Leave No Child Behind

by Kate Hobbie. Photos by Lisa Currier and Bob Stockfield

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ook back at any election in recent years

Slavin and Madden are poised to change all that. Their Success for All programs are making a dramatic difference today in the achievement levels of a million children in 1,800 schools in 48 states. Critics may snipe at the rigidity of the methods, but parents are crowing, Congress is attentive, and more than a few Success for All kids declare they’d rather read than watch TV. Would Bob Slavin and Nancy Madden have predicted all this when they first met at Reed College? Hardly.

Slavin, who grew up in Washington, D.C., was attracted to Reed because it was “radical, different and far away. The other place I got into was Johns Hopkins, which seemed rather stodgy and also had no women. I thought Reed would be quite the opposite, and it was.” Madden grew up in Iowa and northern California. When her family returned to the Midwest during her high school years, she pined for the coast--“I considered California the center of the world,” she says--and settled on Reed for its academic strength and liberal philosophy.

The two shared a passion for education and spent hours walking the Reed campus discussing the subject. But their “How I became a teacher” story isn’t exactly straightforward. In his sophomore year, Slavin, a psychology major, walked into the ed psych class he’d eagerly anticipated taking with professor Carol Creedon only to find it was oversubscribed. “The only way you could stay in was to be pre-registered or preparing to be a teacher,” he says.

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and you’ll find the phrase “education reform” scattered liberally about.
Vouchers, achievement tests, mainstreaming, back to basics... everyone has an idea how it should be done--and so far, the ideas haven’t amounted to much.

“We’ve been in continuous ‘reform’ for 20 years with nothing to show for it,” says Robert Slavin ’72. “The reading performance of American children has been flat since 1971.” That, he feels, is “absolutely unacceptable,” particularly in the case of minority and low-income children whose futures hang solely on the quality of schooling they receive. “The difference between being a non-reader and a reader can be the difference between going to jail and being a contributing member of society,” Slavin says. “We’re talking about life and death issues for these kids.”

Slavin and his wife, Nancy Madden ’73, have devoted their lives to creating better prospects for such children through an evidence-based approach to education reform--in short, doing what demonstrably works. Why this concept hasn’t caught on in education as it has in medicine, agriculture, and virtually every other field of endeavor is a mystery to Slavin. But for the most part, he says, schools function much as they did a century ago. “If Rip Van Winkle were a teacher and came back today, there would be a few things he couldn’t do--say, run the overhead projector--but he’d still be a pretty good teacher.”

Reed Magazine Feb. 2001
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