Philadelphia Metropolis


A Significant Effect

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Olney22.jpgWhat's happening at Olney High School this year could have a significant and widespread effect on urban public education.

Hired by the district to take over one of the worst high schools in the city, the Latino educational group Aspira has engineered a remarkable turn around in just a few months.

As Connie Langlang reports in this week's Cover Story, Aspira used a mixture of tough love, along with improvements in the learning environment and academics, to begin what will surely be a long journey for the ailing high school.

It won't be easy. Establishing peace is one thing; it's something else entirely to help kids who are in high school, but read and do math at grammar school level.

But, at least it's a start.  And in its one year at the Stetson Middle School, which Aspira took over in September 2010, it saw reading and math scores rise, significantly in the case of math.

If I had boil down the reason for Aspira's success, both at Olney High and earlier at Stetson. I would do it thusly:

One. Institute strict order to give children the structure and environment children need to learn. This is an update to the old Catholic school model.

Two. Shed yourself of the constrictions placed on school management by the teachers contract.  Both Olney and Stetson have longer days -- with more instructional time because, as charters, they are not unionized. They get to pick their own staff.  They are free of the annual staff shuffle at the district based on the demands of seniority.

Three. Send the message loud and clear that the children are not losers, but have the capacity to learn.  In other words, show faith in them. And make demands accordingly.

Three. Remove and segregate troublesome students, not by throwing them out of the school but by creating a school-based alternative.  See Langland's description of how it was done at Stetson by clicking here. 

This third item is the subject of a piece I did as part of my regular gig at the Fels Institute of Government at Penn.  You can read the column here.

-- Tom Ferrick


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