Dallas Teacher's Methods Show Remarkable Results

Austin American Statesman
By Janine Zuniga, Associated Press

Progress of 'At-Risk' Pupils Through Special Classes Could Mean Skipping a Grade Instead of Failing.

DALLAS - The toughest calculation most kids in Martha Garcia's neighborhood were making was how many days were left to laze around before school starts. Martha was calculating the cube root of 373,248.

It took her less than 10 seconds of deep concentration standing in the sunlit living-room-turned-summer-school-classroom of her first-grade teacher. Without putting pencil to paper, she came up with the correct answer: 72.

She and a dozen other "at-risk" 7-year-olds hoping to skip the second grade meet for three hours a day at Miles Jones' apartment to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

A full-time schoolteacher, Jones said he's chosen to use his summer off to help his former students. Most can already work with powers and roots, decimal fractions, scientific notation for very large numbers and even some algebra.

"They're doing math that they'll never learn in public schools," said Jones, 45. "They are at various levels. Some of them are at a first-grade level, others are doing things that teachers in the school can't do."

Marihelen Brazile, who's working on her teaching credentials, says she's worked with Jones since they discovered a mutual interest in accelerated learning. "I'm so inspired by his work," she said. "He's working with these kids this summer just for the pure joy and love of teaching. He's not taking any money for it. He's really reaching the children, especially the ones at risk. If you turn this man loose in the [Dallas Independent School District], he would absolutely turn this place around."

Jones founded an accelerated learning program at Sam Houston Elementary School that lets students complete the elementary curriculum as fast as they want. "Most of them didn't even speak English nine months ago," Jones said.

He began teaching his first-graders how to read in Spanish, then taught them how to speak and read in English. Most finished the first- and second-grade curriculum in both languages by year's end. Some were reading Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer.

Of the students who stayed in that first-grade class the full year, 75 percent were above the 50th percentile nationally in both reading and math, and 25 percent were above the 90th percentile in both reading and math, Jones said.

His summertime students are considered at-risk because they're poor, live in the inner city and attend low-performing schools.

"My whole point, and what I'm trying to prove, is that there is nothing wrong with the children," Jones said. "It's the system that is putting them at risk. This class was not a specially selected class. This is just a regular class of kids."

A University of Texas graduate, Jones has a doctorate in bilingual and foreign language education specializing in accelerated learning. He has written extensively on Suggestopedia - a method of accelerated learning - language acquisition, memory training and quality management.

"What I want is for all the children in Texas and the entire country to be able to have a superior education," he said. "And they can."

But the basic skills that Jones teaches are threatened by a proposed new curriculum. Jones says the problem is not just in Texas, "every state has watered down its curriculum over the last 30 years." He says the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills - or TEKS - worries him because it calls for teachers to devote less time to reading and math and to focus on higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, comparison, contrast ad conceptual thinking.

It would mean that children learn addition and subtraction in second grade instead of first and wouldn't start multiplication until fourth grade, he said. August is the last month for public feedback on the new curriculum, Jones said. "You will hear over and over again that it is much more important to teach process rather than facts. What this all boils down to is [...] schoolchildren in Texas will seldom acquire a solid grasp of basic skills," he said.

"It's all done with the best of intentions, of course, but it will be disastrous nonetheless."

After the pigtailed Martha figured the answer to the cube-root question, Jones had her cross-multiply the number 72. Martha's recent study of an algebraic formula representing the graph of a diagonal line helped her learn how to quickly calculate the squares of numbers. But this one required serious attention.

After 30 seconds of mental calculations and a little encouragement from Jones, she said: "Oh, that's 5,184."