Upside future for kids 'at promise'

Posted: Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Some kids seem surely to be in harm's way -- tough neighborhoods, fractured families, inadequate family income. Yet, in school, these same kids seem to be doing just fine academically. With the odds against them, what's happening to make this difference?

What some schools are doing is making a tremendous difference in helping disadvantaged kids to achieve at expected levels for an upside future.

The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory's free quarterly magazine, "NW Education," looks at the research and what schools seem to be doing so right to get results. Under the theme of Closing the Gap: How North-west Schools are Raising Min-ority Achievement, issue-editor Lee Sherman, while noting that there's no magic formula that applies across the board, lays out some of the thinking of national experts. Among them are some critical aspects from Robert E. Slavin in an "Educ-ational Leadership" (Dec. 1997/Jan. 1998) article "Can Education Reduce Social Inequity?" Pulling from his own research and that of others, Slavin says:

"... Children ... at promise. The first requirement for a policy designed to ensure the school success of all children is to (see) children ... at risk ... as being at promise. We identify and build on cultural and personal strengths and accept nothing less than outstanding performance. ... We insist on high-quality instruction sensitive to students' needs from the beginning of their time in school and respond immediately and intensively if children start to fall behind.

"Start early. As a rule, children enter preschool or kindergarten highly motivated, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, fully confident in their abilities to learn. Schools can build on this energy and enthusiasm and thereby ensure children a good start in elementary school. Research on Head Start and other programs for three- and 4-year-olds finds consistent and powerful impacts of high-quality early childhood programs on the cognitive performance of young children... . There is no question that quality early childhood programs can greatly enhance children's preparation for elementary school; it's just up to the school to take advantage of this preparation.

"Work on the many fronts at once. Children who are placed at risk by their life circumstances can fail for many reasons. Effective schooling, therefore, anticipates all the ways children might fail and then plans how each will be prevented or quickly and effectively dealt with."

Slavin says that "we already know enough to take action." Some of that action in Northwest classrooms is portrayed in "NW Education," posted on the Internet at

This column is provided as a public service by the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, a nonprofit institution working with schools and communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Ore-gon and Washington.

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