The Horace Mann School
OK, so this isn't where Archie Bunker's kid went to school. With an annual tuition of $6,720, it's not PS 89 in the Bronx, either. But the standards of academic excellence at Horace Mann School and the methods by which they're attained hold lessons for public high schools throughout the United States.Skip to next paragraph
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Much of what Horace Mann - a private, nonsectarian day school in the Bronx - does could be adopted by any high school, given the commitment to excellence. It has high standards of achievement (out of a senior class of 146 last year, 112 received advanced-placement credit, and everyone goes to college); a very low teacher-student ratio (at most 15 to 1 in English, math, and history), with teachers having no more than four classes a day; a comprehensive program of physical education and athletics, including both team and individual sports; a full choice of extracurricular activities, with an emphasis on the arts; and a focus on ethical and moral values, because it's assumed the students will become leaders in society.
Horace Mann was founded in 1887 as an adjunct of Teachers College, Columbia University, and each of the school's academic disciplines has a written philosophy and statement of purpose. The minimum course requirements read like the honors program at some schools: mathematics through intermediate algebra and trigonometry; biology plus one major course in a laboratory science; four years of English, with the seminar format the rule in junior and senior years; and writing, writing, and more writing.
What brings a student to Horace Mann?
''Primarily parents,'' says R. Inslee Clark Jr., president of the school, who goes by the nickname ''Ink.'' ''When we see parents at admissions they usually have two agendas: one, 'I have to get my kid in' - they've already made up their mind and they know the value of the education we offer; two, 'Why take such a radical step as private school?' ''
It's clear that parents ''want certain values'' when they come here, Mr. Inslee says. Included in the school's effort to meet this demand, he explains, is the exploration of the works of deeply moral and spiritual thinkers. It is not a ''forced ethical approach,'' he says.
''We speak very openly about the development of young adults, with the subject matter to get at these deeper values of life,'' he says. He uses a sports analogy: ''We're highly competitive, there's no getting around that. . . . Our students are extremely conscious of academic honors and getting in the right schools (half of last year's graduating class was accepted by one of the eight Ivy League colleges). But as administrators, you're on the bench, and you're ready when a kid makes an error and you can go in and help.''
After three days of observation at Horace Mann (including teaching two classes in English), what stands out for this reporter is the high level of scholarship expected of students by faculty and the purposefulness that students show in meeting this expectation. When the 11th-grade poetry class of headmaster Michael Lacopo is assigned Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem ''Ulysses,'' Mr. Lacopo can correctly assume that all of the students present have read Homer's ''Odyssey'' (in translation). A common, core curriculum is rich in the classics and academically demanding.
What is also apparent as one walks through the crowded halls at Horace Mann is that the school is set up to let teachers teach.