Born in Baltimore, program takes off Reading: Launched by the Johns Hopkins University, an inner-city schooling program called Success for All is enthusiastically received -- except in Baltimore

The Education Beat

December 17, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ELEVEN YEARS after its launch by the Johns Hopkins University, one of the nation's most successful approaches to schooling for inner-city children is so popular that it can't keep up with demand.

Popular everywhere, that is, but Baltimore, the city of its birth.

The program is Success for All, now in 750 schools across the nation, with 400 to be added next year.

Success for All addresses the near certainty that children who don't learn to read in the early years are doomed to a life of failure.

So a school's resources are concentrated on the early grades, and phonics is stressed. There's one-on-one tutoring by certified teachers, careful monitoring of students' progress, a full-time "facilitator" to work with teachers and "family support teams" helping parents ensure the success of their children.

The approach is so simple that it hardly registers on the scale of news media interest. Success for All isn't about privatization or vouchers. And its underlying philosophy -- that all children can learn -- is such a simple cliche that every educator since Horace Mann has uttered it.

But SFA has a track record that impresses hard-pressed educators from New England to California.

Robert Slavin, the Hopkins professor who started SFA at the request of city school officials in 1986, said last weekend that the program has outgrown its cramped offices across Charles Street from the Hopkins Homewood campus. Another program, Roots and Wings, also conceived by Slavin and his colleagues, adds science, history and math to the SFA formula.

Educational programs come and go, as those who follow the field know only too well. What distinguishes SFA and Roots and Wings is that they're not tinkering around the edges. They are examples of "whole-school" restructuring, which means that they attempt to change the operation -- and attitudes -- of an entire school.

Indeed, a school can't enter SFA until 80 percent of its staff has voted to do so. "There has to be commitment, sustained commitment over many years," says Slavin.

A lack of long-term commitment, constantly changing administrations and up-the-down-staircase policies at city school headquarters have limited SFA in Baltimore to three schools. Slavin, disappointed, doesn't want to talk about SFA's experience in the city that gave it birth.

Slavin is cynical about much of what goes on in education. When 40 percent of the nation's schoolchildren have reading problems, he says, "that's a crisis. We're spending $8 billion a year in Title I addressing that crisis, and we have no idea whether much of that money is being put to good use."

By contrast, Slavin estimates $11 million has been spent on SFA in its 11 years. That's maybe a 10th of the cost of developing and marketing a single reading textbook series.

In the end, though, Slavin is an optimist. "In this country, where there's a way, there's a will," he says. "Let's say someone came up with a cure for sickle cell [anemia] and asked people to invest in it. Would they do it? Of course. People will invest enormous sums in things they think will work."

Maybe SFA is becoming a way worth the will.

Anne Arundel needs dose of good public relations

For Christmas, Anne Arundel County public schools need a clean slate of public relations. First, the county suffered through nearly two years of blaring headlines about a teacher having affairs with students.

Now it's the capital of false alarms -- 100 since April.

Last month, Superintendent Carol S. Parham canceled a day of Thanksgiving vacation for six of the schools that have been hit hardest. Parham took a leaf out of the schoolmarm's manual: Punish the innocent majority for the crimes of the guilty minority.

Essays say 'seductive force' grips purveyors of learning

The National Education Association's higher education journal published a review in its fall issue of a book titled, "The Erotics of Instruction." It's a collection of 13 essays that "explore the seductive force that grips the pursuers and the purveyors of knowledge."

College students taking finals this week will be interested to know that "acts of learning and teaching are acts of desire and passion," according to these authors.

Pub Date: 12/17/97

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