If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Kalamazoo Promise: Motivated Students Are "Easier" Students

The Kalamazoo Promise has been getting more and more press lately, most recently in this WSJ article about how the program is helping to attract businesses and residents back into Kalamazoo. The basic idea of The Promise is that it provides partial college tuition to any student who spends their high school career in Kalamazoo's public schools, and full college tuition to anyone who is there K-12. It is an automatic college scholarship for all Kalamazoo residents.

I first heard about The Kalamazoo Promise when it had just started from Anonymous Friend, who actually grew up in Kalamazoo and was a housemate of ours during our time in England. Anonymous Friend is a regular reader of this blog, and she sent me an email the other day after my post about teaching in private schools. Her basic question was whether students in private schools were more motivated than their public school counterparts, and if so, whether it had anything to do with the much stronger likelihood that they would be attending college after high school. She was back in Kalamazoo visiting family and reported:

I ran into my AP English teacher yesterday and we were talking about the "Kalamazoo Promise," and she was telling me that, since the Promise, enrollment in AP classes at my old high school is off the charts, and she finds that the students are much more focused and "easier" to teach.
The statistics quoted by the WSJ seem to tell a similar story. According to the article, high school graduation rates are up 21% since 2005 when the program was introduced. I am not an expert in these things, but I can't imagine many other changes that would boost graduation rates 20% in two years.

The message seems clear to me. If we want schools full of motivated and successful students, students who are "easier" to teach, we need to be able to give those students a vision of what comes next for them, and how the things they are doing in school are preparing them for that future. From a policy standpoint, that may mean looking at more and more ways to make college affordable for everyone (assuming that not every city or town in America has an anonymous cabal of philanthropists with the money to send all its students to college). From the school's point of view, that means finding ways in everything we do to show the students the future paths that are open to them, and to be very explicit about the connections between what they are doing in school and what they are going to be doing in the future. If those connections aren't there, then we need to seriously rethink what we're teaching in school.