Tuesday, May 02, 2006


As Nebraskans continue to wrangle with what to do to help disadvantaged students and those who don’t speak English, since most of them underachieve dramatically in our public schools, let’s take a look at some of the success stories going on for deprived kids in schools that have broken free of the public-education monopoly.

Recently, Go Big Ed described the “No Excuses” schools located by the Heritage Foundation a few years ago. All served low-income pupils, many from non-English speaking homes, but turned around the academic achievement in a manner that can only be described as amazing. Most were public schools. Go Big Ed also has reported on successful school-choice programs such as those in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.

Here are some more good models from all over the world. There’s no reason Nebraska couldn’t have success stories like these, too, if we could overcome the fear of the unknown and branch out into school choice and privatization:

-- Westside Preparatory Academy, Chicago, Ill.

What we need are teachers with passion and a vision. Dissatisfied with the quality of education offered by both the Chicago Public Schools and the elite private school her two daughters attended, teacher Marva Collins started a school in her house in one of the poorest neighborhoods of that great city. Funding: her $5,000 teacher pension. She started with six pupils, including one labeled “learning disabled,” one labeled “problem child,” and another labeled “borderline retarded.” She used classical curriculum – great books and poetry, recitation, Shakespeare, sentence diagramming, board work for math, teaching reasoning by using the Socratic method, and so on. By the end of the school year, every one of those kids was reading at least five grade levels higher than when they started. Marva Collins graduates went on to Yale, Harvard and Stanford, and have become doctors, lawyers and engineers. Nebraskans might remember Creighton basketball player Kevin Ross, who went there to learn to read as an adult when 13 years of public schooling, and a college career, didn’t do it. Hellllllllllo!!!! For a glance at the excellent curriculum that has brought all this to fruition, see:

-- Private Scholarships Exploding All Around Us

Nebraska is fortunate to have a local Omaha office of the Children’s Scholarship Fund here. Donors receive a partial tax credit for donating money to the fund, which is then distributed to needy families as partial K-12 private-school scholarships. This tuition assistance is crucial for low-income parents who prefer private education but can’t afford it. Similar “opportunity scholarship” programs are growing all over the place. Here’s what’s happening in Utah, where 375 low-income children are going to get scholarships of up to $1,800 a year, about half the cost of a good private school’s tuition:


-- Catholic Schools Do a Better Job for Poor Kids Than Public Schools

This article’s almost 10 years old, but it contains eye-opening stats that could have really helped Omaha avoid the current situation years ago. Instead of hoping that the same public schools that had failed the low-income population for decades could miraculously turn around with more funding, we should have turned to a proven solution – traditional teaching, traditional curriculum, faith-based character development, order and discipline -- instead of spending hundreds of millions on what doesn’t work – fancier buildings, more complicated curriculum and so forth. The Catholic schools use the time-tested KISS method which somehow escapes the union- and educrat-dominated public schools: Keep It Simple, Silly:


-- Two-Thirds of Poor Parents Want Private Schools

It’s a sad commentary on the relative lack of political power of low-income parents in Nebraska when you note that a full two-thirds of low-income parents say they would choose private schools for their children rather than public schools, if they could afford them. Studies of why parents choose private education show that regardless of their demographic situation, they perceive private schools as offering higher quality for their children. It has nothing to do with race. This means Omaha’s low-income parents are being ignored and their wishes minimized. If the Omaha Public Schools would adopt a modest school-choice program for its pupils whose families are judged to be below the poverty line based on eligibility for full or partial lunch subsidies, we could avoid all the hateful talk about racism and segregation and discrimination – and give poor parents what most of them want in the first place. See:


-- Schools for Rural Poor Run By the Daughters of the American Revolution

Now why in the heck can’t private, nonprofit organizations in Nebraska start and support small, specialty schools like these? What a great solution for the “boat people” whose Class I country schools were bombed out of existence by the Unicam. With help and funding from civic organizations, probably located in Omaha and Lincoln, they could follow this model and keep their small, high-quality schools afloat. Who could we turn to, to make this happen? Can anybody say “Junior League” or “Assistance League” or “PEO” or sorority alumnae groups. . . .

Private Schools for the Poor in Third World Countries

Private, nonprofit organizations are helping to start up and operate private schools for the poorest of the poor in basket-case countries, and guess what? The kids are poorer than those in the local government schools, but are out-performing their more advantaged peers. This has obvious implications for American inner cities. Isn’t it embarrassing that other countries are doing a better job for their poor kids than we are? See:

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