Wednesday, September 05, 2007

When School Works

I have a column in today's USA Today called "When School Works" that talks about the Cristo Rey model of Catholic school that I first blogged about here a few months ago. Students work 1-2 days a week in corporate offices to earn most of their tuition. It's a concept born of financial necessity that has big side benefits. It turns out that getting kids out of the teen world for even a few hours a week gives them a much broader perspective. Even well-to-do teens spend more time watching TV and obsessing about trivia than they should. It's funny how a job keeps you level-headed.

Anyway, those of us who write about education can quickly become jaded about the "hot new thing" in education. Every week some celebrity is adopting a school and saying how it's transformed the lives of underprivileged youth. You hear about empowerment zones, and exciting new charter school concepts and yet.... American education overall continues to be pretty mediocre. I've read stories about the Young Women's Leadership School of New York and how wonderful it is (Sean Hannity wrote about it extensively in his book). But when I judged a MathCounts competition here in New York a few years ago, the team from that school came in last, which made me extremely cross. Leadership is one thing, but how about teaching some math? It is very hard to come up with a concept that is replicable and sustainable.

But Cristo Rey is different. For starters, the Catholic church knows a thing or two about running inner city schools, having done so for eons. The work-study model is financially sustainable. And since the kids are learning skills that they actually apply in their working lives, immediately, there's no need to rely on mass-recited slogans and cheers to keep up motivation, as a lot of the KIPP schools do. So I'm quite enthusiastic on the concept, and hope to write more about it in the future.


robin said...

I think that there are lots of school models that can work for all children without neglecting the gifted ones. I was just reading this article,
and I was imagining what it would be like to have a gentle acknowledgement that each child could be at their readiness level!

Go School that "Work."

timothy fairchild said...

I didn't realize how little time teens spend around adults. That's a keen insight by Laura and an overlooked problem. Imagine if bear cubs only learned from other cubs and not adults. They would be poorly prepared for the world. Laura wrote, "the bizarre teen vortex that celebrates TV, clothes and other trivia." That is putting it mildly. From what I have seen, it's a world centered on favorite songs, bands, and which websites offer the best free sex clips. When you have fifteen year-old boys glued for hours to videos of girls having sex with several guys at once, instead of figuring out their place in the world, developing skills etc., it only distracts them down a dead-end street. Getting lost in music, beer, pot & pornography bakes no bread, as they say. And let's not be naive about how bad the problem is -- when teenage boys know everything about their favorite fifty porno stars and nothing about the stars in the sky, their emphasis is clear.

mathmom said...

I just discovered your blog and I am really enjoying looking through it. As a mom of 3 gifted boys, your subject area is of great interest to me. Thanks for the great blog!