Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Another article on character education

Thanks to Cyndy for sending me this link. It appears the new meme is character education, and here is an example of one magnet school that uses a program based on another variant of character education.
Students walk into school, greet waiting teachers with a hearty look-you-in-the-eye handshake and assemble in the gym.

There, they stand at attention, say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national anthem under the watch of soldiers from nearby Fort Eustis, who also inspect the kids to make sure they're wearing their proper uniforms.

A few children pass around a microphone and take turns leading the group in shouting slogans such as "I am someone special" and "Believe in yourself."

Thus began a recent day at the magnet school, which takes inner-city kids and teaches them how to set a formal table, resolve conflict and speak proper business English as well as solve a math problem. After only a five-week summer break, the students return to school Monday while most public schools in Virginia reopen in late August or September.

"What we're attempting to do is take these kids with great potential and make sure they realize it," said Walter S. Segaloff, businessman and founder of An Achievable Dream. "We want to have productive, law-abiding, educated citizens."
The results are absolutely spectacular: these are inner city kids. Test scores are high; not only that, 92% go to college and 8% go to the military. Wow: 100% of all the kids go somewhere, which makes me wonder, are there any kids that struggle with the program? What happens to them? Do they drop out before they make any impact on the numbers?

Out of curiosity, I did a brief search to see if I can find more about the people and funding behind "An Achievable Dream". It's a hybrid public-private venture, whatever that is, founded by a businessman, Walter Segaloff (scroll down). From what I can tell, they get money from businesses, local government, the DOE, and other interesting sources to help fund this program. He's won quite a number of awards for his program.

I have to admit I've already developed a jaundiced eye towards this program. It's hard for me to tell whether this is a for-profit venture and to know how much money this guy makes off this thing. However, he seems to have attracted plenty of money to the program. From its history, the program has expanded from an after-school program to a full-time deal.

I'm a bit concerned about this public-private thing. What is that anyway? Is there a board of directors? Who determines curriculum? Hard to say, but I'm concerned this may be the trend of the future, especially as public schools lose even more funding due to NCLB mandates.

Not only that, the whole military flavor of the school, while apparently quite effective, just bugs me.

Update: I asked Cyndy, via e-mail exchange, what price is this type of education? Her answer (here with her permission):
Indeed, I think a price is paid. While I think it might be good for kids who have virtually no structure, I think there is a loss of critical thinking skills, a rigidity, almost robotic behaviour, and probably loss of compassion.Is it better for inner city kids? If they're going on to college at 90% rates as the article suggests, maybe it is good. They can pick up critical thinking skills then. However, if schools like this were to become a model for all schools, I think the price would become evident very quickly.
I agree.

My prediction: this is just the beginning, or maybe these are feeler blurbs. I think Dubya's trying to salvage his education president image by introducing this variant.