Opening her new Preparatory School of Wisconsin last August, Marva Collins expanded her focus on excellence and high expectations to include inner-city minority students in Milwaukee. At the same time, she initiated a teacher training program, moved her existing Chicago school to a new facility, and continued her efforts to turn around three failing elementary schools in Chicago as a probation manager for the Chicago Public School Board.
When Collins was appointed probation manager last January, reading scores at the three Chicago schools were below national norms. In the first five months, reading scores at Beilder School tripled, while those at McNair School doubled.
At the relocated Marva Collins Preparatory School in Chicago, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills showed that three- and four-year-old students scored at 1st- and 2nd-grade levels, with some scoring at 3rd- and 4th-grade levels. In the 7th and 8th grade, the lowest score was 10.9 (almost high school junior level) and the highest score was 12.9 (college freshman level).
One major change to the school this year is the addition of a first-year teacher to each classroom to act as an assistant to the regular teacher and to learn the Marva Collins Methodology. The new Teachers Training Program is a significant effort to maintain the integrity of the Marva Collins schools and the high quality of the children’s educations. In addition, the program provides the organization with trained teachers not only for the continued expansion of the main Preparatory School but also for new schools in other neighborhoods in Chicago.
Collins’ new school in Milwaukee currently offers just two grades, kindergarten and 1st, but will add a grade each year up to 8th grade. The Marva Collins Preparatory School of Wisconsin is a private, non-religious school with tuition of $4,500 and enrollment open to anyone, including those eligible for Milwaukee school choice vouchers and scholarships from Partners Advancing Values in Education.
Although the school’s reading list includes works by Sophocles, Homer, Plato, Chaucer, Tolstoy, and Dostoevski, excellence-oriented Collins does not see this as anything amazing. “It’s all about expectations,” she told Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Joe Williams. The impressive thing, she said, is not that the students can read the books, but that they can apply their lessons to daily life.
Consistent with Collins’ emphasis on making good choices and accepting personal responsibility, the main textbook for young students at the school is Aesop’s Fables, while older students use William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues.
“God is not some cosmic bellboy who comes at my beck and call,” says Collins’ creed, which is posted in every classroom. “If I want to achieve, the first step must be my own undertaking. Likewise, if I want to fail, that too is my choice.”
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].