Saturday, May 22, 2004

Black Flight to Private Schools Is Growing

Via Tim Sandefur, a fascinating New York Times article on the fact that some black parents are fleeing the public school system:
Like the Catholic schools favored by many black parents, the Whitfield School has stuck to instruction in basic skills. The other day, the blackboard in Louise Browne-Jackson's first-grade classroom was equally divided into sections about phonics (sh, en), grammar (contractions) and mathematics (place value in three-digit numbers). Classes routinely recite aloud. Every pupil in pre-kindergarten is required to learn to read.

Such methods defy the favored approaches of many public school systems, including New York's, which downplay or altogether omit drilling and memorization. The traditional style appeals strongly, however, to A. B. Whitfield, who taught in public schools for 17 years before founding Trey Whitfield (named for his late son) in 1983. And the curriculum has helped him attract a corps of experienced immigrant teachers, many of them products of the British-style schools in the Caribbean basin, for salaries one-third lower than those in public schools.

Nobody can argue with the results. On fourth-grade math and reading tests, more than 90 percent of Trey Whitfield students meet state standards, while barely one-third do so in the nearby public schools.
Granted, there might some selection effect, in that the parents who choose this school are precisely those who care deeply about and are involved in their children's education. But still, these educational methodologies seem to produce strikingly different results. What's stopping the public schools from trying an approach that just might work?


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