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October 27, 2004 Extra Credit
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October 27, 2004

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Flushing Away Low Expectations

The following are excerpts from an article in today’s The Providence Journal (R.I.) highlighting an elementary school in Woonsocket, Rhode Island that has drastically improved under No Child Left Behind:

The following are excerpts from an article in today’s The Providence Journal (R.I.) highlighting an elementary school in Woonsocket, Rhode Island that has drastically improved under No Child Left Behind:

"Kevin K. Coleman Elementary School is like the Little Engine That Could. Faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, it huffed and it puffed and it pulled its students over the mountain. Two years ago, the Woonsocket school's test scores were in the toilet. Less than a quarter of its fourth graders met the state standard in math and less than half did in English. The poorest school in a very poor district, Coleman was ranked as a low-performing school that had to offer students a chance to transfer to a better school. It had nowhere to go but up.

"This year, the school not only met the standards, it blew them away. Coleman's fourth graders made huge gains in math, far surpassing the state average, and it posted double-digit increases on the English portion of the state test. Today, Coleman has joined the Barringtons of the world, becoming a high-performing school that is making improvement. It defies those who argue that demography is destiny, that children who grow up poor or black or speaking a foreign language can't make it.

"Principal George Nasuti, a local boy who grew up in a housing project and attended seven schools in eight years, says the biggest reason for Coleman's success is a change in school culture. Teachers here have always cared about their students but they didn't expect very much of them. A few years ago, when the federal No Child Left Behind law threatened schools with sanctions if they failed to improve, Nasuti had a heart-to-heart with his staff. He told them it was time to stop making excuses.

"At Coleman, 20 percent of the children don't speak English as their first language, so the school carved out 2 1/2-hour blocks where children could receive intensive instruction in reading and writing. The school opened early so these same students could get the extra help they need.

"By contrast, special-needs children had always been pulled out of the regular classroom to receive remedial help. The problem was that these students weren't held to the same standards as their peers. The solution? Put them back in the regular classroom and add a special-education teacher who can address their needs."

"Coleman has also adopted a new way of teaching called the workshop model. Instead of lecturing in front of the class, a teacher might begin with a group exercise and then break into small groups. At the end of class, she will ask her students to share what they have learned. This approach allows teachers to work with children of different abilities and gives children more than one opportunity to practice what they have learned."

"Last month, Coleman threw a barbecue in the school's parking lot to celebrate the school's dramatic achievements. Nasuti manned the grill, his staff cooked and 300 people turned out to share the school's success. ‘It used to be, 'Those poor kids from Fairmount,'’ Nasuti says, referring to the neighborhood. ‘Now, it's how high can we raise the bar.’"

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 08/13/2013