlisted the expertise of the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations. McNulty writes:

“While we have heard for some time the call for rigor and relevance, now education leaders are adding the third R for relationships. Schools across the country are realizing that rigor and relevance develop most naturally when they are cultivated on firm grounding in relationships. Relationships do not become a new standard or replace rigor and relevance. They are a way to improve learning. The recent work of the International Center has examined some of the most successful high schools in the country — schools that have the challenges of poverty, mobility and diversity but still have high rates of student success. In these schools, relationships among students and staff are deliberately nurtured and a key reason for student success. Students believe the staff genuinely cares about them and encourages them to achieve at high levels. If there is not a high level of positive relationships, students will not respond to higher expectations.” Findings from this study showed that “close to 20 percent [of students] surveyed give up when they encounter difficult schoolwork. Only 60 percent reported they try their best in school, and the same percentage said teachers recognize them when they try their best. The gap between wanting to achieve and persevering to meet that goal must be examined, as must the role teachers play in recognizing effort and perseverance.”

Education’s goal must be rigor, relevance and relationships if we want to prepare students for college, work and life in the 21st century. Realizing this requires school staff to work collaboratively toward common goals through analyzing data, adopting best practices, taking risks and embracing change. Each of LifeBound’s student success books has a corresponding curriculum which incorporates the “Four Rs” based on The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s educational framework. Assessments are administered at the start and end of class to show results. To view curriculum samples, visit or call the LifeBound office toll free at 1.877.737.8510 to request that we mail these to you.

How can we help students do a reality check which closes the gap between wanting to achieve and persevering to meet these goals?

How can we as educators also close what McNulty calls, “the participation gap,” which is characterized by students who feel unwelcome, disconnected and lost in our schools?

How can we help students believe in their ability to meet high academic standards?


The San Francisco Chronicle
The four ‘R’s’ – a charter school that works
Bruce Fuller
Sunday, January 17, 2010

“Good audience skills are imperative,” Danielle Johnson reminds her restless 10th-graders as one, Raquel, nervously fiddles with her laptop before holding forth on her project portfolio at City Arts and Technology High School (known as CAT), a charter school of 365 students on a green knoll above the blue-collar southern reaches of Mission Street in San Francisco.

“I decided to use the story of my mom getting to this country as an immigrant,” Raquel says, moving into her personal-memoir segment, sniffing back tears as a blurry photo of her mother at age 18 appears on the screen. “I had never asked my mother about how she got here.”

CAT exemplifies President Obama’s push to seed innovative schools that demand much from all students, echoed by Sacramento’s $700 million reform plan that goes to Washington this week. How to bottle the magic of CAT teachers like Johnson – listening carefully to each teen, strengthening each voice with basic skills and motivating ideals – is the challenge facing would-be reformers.

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