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.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  November 19, 2008; 11:57 AM ET  | Category:  Class Time , Math Education Reform
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Why do high expectations and standards need to be part of a special program? Would it not make more sense to simply implement high expectations and standards as standard operating procedure, other than for special education students? Also, who is paying for all of the "extra support and guidance from teachers and tutors?"

Posted by: BradJolly | November 20, 2008 8:21 AM | Report abuse

My impression from reading this article is that the effort is going to the 'middle', the average students whose needs are not addressed. Special ed and faster-track students have their own programs.
Why not have higher expectations across the board for all students?
Look at school budgets, look at the teachers unions, look at current educational theory. There are people in education who argue against smaller class size (since this is a budget problem, basically) and there are people in education who argue against curriculum standards and testing of those - since it forces concentration on basic topics, results are measurable. When anything is measurable, there must be blame apportioned for failure. No one wants to be blamed - let's avoid that at all cost!
The middle student does need help, it looks like, according to this program's success. So let's see: give extra help to the special ed kids and the kids who can handle advanced classes, and now to the 'average' students. Who does that leave out that? No one. Everyone who goes to public school needs extra help!

Posted by: KathyWi | November 20, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Do All Students Need Challenging Math in High School?

Not everyone aspires to be an engineer, accountant or in other math related professions, but is math important only in those professions?

Here is some information from Achieve, Inc.

How much math is really needed? What if students are not planning to go to college? Do all students really need Algebra II?

The research is clear. View the PowerPoint presentations and fact sheets on the site. Whether students are going on to a two- or four-year college or directly into the workplace, taking challenging mathematics in high school is the gatekeeper that either opens or shuts the door to opportunity.

Achieve, Inc. was created in 1996 by the nation's governors and corporate leaders, Achieve is an independent, bipartisan, non-profit education reform organization based in Washington, D.C. that helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments and strengthen accountability. In 2006, Achieve was named by Education Week as one of the most influential education groups in the nation.

Posted by: MathEducator1 | November 20, 2008 6:35 PM | Report abuse

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