Wednesday, April 20, 2005


I have a friend who says that with the proper curriculum and instructional methods, you could teach kids in a TENT and still do better than what goes on in our costly, marbled halls of public education.

Well, I read about a really great charter school in Arkansas that has raised the SAT scores of its disadvantaged students by 64.1% for language and 52.7% for math, with few discipline problems, and best of all, they’re housed in an old train station.

It’s the Delta College Preparatory School in Helena, Ark., which follows the KIPP style of old-fashioned schooling. The acronym means “Knowledge is Power Program,” and it’s a charter-school model that is spreading around the country, especially in low-demographics areas. Charter schools basically take tax funding, as regular public schools do, but have the freedom to do things differently if the parents and teachers so choose.

This charter school has 96% black kids, with 88% on free or reduced lunch. Their full-time staff to child ratio is an amazing 25:1. The kids go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, plus one Saturday morning a month, and three weeks in the summer.

Their school is highly structured. They wear uniforms. The principal greets them each morning and is omnipresent, with more decision-making power than the usual public-school principal.

The desks are arranged in rows and the teacher is clearly directing student attention and activities. Productive student behavior, like doing your homework, is rewarded with tokens, prizes and field trips; undesirable behavior is swiftly redirected and punished with a “time out.”

It’s so amazing how the things that the Omaha Public Schools and others in Nebraska are doing are the OPPOSITE of these things in trying to help low-income kids up and out of the educational basement.

OPS just sues the State of Nebraska for more money; these guys are doing what WORKS.

Nebraska public schools are getting mired in the touchy-feeling “best practices” being pushed by the State Department of Education, while the old-fashioned stuff – orderly, teacher-directed classrooms and an academic focus instead of a social focus – is paying off, bigtime, for these Arkansas kids.

Check out the description of this school on p. 39, and the test scores on p. 110, of the report:


And all this, in an old train station! How fitting. Trying to get Nebraska’s public education monopoly to see that it’s the methods, not the money, that matters for kids, is like trying to push a train backwards with your bare hands.

But at least – toot! toot! – we have to keep on trying. Or our kids futures are going to get . . . run over.

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