For as long as anyone can remember, the conventional wisdom has been that the way to deal with failing students is to slow them down or pull them out of the classroom for remediation. To Stanford education professor Henry Levin, this seems more like conventional stupidity. He proposes, instead, that schools speed up the instruction of disadvantaged children so that they can catch up to their more advantaged peers.
Levin’s ideas took shape in the early 1980s as he conducted research with “at-risk’’ children. Says Levin: “I don’t like the term ‘at risk.’ As soon as you think of kids in need of repair, what you do is repair.’'
He found that students placed in remediation classes fall even further behind. But when “you start with their strengths,’' he notes, “and build on those strengths, you’re challenged to come up with enrichment for their gifts and talents.’'
Less than five years after testing his ideas in a pilot program in two San Francisco Bay-area schools, Levin’s Accelerated Schools Project has spread to some 140 elementary schools across the nation. And he has had to turn away more than that number. Three states--Illinois, Massachusetts, and Missouri-- have started their own accelerated schools networks, which provide support and training. Levin is now testing his ideas in middle schools in California and Washington State. He has no plans to expand to secondary schools, hoping, instead, “to deliver kids to Ted Sizer’s high schools.’'
To join the project, at least 75 percent of a school’s staff must be in favor of the move. The Stanford team provides a week of training. Each school is asked to take stock of its own situation, to create a vision of what it would like to become, and to select a handful of priority areas to work on. Staff, students, and parents are all involved in decisionmaking. They use the “inquiry process,’' which requires research, testing hypotheses, and discussion of fundamental issues.
Levin does not see his program as a quick fix. “This is a 30-year project,’' he says. “This is not a gimmick.’'
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Accelerated Schools Project