The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

11 December 2005

Why city schools matter

Tom Lindley's column in this morning's Oklahoman takes a look at Wilson School, north of downtown, and how it's coming back from the brink:

Since 1997, test scores at the school have risen from below the 45th percentile-range in reading and math to 84 percent and 88 percent, respectively, with the help of a curriculum that uses visual arts, drama and music to teach reading and math skills.

Teachers volunteered to work an extra half-hour each day so there is time to tailor the curriculum for each level of learning.

The volunteers include parents, alumni and neighborhood friends whose latest fund-raising effort is ambitious. The goal is to raise almost $700,000 to ensure enough classroom space to support the arts-based curriculum in Wilson's $3.6 million MAPS for Kids makeover, which will get under way next year.

The hope is that if the formula works at Wilson, where some kids go home to mansions and others to homeless shelters and where almost all the ethnic groups in Oklahoma City intersect, maybe it can hasten the return of the middle class to other neighborhoods.

The important thing here is that the good stuff at Wilson started happening before the facelifts and such. New facilities are wonderful (and, in the case of Wilson, long overdue) to have, but a prettier shell doesn't in and of itself necessarily indicate a better egg.

Still, MAPS for Kids was a vote of confidence by city taxpayers, and that confidence is showing up in test scores and in the Academic Performance Index; city schools know they're just one sector of the education marketplace, and they have responded, not by grumbling about the competition or by pointing to dark forces that presumably seek to undermine them, but by actually competing.

Lindley continues:

However, the fight for urban public education is not solely about finding a way to increase public school enrollment and economic diversity.

It also is about returning inner-city schools to a level of excellence they enjoyed decades ago, and it is about using diversity as a building block, not a wedge.

After all, when they dubbed the program "MAPS for Kids," they didn't specify colors.

Posted at 9:59 AM to City Scene