Scrimp, Avoid Quick Fixes, Watch Academic Achievement Rise

Article excerpt

For public schools receiving an infusion of economic stimulus cash, New York City's Osmond A. Church School (PS/MS 124) may be an example of how to make it a gift that keeps on giving.

Ten years ago, the school won a three-year, $784,000 state grant to carry out a plan for comprehensive reform. Rather than looking for money to reduce class size or try the latest fad, as is tempting for schools that feel chronically underfunded, two successive principals committed to a curriculum approach called Core Knowledge, one they hoped would unify teachers and students in high expectations for learning. The school is still reaping the benefits of their decisions today.

Success "has been sustainable, and it's become part of the culture and tapestry of this building," says principal Valarie Lewis, a former teacher and assistant principal there. When the grant ran out, the school consistently set aside a portion of its Title I money - federal support for low-income students - to keep Core Knowledge going. "Staying true to one program and giving it time to take root is the key," Ms. Lewis says. "Too many schools ... have tried to get quick fixes and they've brought in too many programs; they've spent too much money."

Core Knowledge integrates world history, civics, literature, science, and art throughout the curriculum. When second-graders study immigration, teachers have had them depict the Statue of Liberty in the style of Picasso or Matisse.

It's led to lower teacher turnover, increased collaboration, and achievement gains that prompted the K-6 school to expand through eighth grade in 2006-07.

Living near Kennedy Airport in Queens, virtually all the students qualify for free meals; some are homeless; many hail from new immigrant families. In 2000, fewer than half met state standards. Now they outpace many of their city peers. …