Thursday, August 24, 2006


It's exciting to hear about the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's new program in association with the Grand Island Public Schools. The UNL College Preparatory Academy will shepherd 47 low-income but academically talented kids through Grand Island High School with an eye toward attending UNL on scholarship on down the road.

Apparently the brainchild of Grand Island counselor Larry Uhing, the program will increase contact between students, teachers and counselors and expose these nontraditional students to more college admissions information and experiences than they had been getting.

University-based secondary-school academies such as this are old news in many other states, so it's about time that the state university stepped up to the plate to work on one of our worst K-12 problems. Nebraska has been embarrassed in recent years by an incredibly low rate of college-going among disadvantaged students, especially non-English speaking immigrants.

This program could really help. Let's hope similar programs are developed for Omaha and Lincoln high schools, and soon.

The utter lack of school choice in Nebraska is probably the reason why smart alternatives such as this simple program haven't arisen sooner. Consider what's going on right now in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa: Arizona has hearty school-choice legislation in place, in stark contrast to Nebraska's complete lack of it. So the traditional Mesa public schools have lost quite a few students to new public charter schools and private schools. According to the Goldwater Institute, www.goldwaterinstitute.org, about 700 kids left Mesa last year alone. Most of these students are low-income kids whose families qualify for various kinds of tuition assistance through the cool state laws Arizona has. So they voted with their feet.

Well, the loss of enrollment has awakened the sleepy public schools in Mesa, after losing enough revenue through lost enrollment to feel some pain for once. So they're opening an alternative of their own. It's the Crossroads School, a smaller environment for students at high risk of dropping out, or who for whatever the reason struggle with academics, attendance, or social problems at larger schools. This small school targets students who previously dropped out or left traditional schools for smaller charter alternatives or private schools.

Next year, Mesa will open a K-9, college preparatory academy for academically gifted kids, to try to compete with private and charter schools that offer more high-octane curriculum and instruction than the public schools have previously offered.

Isn't that great? Here's hoping that someday soon, Nebraska will develop a free educational marketplace, too. But how to get the powers that be awake and aware, in the absence of school choice and free-market pressures here?

I know -- let's schedule a junket for educrats down to Phoenix in oh, say, February, to check all this out! Complete with golf rounds and free margaritas! That may be the only thing that'll work; apparently, improving the lives and fortunes of disadvantaged kids isn't incentive enough.

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