Monday, January 16, 2012

From the Fab Five to the Three Rs

Kudos to former NBA star Jalen Rose:

Those efforts drove him to start the school in the first place, since he saw many promising high-schoolers who had earned straight-As but couldn't score higher than a 14 out of 36 on the ACT. "What were they teaching these kids? There are just so many poor-performing schools here, and there are so many kids in our city that want to do the right thing, and families that want to put their kids in a quality school. But they can't."

So he threw out a life raft by starting his academy. "Only 28% of ninth graders in the Detroit public schools are graduating high school," he notes. The rest "become the statistic you read about in the newspaper. They are the people that are robbing you at the ATM machine."

Why's the situation so bad? "It starts at the top. A lot of the schools are poorly managed," he says. "Some of them have models that aren't set up for success. The kids have no interaction. They get lost."

At the Leadership Academy, "we have a 20-to-1 student teacher ratio and 10-to-1 in math and English. We want to invest in every young man or woman who comes here." That means tailoring achievement standards for every student. "There may be a kid reading at a fourth-grade level [when he enters ninth grade] who when he graduates is reading at a tenth-grade level. That's a victory."

His school also doesn't have tenure for teachers. "I hate tenure. Tenure allows teachers to put their feet up on the desk and possibly have a job forever. That's why I got turned on to charter schools. It's a business model. Every employee and every teacher will be monitored by performance."

Kids too: "We have a code of conduct here. If they act up, they're suspended. They come back with a better attitude."

What about the risk that setting up a high school means intervening too late in kids' lives? "I feel like the eight most at-risk years for young men or young women are the four they're in high school and the four they should be in college. You ask any adult whose dreams didn't come true or goals they didn't get accomplished, they point back to that eight-year period when they started driving, their hormones started taking over, they started having sex, they started partying," says Mr. Rose. "That's when you're in a position to make those poor decisions and actually execute them. That's why I really wanted to influence this age group."

He also wants to influence parents—empowering them to demand better schools for their kids. The rigid system of school boards telling families where their kids have to go to school perpetuates poverty and a sense of entrapment, he says: "Forty-seven percent of Detroit area parents are functionally illiterate. So that puts their kids at a real handicap. Say my mom is one of those 47%. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't have a fair opportunity for a quality public education. But since my mom is functionally illiterate and we grew up on the west side of Detroit, I'm forced to go to this school that has been a poor-performing school for 30 years."

"There should be parental choice," he says clearly. "Schools should be open. If it's a public education, and the school in your district is poor-performing, you should be able to put your student or kid wherever you want."

Choice could be relatively easily implemented, he says. "I'm a taxpaying citizen, right? So if I'm paying $4,000 worth of taxes and I don't want my kid to go to this school, why can't they give me my $4,000 and allow me to pick where I want to put my kids?"


From the Fab Five to the Three Rs

After 20 years of basketball fame and fortune, Jalen Rose returns home to Detroit to promote school reform and parental choice.


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