Secretary Spellings Visit & Kids in the Middle
Public schools are full of special programs for kids who are struggling and for kids who are high achievers. But there's lots of room to get lost for kids in the middle.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings visited my school today to observe some students in an AVID program. The program, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, taps a group of rising sixth or ninth graders who are in the middle -- with average academic records -- and puts them on an accelerated track. Most of the students are Hispanic or African American or potentially the first in their families to be college-bound. More than 300,000 students in nearly 4,000 schools in the US and abroad are involved.
The students have to make a commitment to do lots of homework and to take advanced courses. The school offers them a special class in study skills, such as note-taking and time management, as well as extra support and guidance from teachers and tutors. At Fairfax High, the program has been a big success, with 98 percent of the students passing their state exams, and all of the students taking at least 4 Advanced Placement classes. These kinds of high school experiences will not just help these kids get into college; they will help them succeed in college.
Spellings said such a program could be a guide for education reform, and particularly for reducing the number of students who drop out of high school or do not graduate on time.
I was impressed with the program. My only concern is that it serves 81 students. And I'm sure plenty more would really benefit from something like this, including some in my Algebra II class. Most of my classmates did not take algebra in the middle school and will likely not take an AP math class next year. The more students are singled out and given a higher bar to meet (with some support), the less likely they are to get lost.
With budget cuts on the horizon, the program is not likely to grow in the next year.
The administrators who met with Spellings talked about "AVID"-izing the whole school, training other teachers to share the same kind of high expectations and specialized teaching methods. That's probably a good start.
If your interested in doing some education policy-related tourism with the education secretary in her final months, here's a link to her blog On the Road with Margaret Spellings.
Michael Alison Chandler
November 19, 2008; 11:57 AM ET
Math Education Reform
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