Monday, October 22, 2007

 

'Small Academies': New Hope for Inner-City Education?

I was brought up by a very strict school-teacher mother whose methods sometimes owed more to the Victorian age than the post-war one into which I was born. Personally I reacted against such strictness though always felt approaches to teaching had swung hopelessly the other way during the sixties and seventies. My own brief experiences of teaching secondary school kids from urban areas further convinced me that strict, structured teaching is what such young people respond to best.

Support for this 'tough love' approach now comes to us from across the Atlantic. We learn that a new breed of small 200 pupil academies:

Some call it extreme education: 10-hour days, parental contracts and zero tolerance behaviour policies in small, 200-pupil academies. The result, seen in an evolving breed of US school, is 100% college acceptance, test scores to rival private schools, and south Bronx teenagers who play the viola like their Manhattan neighbours.The small school movement has been accused of undoing decades of progressive education. But its greatest proponents claim to be part of a new civil rights movement working to free America's urban underclass from a cycle of under-achievement.

Recently a group of British teachers travelled to see how the scheme works in Newark, New Jersey. Parents queue up to get their kids into these schools but have to sign a three-way contract with children and principal, promising to participate fully from their angle like ensuring homework is completed on time and attendance does not slacken.

When a child's homework isn't handed in by 8am there is a phone call home. When the parent doesn't turn up for a meeting, their child is not allowed back into school until they turn up. Signs telling them "No excuses" line the walls. "I was working until 11 last night. I'm tired, but I know I've got to [work]," says one 11-year-old, as she finishes up a "brain food" worksheet over breakfast. "Even my mother's gone back to school since I've been here."

Lord Andrew Adonis, the Schools Minister, is quoted in favour of this tough love approach. So am I and so, I'm sure, would have been my gifted teacher of a mother. I would love to see experiments with it over here and if they worked a stream of small academies introduced in all the big urban centres where so many kids end up without hope, prospects or awareness of what transforming delights education can provide.

Comments:
Hi,
This seems to be a good idea, however isn't the problem really with feral children whose parents play no active role in their development, either educationally or socially. The children who will benefit are those whose parents already take an active role. Not necessarily a bad thing but I don't think it will target those who would benefit most.
 
Andy
Dead right. If parents were keen on their kids getting a really good education, there would be no need for such academies in the first place. The new element seems to be the reputation of these new entities and the 'contract' which parents have to agree before their children are allowed in. This together with a tough regime in which backsliding is not tolerated. Given the state of our system I'd say it's worth giving it a try.
 
Why not simply introduce some of the proposed measures into our existing schools, and see what the response is?

If the theory is correct, it should drive up standards and results.
 
Mantex
Problem is the cultures of so many existing schools are not conducive to such a tough approach. A clean start is maybe necessary to get best results.
 
It's probably true that tough love teaching elicits better results in inner-city schools. That's a short-term pay-off.

But the long-term drawback is much more profound. We would move towards the kind of society which Mill feared, where individual action is characterised by order, uniformity, and submission to false authority. This long-term trend cannot be disputed, because these are exactly the values espoused in tough love schools.

The real question is which society we'd prefer to live in: the one outlined above; or a society based on voluntary associations and requests, not coercion and instruction. The latter entails many risks, for sure. It means that those who are brought up provincially may take advantage of society's disdain for rule-making.

In spite of the danger, I know which society I'd prefer to live in.
 
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