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The AVID Miracle

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The movie Waiting for "Superman" did all of us a service pointing out that our schools are a mess.

We rank 25th in math and science on International tests. No denying that, and we have to change this dire situation.

But let's cut to the chase.

Charter schools are non-union. In charter schools we can fire teachers who aren't performing. In public schools, once teachers get tenure -- easy to get -- the firing is difficult if not impossible; and then you get these "rubber rooms" and the "dance of the lemons," as it is called.

OK, let's take away tenure. Or let's make it harder to get tenure and easier to get rid of low performing teachers

Where Waiting for "Superman" lead us astray is the implication that traditional public schools are the problem. Only charter schools -- like KIPP -- can do the job of teaching our young.

It is simply wrong to trash all the public schools.

Diane Ravitch, author and expert on education and a former assistant secretary of education acknowledged that public schools and charters are not any better in teaching math and science.

More importantly, many are doing great things and many are using AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) to do so.

AVID, is a "college-readiness system" whose mission is "to increase the number of students who enroll in four-year colleges." Mary Catherine Swanson, an English teacher from San Diego, founded it 30 years ago with 31 students. Today it has over 400,000 students in 47 states and 15 countries.

And here 's the good news:

In 2010, AVID reported 99.6 percent graduated from high school with 91 percent planning to attend a post-secondary institution.

Granted, the AVID program is voluntary and not everyone can become an AVID student. The student has to be willing to do the Advanced Placement courses, take a little more time to do the AVID elective, and sign a contract -- the parents or guardians sign too.

This is not a walk in the park.

There is clearly an expectation that the student perform. But if the student is willing, it works. Perhaps with AVID, all schools can lead this nation into the 21st century.

AVID does no marketing. And although Mary Catherine, now retired but still on the board, received recognition from Time Magazine, McGraw Hill, and CNN as one of America's Best Teachers, and even featured on the CBS news program "60 minutes" something is missing about AVID. The program is still relatively unknown and relatively misunderstood.

As former Board Chair, Pete Garcia put it, "they do things the old fashioned way." The kids learn how to learn. They are taught how to take notes, required to take notes in all their classes and in a special AVID elective each day, talk about what they learned, and why it matters. The WIRC method -- for writing, inquiry, reading and collaboration -- is woven into the AVID formula.

I guess that's what Garcia means when he says "old fashioned".

One of the most interesting parts of AVID's magic is that AVID teachers are all certified and taught the AVID method. In fact, about 19, 000 teachers and administrators attend a Summer Institute held each year, and in the not too distant future, will have year round blended learning experiences.

At a time when America is looking for the silver bullet to transform K-12, and the University, AVID might be an important part of the answer. Silver bullet? No, as Mary Catherine believes, AVID isn't it.

Perhaps there are no silver bullets, however. Yet AVID seems to work and has so for 30 years.

Right now AVID is still under the radar, but this could change as America awakens to the crucial need to reform our systems of education.