Sunday, March 15, 2009

How To Make a School Work

This is not just about 'what MPS woulda/coulda/shoulda.'

This is about how ANY school should work.

The programs he oversees at St. Marcus are the embodiment of everything he learned along the way. Tyson's students are proof of the ability of poor black children to perform just as well academically as their affluent white peers when placed in a highly structured and challenging environment, and testimony to the power of the Christian Gospel to transform lives.

But that Gospel wasn't part of another program Tyson saw.

"When I got hired at St. Marcus, the first thing they did was send me to New York to look at a KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) school." He has visited other excellent urban schools in Houston and Chicago as well.

"What I saw in those schools revolutionized my thinking. When you walk into a great urban school, you can tell the difference immediately."

And the difference is....?

"The kids are focused. The teachers are teaching with passion. It's happy and calm.The school day is crazy-long. There's direction. You see college stuff everywhere. And if you talk to a student, they make eye contact. They talk confidently, and they're polite."

Not just the kids, either.

Like their teachers, they are serious about learning. They arrive at St. Marcus as early as 6:30 a.m., and middle-school students often stay as late as 8:30 p.m. Tardiness, truancy and any kind of disruptive behavior are met with instantaneous discipline.

In the early grades, the teachers eschew educational fads like the new math or "whole language" reading instruction. Instead, they focus on the basics. In the upper grades, the curriculum is rigorous. Students are expected to complete three to four hours of homework every night. Along with academic subjects (including Latin), they have daily religious instruction.

(I love it--Lutherans for Latin!!)

And faculty?

Likewise, St. Marcus teachers are willing to put in 12-hour days in service to God and their students.

"Any school that is successful has very extended hours," Tyson says. "That single point right there is absolutely critical. As long as the schools want to stick with the 6.5-hour day, we will never be successful.

"I never have to fight with my teachers. I think there are a lot of teachers out there who would jump at the chance to teach at a school like this. When you give a teacher the opportunity to change lives, the job becomes a consuming passion."

"Teaching is impossibly difficult. Period. You get better with practice. That's one thing that's wrong with our teacher training programs: Students don't spend enough time in the classroom, not enough time practicing.

Practice, practice, practice--both students and faculty. That 'three to four hours' homework' is exactly what the faculty is putting in.

HT: Sykes


Deekaman said...

Huh...basics....really. You mean "whole language" and "new math" don't work. I never would have guessed, considering what amazingly capable kids are coming out of those systems.

Seriously, the basics worked. Why the schools changed is beyond me.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

yoSAMite said...

Great story. When I read rants about the socio-economic problems that are the cause of low learning levels, I ask the question, when teachers are taught how to teach in college, are there different ways presented as to the economic class of the parents? When I went to college there wasn't.

The basics have been time tested. They work.