Naming Our Best Schools

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2008; 6:23 AM

My search for a suitable label for the hard-charging schools remaking American education in low-income neighborhoods got more attention than I expected. Many bloggers responded. Some thoughtful critics skewered the whole exercise, adding to the fun. It was an instructive exchange of views, and I have a winner.

I imagine if you are like my wife, always reading the last few pages of a new book first, you will annoy me by scrolling down right away to discover who has earned the big prize (my undying admiration). My thanks to the rest of you for adhering to the columnist's wish that you read this the way I wrote it.

As I explained in my Aug. 18 column, the contest was inspired by David Whitman's new book, "Sweating the Small Stuff," and my distaste for his subtitle: "Inner City Schools and the New Paternalism." Whitman did a splendid job explaining how school networks like KIPP, Achievement First and Cristo Rey have brought higher standards, more instruction hours and better teaching to impoverished children. Like me, he considers them the most promising education innovation in at least a decade. But he insisted on calling them "paternalistic" schools, which I thought was a public relations disaster. I asked for a better name for this new educational species.

Not everyone applauded my request. Robert Pondiscio, a teacher in a low-income urban neighborhood, said he thought shunning the paternalistic label constituted "intellectual violence." Others took my side, like Michael Goldstein, founder of Boston's MATCH school, who said Whitman's term left the wrong impression that these schools were substituting for ghetto parents who were not doing their jobs in teaching cultural norms. "Go to a poor black church on a Sunday and to a middle-class white church," Goldstein said. The black kids, he noted, are more likely to have their shirts tucked in.

USA Today editorial writer Richard Whitmire said on the Eduwonk blog: "What matters most about these schools is what happens to these students in college. And if paternalism is the only academic glue holding together their lives, then the free-wheeling college life will unravel that paternalism, and all that academic discipline, in a matter of days."

Will our winner survive the battering of the blogosphere and others debating the future of these schools? In case my nominee does not survive, and we need a substitute, here are the top 10, based on frequency of mention and my own preferences. Let history decide. They are in ascending order, including a few by contestants who used online screen names:

10. Creative Alternative Reformist Education (CARE) schools -- Lisa McLoughlin

9. Growth schools -- Brett Pawlowski

8. By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) schools -- Jonathan Skolnick

7. Public High-Impact Low-Income Open-Enrollment schools -- Leo Linbeck III

6. Whatever-it-takes schools -- Adam Kernan-Schloss

5. Accelerator schools -- Pawlowski

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