The price of school success

April 13, 1993

At a Johns Hopkins research center, educators have devised a program that makes use of simple, common-sense approaches to ensure that every child learns to read and succeed in school. Unlike many other innovations in education, "Success for All" is designed for any school and any teacher. Today, at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Atlanta, Dr. Robert E. Slavin of JHU's Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students, is presenting results demonstrating that Success for All can be effective with poor students far from the program's Baltimore base.

Since it was first implemented at Baltimore's Abbottston Elementary School six years ago, Success for All has spread to 70 schools in 16 states. The results in Baltimore illustrate its potential: The number of students held back in kindergarten and grades 1-3 has dropped from 11 percent to near zero and there has been a significant drop in the number of children placed in special education. Early data from other schools show similar strong results.

The program is based on the simple but radical notion that virtually all children can succeed in school regardless of poverty or other strikes against them. With special attention to family support and a commitment to provide intense, one-on-one tutoring as soon as a child shows signs of falling behind, Success for All seeks to provide success early on, while children still retain their instinctive excitement about learning and before they need traditional remedial work.

Dr. Slavin and his colleagues have developed a model for education that succeeds with proven principles rather than fancy bells and whistles. But it doesn't come without a price. At some schools, the extra staff to implement the program costs at least $1,000 per child each year. That's the chief reason Baltimore City has started the program in only seven schools. But the price tag doesn't excuse the failure of public officials to fund a school system that actually educates children. Ensuring success in early grades would save a great deal of money later on.

Baltimore City has its own special woes, but what about other, wealthier jurisdictions? Can they boast that every elementary school student learns to read? If not, why are they not taking advantage of this program's proven success? Too many schools assume that a certain number of students will always fail. Dr. Slavin's work suggests another maxim holds the greater truth: If the student didn't learn, the teacher didn't teach.

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