Marva Collins grew up in Atmore, Alabama at a time when segregation was the rule. Black children were not permitted to use the public library, and her schools had few books. Nonetheless, her father, a successful businessman, instilled in her an awareness of the family's historical excellence and helped develop her strong desire for learning, achievement and independence. After graduating from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia, she taught school in Alabama for two years. She moved to Chicago and, later taught in Chicago's public school system for fourteen years.
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Her experiences in that system, coupled with her dissatisfaction with the quality of education that her two youngest children were receiving in prestigious private schools, led to her decision to open her own school on the second floor of her home. She took the $5,000 balance from her pension fund and began her educational program with an enrollment of her own two children and four other neighborhood youngsters
Thus, Westside Preparatory School was founded in 1975 in Garfield Park, a Chicago inner-city area. During the first year Marva took in learning disabled, problem children and even one child labeled border-line retarded. At the end of the first year every child scored at least five grades higher proving that the previous labels placed on these children were misguided.
Mrs. Collins' success with students labeled as "unteachable" by others led to profiles in Time and Newsweek magazines and television appearances on 60 Minutes and Good Morning America. Her life was the basis for a CBS Special Movie, The Marva Collins Story, with Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman. During his presidential term, Ronald Reagan offered her the post of Secretary of Education, but she declined in order to stay with her school.
In 1990 Mrs. Collins worked with over thirty public schools in Oklahoma. Harvard University tracked the progress of eight principals, four who accepted the model enthusiastically and four who did not aggressively promote it in their schools. The results after one year were astounding. The four schools who did the work had an average increase on the Iowa Standardized Test of over 172%. One school almost tripled their test scores. The four schools that did not do the work had an increase of only 10%.
In 1995, Charles Murray wrote a controversial book called " The Bell Curve ". In the book he mentioned that Marva Collins' work would have no long lasting effects on the children. 60 Minutes ( CBS' TV News show) wanted to find out if this was true. So, they ran a second story showcasing the lives of the first thirty-three students who attended Westside Preparatory School. Statistically, one of the students should have been shot, two in jail and five on welfare. This was not the case. All thirty-three students, now adults, were leading very successful lives with a majority choosing teaching as a profession.
At the end of 1996, Marva decided to go back into the Chicago Public Schools to help three of the one hundred and nine schools placed on probation. She asked for the three lowest achieving schools, in the worst areas and with the lowest parental involvement. Similar to Oklahoma, two schools decided to implement the Marva Collins' methodology while one school decided not to implement the method. After just four months of working with the schools the Iowa Standardized Test was scheduled.
The two schools (Beidler Elementary and McNair Elementary) that did the work had an increase of over 85%, the other school had an increase of only 10%. Beidler and McNair were part of an elite group of four schools that doubled their test scores in at least one area. Since Beidler came off probation, the 1997/98 school year saw Marva Collins only working with McNair Elementary School. McNair posted the 10th highest increase in Math and the 6th highest increase in Reading in all of Chicago. 1998 saw the conclusion of the first year of the Marva Collins Preparatory School of Wisconsin located in Milwaukee and the beginning of her work with Wilson Elementary in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Her vision, dedication to the education of children, and her achievements has earned her recognition from all over the world. She has received over 42 honorary doctoral degrees from many universities including Amherst College, Dartmouth, and Notre Dame. She is the recipient of the prestigious Jefferson Award for the Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged . In 1982 she was honored with Beverly Sills, Nancy Kissinger and Barbara Walters as o ne of the Legendary Women of the World .
She has received the Lincoln Award of Illinois for service in the state , and she has served on the board of directors of President Bush's Points of Light Foundation. She has trained Fortune 500 Corporations and over 100,000 teachers, principals and administrators in the Marva Collins' Methodology. She has also traveled to Africa with Young President's Organization teaching her methodology to business people worldwide. Mrs. Collins is a sought-after speaker whose schedule runs two to three years ahead. Finally she has written and published several books on education and teaching.
The staff of the Marva Collins Preparatory School, now located on the south side of Chicago, includes her daughter Cynthia and son Patrick. Cynthia, who was five years old in 1975 when she began Westside Preparatory School, now is the headmistress of the Marva Collins Preparatory School. Patrick conducts teacher-training seminars in Chicago and around the country.
Mrs. Collins promotes excellence for the children in her charge. Effective teaching requires making daily deposits so that every child can become a lifetime achiever and they will never have to go through life faced with "insufficient funds". She tells her students that if you cannot keep one desk orderly, how can you possibly keep the world. She believes if we are not in control of small things; then the larger order of things will not become ours to command. Marva Collins believes every child is a winner until somewhere, someone teaches him or her too thoroughly that they are useless.
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