Friday, October 11, 2002

California Schools Do Better With Disadvantaged Students; Why Can't OPS?

An inspiring study released in California with implications in Nebraska and everywhere there are low-income students struggling to learn shows that old-fashioned, tried and true curriculum and instructional practices are what elevate disadvantaged children to the heights of educational success.

Omaha was rocked last month by achievement test scores that showed that the gap between inner-city and suburban children is getting worse, not better. That is despite infusions of significant extra cash into the inner-city academies run by the Omaha Public Schools. Most of the OPS students who did the very worst on the California Achievement Test were low-income, minority boys who attend the expensive inner-city academies supposedly designed and funded to reverse the longtime record of educational failure in that student population.

The test scores reveal that OPS is using the wrong curriculum and instructional methods.

And the California study bears that out.

The California-based Pacific Research Institute, http://www.pacificresearch.org released the study, "They Have Overcome: High-Poverty, High-Performance Schools in California," by Lance T. Izumi et. al. It is available for downloading from the website.

The study shows several schools with almost the whole student body coming from homes whose incomes are below the poverty line, with high percentages of racial minorities and high percentages of immigrants. And yet these students were among the highest-achieving students in the State of California, based on standardized test scores.

Amazing? No, evidence of the value of making correct choices of curriculum and instructional practices. That's the only way to meet disadvantaged children's educational needs, not lavishing more cash on schools that are doing the wrong things. Conclusion: "This study confirms that poverty and racial diversity are not barriers to excellence."

Bottom line: the California inner-city schools got rid of Whole Language and other "progressive" educational philosophies that cost significantly more money and don't work as well. Instead, they used cheaper, plain and simple phonics programs such as the Open Court reading program, as well as basic, traditional instruction in math and other subjects. They also put in place clear discipline and student responsibility programs. The schools resolved to use only that which has been proven by empirical research to work the best, which is phonics and the tried-and-true basics of traditional instruction.

So why can't OPS do the same?

It could . . . if OPS voters point the way.

If enough people go to the polls Nov. 5 and vote "no" on the multimillion dollar spending lid override, OPS might be forced to "economize" by giving kids what's cheaper . . . and better. Maybe they'd switch to phonics, at last. Ironically, if school officials had less money available, that might be the salvation of our neediest students.

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