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The AVID Miracle

Educators everywhere are anxiously searching for answers to reverse the educational declines published in recent reports.  John Eger of the Huffington Post defines “The AVID miracle”:


The AVID Miracle

December 10, 2010

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.


Respond to Eger’s “The AVID Miracle” on AVID’s website http://avidcollegeready.org/

John M. Eger

Posted: December 10, 2010 01:52 PM

Follow John M. Eger on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeger62

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Reader Comments (9)

I work at Steele Canyon Charter high school and we have a union, and our contract states that first we have to attempt to help build the capacity of less-well performing teachers before we think of getting rid of them.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill Madigan

I teach Language Arts at a low-performing school. We are using AVID strategies in many of our classrooms and students ARE learning to learn. More importantly, they are teaching each other and learning to think critically. We started AVID just a few short years ago and are already seeing a higher level of teaching and learning. AVID is the answer to transforming our deteriorating educational system.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElena Hamilton

I am an AVID elective teacher in a Title 1 school in Phoenix, Arizona. AVID has changed my life professionally and personally. Our school just graduated the first 13 AVID students in 2010. 12 of them are in college and doing well. These were students who were average and in some cases below average academically. It was hard work getting the program off the ground being "first" to take this on but it was all worth it. AVID does have the capacity to change the climate and culture of an entire school. The key is to have buy in by the adminstration and to use AVID strategies in all curriculum. Is it a silver bullet no way but it sure helps and most importantly it changes the way students learn.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnna M. Ruiz

I have been an AVID elective teacher for the past 9 years and it is one of the most powerful things I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of. I think it is important to note that the effect of AVID methodologies spreads far beyond the walls of the elective classroom. School wide binders and Cornell notes are only two examples of how AVID has benefitted every student at my site. The college going culture of my school has been greatly enhanced by the presence of this life-changing program.

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDarlene Pope

I teach US History and AP US History at a small rural high school in Lake Tahoe. We have several AVID schools in the area and I have seen it work wonders for those kids who are "stuck in the middle" or who are the 1st in their family to think about going to college. But AVID doesn't just have to help those students in the AVID program, I integrate AVID strategies into my lesson planning and have found the modified DBQ to be one of the best methods for teaching the skill. AVID is not some magic program, but rather an emphasis on implimenting best practices in our curriculum. In the era of standards, where content versus skills, it is refreshing to have data driven support for skill based instructional methods. Teaching a subject that seems to be ignored in the push for math and science skills, it is increasingly important for me to develop lessons that encourage critical thinking, collaboration and communication. AVID strategies teach students the skillls that many employers feel are necessary for their employees to possess, and which are all to missing in students who graduate with great content knowledge, but limited application skills. Public education is NOT the problem, but rather the application of the business model to it! If we teach kids that "passing the test" is the most important thing in their educational journey, and funding for schools and salaries for teachers are tied to it, then LEARNING will always take second place. GO AVID for placing the student first!

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Henderson

I taught AVID in an inner city middle school in San Diego for six years and saw tremendous growth in that school during that time, for both students and teachers, so I know how powerful these strategies are.
I have not seen the movie yet, but did read the participant guide, and was fully immeshed in how wonderful charter schools are. I cannot believe that AVID was never mentioned - not even once! Especially given that Jay Matthews was one of the contributing authors, and who is well versed in AVID and what it can do for kids.
I don't get it; all these 1000's of teachers attend AVID summer institutes every single year, and still we don't exist as far as Naational publications and documentaries go???

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShirley Dudeck

FYI: AVID is not so much a miracle as it is "divine intervention" on the part of all those AVID elective teachers, coordinators, and others who toil every day to do what's right for kids.

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShirley Dudeck

Waiting for Superman was informative, but I'd like to see a documentary on AVID next.

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December 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershine

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