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.