Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 10, 1994

The Way I See It...
All Children Should Learn If Schools Adopt New Methods
By Steve Libowitz

My twin daughters, Hayley and Jessica, just turned 13 months
old last week, and they're already reading. I walked into the
den the other day to find Hayley lying on her back on the
floor, holding a book at arm's length over her head. "Abba,
nana, dada," she read aloud, then turned the page.
    Among the hundreds of magical moments they have given me
this first year of their lives, none seems to amaze me as
much as watching them learn. I feel an incredible rush of
delight when they nestle down into my lap with a book. We
don't get very far. I've introduced each of them to Peter
Rabbit and his siblings dozens of times without ever getting
to the part where Mr. Rabbit becomes the main ingredient in
Mr. McGregor's pie. But what they seem to lack in attention
span they make up for in expectation. They are at that stage
of childhood when they are hungry to learn. And I am at the
stage of parenthood when I wonder who will be their teachers,
and what and how will they be taught.
    I am blessed with a wife who is a loving and devoted
teacher for them. And we are fortunate that we have a
nurturing babysitter, adoring grandparents and relatives and
a circle of godparents who love taking them out and showing
them parts of the world we never seem to get time for these
days. But I wonder who will teach them in a year or two, and
in kindergarten and the all-important first grade, and
    In our family, education is the most important thing to
share with our daughters after our love; maybe it's the same.
My wife and I wonder out loud about what sort of students
they might be and how we can best help them learn. Our home
is stuffed with books that the girls, now, mostly use for
snacks or as objects to fight over; but we wonder if they
will be the avid readers we are. Will they be interested in
exploring history and philosophy and the arts and sciences
through the collection we first present to them?
    Beyond our home, we want them to have an education that
fosters that sort of hunger. We bought our first house in a
neighborhood where the public elementary school has an
outstanding reputation.
    But still I worry about the quality of that education. I
have had concerns about our schools since I was still in
them, perhaps because of that. I was reading about Summerhill
in the late sixties, thinking how wonderful such an open,
liberated education would be. But nothing seems to have come
of those education experiments, and the schools continue to
slide into, sometimes violent, medicocrity, or worse.  
    I believe in the public school system; I want it to work
for society and, especially for my children. But for all the
talk of reforms, it seems very little innovation sticks. 
    That is why I was so pleased for the researchers at the
Hopkins Center for Social Organization of Schools, the
institute just off campus, on Charles Street. All summer they
held their collective breaths in anticipation of receiving
the largest research and development grant ever made by the
U.S. Department of Education: five years, nearly $28 million.
I worried along with them. It was their livelihood that was
at stake, of course, but it was my daughters' lives, their
futures, that I saw hanging in the decision as well.
    Why? Because for 26 years, the various research projects
of CSOS have led to school reform programs that work. Because
they seek to change schools to help not only students from
socially or disadvantaged familes, but students from all
families. Because they believe that all students can learn,
and their research and program development reach to achieve
this goal. And because they base their research in scientific
methods rather than on fads and cultural convenience. 
    Success For All, an elementary school program whose goal
is to have every child reading at or above grade level by the
third grade, is a good example of the progress they have made
toward education reform. Begun as a pilot project in a few
Baltimore schools in 1989, Success For All has now been
adopted in nearly 100 schools in 20 states. The program
targets students who are most at risk for failing or
ultimately dropping out of school due to their social or
economic situations.
    The most recent scientific evaluation of the program
shows that the average Success For All child is performing
better than 70 percent of students not in the program. By the
end of the third grade, the students in the lowest 25 percent
of their class are performing better than 93 percent of other
students. And the positive results are still evident through
fifth grade.
    The DOE grant will keep programs such as Success For All
functioning and expanding, reaching more students who need to
know that they can succeed in school and that education can
be worthwhile, perhaps even fun.
    This sort of program will be important for my children's
education, as well, because they may attend a school with
kids who have not been motivated at home to love learning.
But they will all learn together, one helping the other. If
this is not the model, if researchers are not out there
trying to help every child learn, then they all might suffer
together. And I will not accept that anymore than will the
folks at CSOS, who can now breathe easier knowing that their
work can--and must--continue.
    CSOS director Jim McPartland got it right when he said
that a lot was riding on this grant. I know a lot is at stake
for my girls. Although we believe they have every chance to
be gifted students, Hayley may not write her first novel by
age 7, and Jessie may not find that cure for cancer by age
    Still, no matter what their IQ or test scores reveal, my
daughters will grow to be strong, confident women who love
learning. That's how I define success. And Success For All,
and programs like it at CSOS and in other reform-minded
enclaves on campus, such as the Center for Talented Youth and
the School of Continuing Studies' Division of Education, are
finding ways that work to make success possible for all
students. And for that I am both proud and thankful.

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