Ron Clark Academy: We have to give teachers more freedom

Matthew Ladner

I recently had the opportunity to visit Ron Clark Academy, where I got “slide certified” and my mind was blown. I’ve been to many outstanding schools over the last two decades, but I’ve never seen a school with the energy to match RCA.

RCA is a micro-school in Atlanta where 75 percent of the students receive aid from Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program. A private school covering grades 5-8, RCA plans to include fourth-graders next year. The enthusiasm of the kids and the staff is off the charts, as you can see in this video. Two young ladies in sixth grade showed me around the school, and I would be happy to bet on them against the field to be elected president of the United States by 2044.

RCA takes a lot of cues from Hogwarts of Harry Potter fame, and not just in terms of art and décor. The students join houses reminiscent of Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. If you want to see a respectful but spirited debate break out during your RCA tour, ask your student guides which house is best. If you are feeling especially mischievous, ask them which house is second best.

The RCA kids are amazing and are having a blast, and so are the teachers. The CNN video referenced above notes the school decided to be private so it could innovate. Clark’s quote is key: “You can talk about the state government, you talk about principals and superintendents, it all comes down to finding passionate people who want to teach. We have to give teachers more freedom, trust them more, and allow them to use their own creativity to fire up their own students in the way they know they need to do.”

Teachers travel from all over the world to learn RCA’s methods. Those methods are fun, and the kids who benefit from them are crushing the ball on scores and gains.

Here is what RCA is not doing:

If Florida thinks it will attract the tens of thousands of new teachers it needs by having them drone through a curriculum script like Ben Stein’s, good luck with that. If you want to set these people free to spend their careers reveling in the joy of learning like Ron Clark, the line will form to the left.

What does the state need to do? Start by giving more teachers the opportunity to run their own schools and more families the opportunity to select from among them. Let parents rate the schools, require light-touch academic transparency, and stay out of the way.

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