Oprah’s gift to Ron Clark: Could his school be replicated?

They’re debating education over at The Buzz today.

One of the things that makes Ron Clark Academy stand out: A sllide (and now $1.5 million from Oprah.)

One of the things that makes Ron Clark Academy stand out: A sllide (and now $1.5 million from Oprah.)

What’s provoked the back and forth on the entertainment blog is the news that Oprah Winfrey gave the Ron Clark Academy a $1.5 million gift to help ease the private school’s financial woes.

Winfrey is a big fan of Ron Clark, the charismatic and inspiring teacher who opened a private middle school in southeast Atlanta in 2007. Along with a focus on arts and performance, the school features an international trip each year and a two-story slide in the building. Students pay a heavily discounted tuition on a sliding scale based on family  income to attend the school. Donations pay the rest of the $14,000 annual tuition.

Clark received a card from Winfrey last year on Christmas Eve with a  $365,000 check. The pair met nine years ago when Clark was named Disney’s American Teacher of the Year.

These comments reflect the debate:

Smoochies: It’s great that Oprah and whoever else wants to donate can do so to this school. I don’t have any issue with RCA. My question is why can’t the public school be in the same category as RCA and private schools? Why do you have to spend thousands of dollars for your children to get a quality education? Seems a little backwards to me. All schools should be functioning at the level of RCA. No one is talking about how we are 49th in school rankings.

Struggling to Understand: People can call it negative if they elect to do so, however, I have a problem with children singing and dancing all the time as if they can not learn in any other manner. Second, if we are looking at the whole picture, tell me why his methods are copyrighted and in these struggling times, there is a huge fee to attend any of his workshops? If we truly desire to see “disadvantaged” kids excel academically, why is Mr. Clark keeping all of his “techniques” and “methodologies” under lock and key? JUST ASKING!!!

SWHite: As a parent of RCA, let me attempt to dispel some of the unknowledge. They don’t “sing and dance” all of the time. Some of his teaching methods involves “music and movement” but isn’t that how WE ALL STARTED IN PRESCHOOL? Secondly, the parents of RCA pay tuition based on income. We also fundraise to assist in activities that we do for our children. Most importantly, if there was not such an emphasis being placed on test results and teachers were actually ENCOURAGED TO TEACH, there wouldn’t be a need for schools like RCA. At the end of the day, we all want our children to be challenged, encouraged to become global thinkers and leaders. If this is where we choose to send our kids, so be it!

Take a look at the comments and let’s discuss. I have never been to the school, but my colleagues who have visited are always impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the students and staff. I am not sure if the school could be replicated since so much of it seems to reflect Clark himself.

58 comments Add your comment


December 17th, 2009
4:49 pm

Sure this could be replicated but who will pay fro it. Already Georgia citizens do not fund school adequately. How would a VERY expensive program like this be “scaled”?


December 17th, 2009
5:38 pm

Innovative schools like Ron Clark Academy have been created using public monies as well. Look at Maya Angelou Public Charter School and SEED Public Charter School in Washington, DC. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both of these schools and I can tell you that it is all in the vision and leadership. These schools/leaders also know how to fund raise and get media attention- which leads to more money for programs for their students. The relative independence of these schools helps as well- they are not under the same hiring/firing constraints as regular public schools, can create their own programs, hire “outsiders”, etc. They are more like private schools. Public schools might be able to do it with really good leadership and lots of leeway and freedom.


December 17th, 2009
6:43 pm

Is it really ok to have little black children singing and dancing all the time as if this is the only way they can learn anything. Haven’t we learned enough from the sambo days……”ain’t massa tired of the little po’chilren singing and dancing all the day long?”


December 17th, 2009
7:31 pm

Just shaking my head here. I bet many on here would complain if they won a million because they had to pay taxes, or complain because the rainbow is to small. Good grief Who cares as long as they learn. Why do you think Sesame Street worked. Duh…..I think you guys have to much time on your hands.


December 17th, 2009
9:30 pm

Ron Clark is very talented, energetic, and charismatic, and tuition at his school is 50% more than the average public school in Georgia spends per student. I know that money isn’t everything in education, but I still think there’s a little bit of truth to the old saying, “You get what you pay for.”

And maybe it’s just me, but I find it just a bit off-putting that he named his school after himself. Is it about the kids, or is it about him? Maybe it’s just me, but I find it hard to tell.


December 17th, 2009
9:41 pm

As parents and adults we should know a GOOD education and foundation will take you places you could not otherwise go. I have witnessed first hand the exposure these children are being afforded at an early age.
The sky IS the limit for these children.
Remember Ron Clark came to “our” community because he saw the need. Let’s support his vision since we didn’t have it.


December 17th, 2009
11:36 pm

I and others have had similar idea years ago when it comes to education, however they got shut down. Why you ask?? I believe it is because we don’t share the same complexion as Ron. With him it was seen as novel, fresh, and innovative. Oh yeah. He’s also not from Georgia. I guess that is also why he was given the nod. I’ve learned in life if you have the right phenotype expression (Anglo) you are given many chances to be innovative.

Free Market Educator

December 18th, 2009
2:18 am

A relative recently attended a Ron Clark seminar and school tour (she is an elementary government school teacher). She came away very impressed. After eating lunch with the students, she noted their excellent communication skills and behavior. She said that Clark had decided to start a private school because it gave him full control of the curriculum and methodology. So far, the free market seems to be working. Those who wish to practice benevolence will reward what works. I am very happy for the students. I hope other talented teachers will join his vision of successful free market education.

Toto: exposing the per*vert behind the curtain

December 18th, 2009
3:21 am


Here’s a hot tip for a REAL education news story:
Finally, an elected official calls for “safe school czar” Kevin Jenning’s resignation!

Hes all about the money

December 18th, 2009
3:47 am

Face it…he is like every other non-profit with his hands out…in the end people like Creflo Dollar and Ron Clark are all in the same category…making as much money as possible under the guise of charity. The “sheeples” are so naive.


December 18th, 2009
4:11 am

Instead of all of the back and forth here is the question. Over the decades we have seen innovative charter and private schools teach the “unteachables”. The majority of these students have gone on to become college students and/or highly productive members of our society. So here is the question, why are more parents not demanding that the public schools change the course of education which has existed for centuries.

Currently students are not taught they are prepared to take a test which has absolutely no relationship to the job market. Programs such as carpentry shop class, auto mechanics and the like which taught trades have been removed. Yes they exist on a limited basis at specialized schools but they used to be in a much large percentage of schools.

Our schools have become no more than babysitters, detention camps and training grounds for unacceptable behavior.

Ron Clark Academy, Maya Angelou and others should be the model instead of the exception.

And to the person who questioned why drama classes, music and the like are so important — they allow a person to use their mind creatively. If you know how to use your mind in a creative mann (thinking) you usually become a better learner.

Reader and Writer

December 18th, 2009
4:25 am

I agree that “you do get what you pay for”.

I also agree that independence in public education circles is not highly valued; I believe that is because it takes more effort to evaluate it’s effectiveness,which cannot be measured only by testing. Giving public schools the independence and freedom to act in the best interest of its students smacks of a lack of accountabilty, i.e.,control. Even if public funding were to be supplemented by the excellent fundraising skills of staff and parents, the powers-that-be would be so threatened by their success that they would feel superfulous, and they would never allow to start up.

It is also difficult to exercise control over independence. I should know; I worked for the Georgia
Department of Education where lip service is paid to innovative, independent thinkers; eventually, however, they grow tired of trying to figure out how to rein you in and push you out the door. You must be easy to categorize and predictable to be a lifer at the Department.

Georgia public schools will remain at the bottom of the stack educationally until our legislators, Govenor, state Department of Education and the State Board of Education seriously commit the resources, let go of the reins to the Ron Clarks that do exist around our state, and either get rid of the non-Ron Clarks or send them to re-education camps with the parents of Georgia public school students. If only.


December 18th, 2009
6:02 am

We are all getting schooled here. Ron Clark picks the students that go to his school. If they don’t perform they get kicked out. Offer that to any principal in the state and they will jump on that. I would bet my paycheck that they could raise scores and have a super high achieving school with these rules as well.
How about if we let the principal’s of Atlanta public schools choose which students go to Ron. I bet even the “great teacher” Ron Clark even with Oprah’s money could not work that miracle.

Public school mom

December 18th, 2009
7:58 am

Reader and Writer: I cannot agree with you enough. There is so much lipservice being given to “innovation” without any real support. Having been involved with GA education for over tweleve years all I see is more mandatory curricula and scripted teaching. While in theory, I do not oppose setting standards, the state and most metro country school systems have gone far beyond that. There is so much top down management of the day to day classroom that any innovation or creative teaching is stifled. And the one-size-fits-all style has had the unfortunate effect of dumbing down classes. The public schools are losing both our talented teachers and students as a result.


December 18th, 2009
8:58 am

If you fund any school at 2 or 3 times the national average per student and let them pick their students–I dare say they’d all improve. These kids are given tremendous exposure to the world through trips and speakers etc..but meanwhile in public schools we have 30 or more kids in a room and no money for field trips that would allow some children to expand the experience they have with the world. I appreciate his efforts, but without huge increases in public funding–it is not rationally replicable on a large scale. These comments hold true for all the “success” stories coming up with individual schools. They play by their own rules with huge amounts of funding…public schools simply don’t get the resources these individual schools do.

high school teacher

December 18th, 2009
9:22 am

Lots to say this morning…

Justine stated, “Currently students are not taught they are prepared to take a test which has absolutely no relationship to the job market.” What is the purpose of school? Is it to prepare students for the job market? Anyone?

Next, yesterday I had two students who refused to take my final exam. What is a teacher to do in that case? When they fail my class, should I be held accountable for their failing grade?

Next, to echo Reader and Writer and Public School Mom, several years ago I was observed by someone at Central Office (in an un-named metro county). My students were working on one of three projects: some were reading a novel for an assignment, some were doing a writing workshop for revising essays, and some were typing their final drafts on the computer (I was blessed to have four student computers in my room). Every child was engaged in an activity. The CO official was disappointed that I “was not teaching” and left.

Finally, how many students are enrolled in the average charter school? How does the Ron Clark Academy work? Are the students hand-picked? Can they be kicked out? How do other charter schools obtain their students? Is it a choice of the parent? Is there an extensive application process?


December 18th, 2009
9:27 am

This all boils down to school choice. There is not a “one size fits all” classroom. His school is working for many kids. I applaud him for moving forward with his vision. I am in the beginning stages of the doing the same thing. My students will also “sing and dance” because kids enjoy learning through music and movement. For the narrow minded, it may come across as racist to have these AA kids singing and dancing, but to the educated and open minded, it’s another way to teach OUR kids. Thank you Ron Clark. I would love for my child to attend your Academy, however I’m in the middle…I make too much to qualify for assistance and too little to be able to afford $14K a year in tuition. But for those that can, congrats!

The difference

December 18th, 2009
9:39 am

In a Ron Clark type school, if you say f-u-b!tch to a teacher, the odds are the primary focus would be on holding the student responsible for his actions.

In many public schools, if the same thing happened, the odds are the primary focus would be how could blame be shifted to the teacher, to excuse not having a consequence for the student.

It isn’t that Ron Clark isn’t being replicated enough. It’s that spineless educrats are being replicated like a science fiction horror movie come to life.


December 18th, 2009
9:40 am

So – some one tell me this. The recent post about the alternative education program said that APS was spending 16K per student. I think the tuition at Ron Clark’s place is likely less than that. So you tell me, which is the better investment ? Early education like Ron Clark’s program, or later alternative education that focuses on metal detectors and body searches while paying through the nose ?

DeKalb Conservative

December 18th, 2009
9:42 am

Anyone else alarmed one of the homepage links at the bottom is for “Privacy Policy / Refund” and on this page there’s a link to customer service?

The site itself was built by Definition 6, which is a huge web company in Atlanta. There are tons of pages that are broken, though the images on this site are really good.

DeKalb Conservative

December 18th, 2009
9:53 am

Looking at RCA, there’s alot that I like. I agree this is the free market speaking. Specifically this is a NICHE MARKET and wouldn’t work well on a massive scale, nor with half of the students parents and educators complain about on this blog.

What I see at this school is a group of kids that seem genuinely enthusiastic, charming and passionate — isn’t that something most people universally complain that they don’t see much in youth? Since I am viewing this as a niche school, I also have to change the standards I’d normally critique. I find it very doubtful future scientists, physicists, or engineers will become of these children as adults and that’s okay because this niche school will help them become great in other areas of society, places that a child thought heavy math, and science wouldn’t necessarily do well in.

For the future of the country I think we need some RCAs. I don’t think every school should model itself like RCA, but for the students that can thrive in this atmosphere, not all can, I think some great future leaders will graduate from this school and be significant among their generation in the respective careers they choose. For that reason, RCA is the free market at work, with the catch, its a niche market.

college prof

December 18th, 2009
12:09 pm

I’m glad RCA received the gift. It shows that even with all those extra “perks” (being able to kick students out, parents commitment, etc.) it still costs money to provide high quality education. Money may not be the answer, but there can’t be an answer without money.

Another thing – it will be very difficult to duplicate RCA. As someone else said, Ron Clark is a charismatic teacher, and you can’t teach teachers to be charismatic. So, RCA is a very unique situation.


December 18th, 2009
12:12 pm

Like most kids whose parents pay tuition, my bet is that these folks feel entitled. I teach in a school where some of the students pay tuition and if they are disciplined, they will try to play that card.

The difference

December 18th, 2009
1:07 pm

Enter your comments here

Someone's idea of a joke

December 18th, 2009
1:08 pm

Crawford Lewis wants a raise? For what? Isn’t that like Tiger Woods demanding his a raise in his endorsement fees?

@HS teacher

December 18th, 2009
1:32 pm

“What is the purpose of school? Is it to prepare students for the job market?”

So, are you saying preparing students to take tests prepares them for the job market?

The two students who refused to take the final, were they passing the course coming into the final? If not, what’s the difference? If their refusal to take the final, I guess that means getting a 0, is the only reason, then you may have an argument here, but otherwise, whatever you did wasn’t really helping them learn. So why shouldn’t you be held accountable?


December 18th, 2009
1:46 pm

Utah spends $5,257, Arizona $6,261, Idaho $6,283, and Oklahoma $6,613. Georgia spends something like $9,000 and has worse education than all of these states. It must be because we don’t spend enough right?


December 18th, 2009
1:48 pm

And incidentally the District of Columbia spends $13,446 per student.


December 18th, 2009
2:16 pm

Georgia spends not even near $9000 per student. Check again. APS outspends everyone. Most school districts around $6-7k. Can RCA do it for $7 per child? I do not think so.


December 18th, 2009
2:27 pm

States that spend LESS per student than Georgia:
Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Kansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Iowa, New Mexico, South Carolina, Minnesota, Florida, Alabama, Washington, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, South Dakota, North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Idaho, Utah.

In the government the size of your budget is power. Is it any surprise that the DoE always wants more money? NEA & AFT represent teachers not students.


December 18th, 2009
2:39 pm

GA was spending $9,127 in FY2007. APS does indeed manage to spend a crazy amount while churning out the some of the lowest scores on standardized tests. Can RCA do what it does on a $6~7K per student budget? Maybe but why should he? He’s Ron Clark and he’s promised to give your kid a stellar education for four years and dramatically increase their test scores so he gets to charge whatever he wants. If you don’t want to pay it then go down the street to the awesome public school there. It’s called paying a premium for better service. It’s also why Longhorn can charge you $15 for a steak that costs $2 in the grocery store. Ron Clark has a very good product to sell and it’s better than any of the competition so why should he sell it for less than the competition?

Since the public school system effectively has a monopoly on education and a captive audience why should they ever even try to reduce costs? Nobody get a bonus or pay raise for reducing the cost and there is no profit margin to worry about.


December 18th, 2009
2:44 pm

Wide Awake

December 18th, 2009
2:50 pm

The problem with Public School Education is that the Students are running the school.

If society can hold the Parents accountable like 15 years ago we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Ron Clark wishing him much success.

Wide Awake

December 18th, 2009
2:53 pm

Also, I was a public school graduate — top of the class. The parents were held accountable and the students did not have excuses.

I educated my sons in Catholic School the school did not play–they would kick you out and refund the tuition–Also, if my son was disciplined too many times they would have made me attend detention with him–if I didn’t he would be kicked out.

high school teacher

December 18th, 2009
3:04 pm

@HS Teacher,

No, I am not saying that taking tests prepares one for the job market. My question is ,”What is the purpose of school?” I was unaware that the purpose of getting an education was to prepare one for the job market, so I was asking the general blogging population.

As for the two students, one is failing and one was passing. Thanks for clearing up the accountability issue for me.

Kathleen R. Smart

December 18th, 2009
3:31 pm

I am huge fan of The Ron Clark Academy. Ron Clark is a perfect example of a cause evangelist. I have had the honor and privilege to spend time at the school and get to know many of the wonderful staff and teachers there. Ron has been pouring himself in the lives of children from North Carolina to Harlem NY and now he has brought this wonderful school to Atlanta Georgia. How proud we should be that such a wonderful opportunity for change in the lives of these children was built in our very own city. It doesn’t take much research to learn how much Ron cares and what a tremendous commitment has made as a catalyst for change in Education. What Ron and his marvelous team have managed to create is passion and excitement all wrapped up in the most excellent opportunity for learning. In addition he offers love and recognition for each and every accomplishment from every student. When one wins they all win and he teaches them discipline and respect. Yes, one of the many methods he uses is music and music is the universal language we all understand. These students write their own songs and love sharing them and performing them for anyone anytime, including Washington DC. I encourage the readers before they form certain opinions, to just go visit the school, do some research and speak to his students. See just what is possible and I promise you will never be the same once to pay them a visit. The school hosts tours at different times during the year. Part of the tour is the ability to sit in on one of the classes and observe the teaching methods and you will be in awe of what you see. You can contact them and ask about the schedule for 2010 if you are interested.


December 18th, 2009
3:50 pm

Fulton- $9,406
Atlanta Public-$13,150


December 18th, 2009
5:06 pm

Looking that It almost looks like the more you spend the worse the results are!


December 18th, 2009
6:07 pm

APS spends a lot of money, but if you’ll look at the expenditure reports on the DOE website, they aren’t spending the extra money on instruction – they’re spending it on central office staff and maintenance & operations.


December 18th, 2009
8:32 pm

We had a discussion about the Ron Clark Academy at the DeKalb school watch blog back in October. At the time, my nephew was an intern at CNN and got to work on the report CNN produced about the academy. It’s very fun to watch. My 20 year old nephew (from a small city in Ohio with great schools) was blown away. He thought it was incredible and loved the positive atmosphere. He was also very impressed with the well-mannered articulate students he met. Ron Clark is ready, willing and able to share his knowledge and train all kinds of teachers in his methodology. Not too many school systems take him up on it — seems they’d rather find excuses as to why everything is so much easier for ‘ol Ron – and so much harder in “real” schools. To which I say – therein lies the problem.

Check out the CNN video at our blog -


Garry Owen

December 19th, 2009
12:32 am

If public school could discipline students, expell trouble makers, make local desisions free from state mandates, and make parents toe the line we would see public schools shine. Public schools are on an unlevel playing field when compared to private schools.


December 19th, 2009
10:19 am

Ron Clark cherry picks his students. They are not “inner city” kids as he likes to imply—the drive in from Gwinnett, Cobb County, all over. Anyone could succeed if they chose the students and required extensive parent participation (20 hours/semester)

Interesting that the students all happen to be black–no whites, Latinos, Asians have applied? Really? He seems to think that he is the Great White Hope.

To James

December 19th, 2009
10:41 am

Please realize that the average amount of money spent on a child doesn’t mean that that is what’s being spent on YOUR child. Look at Special Education, for example – small group classes with 8 – 10 students or team taught classes with two teachers – it makes a difference. There are students (usually those with extreme disabilities) that require all day parapros – add that parapros salary to the cost of educating that child. I agree that money isn’t the answer and that there are bloating and mismanagement, as well as costs associated with jumping through state and federal hoops. However, comparing what a public school pays to educate a child with what a private school pays is comparing cherries to kumquats.


December 19th, 2009
11:07 am

Congratulations to the Ron Clark Academy.

One of the lessons that should be learned from schools like this and other charters/privates is the fact that teaching children costs money. The current political climate from our governor right on down through every republican representative insists that education funding is out of control and must be reined in. All the while, they are saying we need more choice, vouchers, and other code words for their bad attitude against public education.

Oprah’s large contribution to RCA underscores the importance of having sufficient financial resources to provide a quality education. Salaries for teachers is the single biggest expense for schools. It baffles me to think that our state leaders can not prioritize the importance of education by giving schools sufficient resources to attract and retain the best teachers.

Accountability has become a buzzword when it comes to funding education. The problem is that the true meaning of this word is CONTROL. Another problem with the current accountability buzz is that schools and teachers have no choices for what they are accountable. Because CONTROL is the true operational definition, it means that schools are not give freedom to choose curriculum and strategies that are best. They are restricted to predetermined models. This limitation actually undermines the meaning of accountability.

One last thing about this topic – When the citizens of a community are truly ready for schools to meet high academic standards, it will happen. As at RCA, high expectations for students will be one of the key ingredients. These expectations will be shared by parents, community leaders, teachers, and students. Until all parties are ready to expect students to perform, we will continue to see mediocre results from most schools.


December 19th, 2009
1:10 pm

I wish every community had access to RCA. I would love for my child to have the opportunity for learning and sharing skills in a format that would keep her focused and interested in school. She loves music and in fact the band is what she waits for all day long. People be informed before you blast something you don’t have all the facts about. I live in a state where education is suffering and all our board of educators cares about are the test scores. Well here is a clue for you. If it’s not retained for longer than the ink drying on the paper it’s a waste of time.


December 19th, 2009
1:54 pm

In my standards-based classroom, I arrange for learning to happen and then get out of the way. It might be through music, problem-based learning, discovery, or any number of methods…..but the main thing is that I am a guide on the side and not a sage on the stage. I am also put off by the fact that not only is Ron Clark a sage on the stage, he is the focal point of his teaching ( climbing and dancing around on the tables) and the focal point of the school which bears his name. When I visited this school, I observed teacher-directed learning, rote memorization, and lots of expensive flash. I was sickened at how the students were on display like trained circus performers.

Students in my public school classroom are engaged, challenged, responsible, polite, and articulate. RCA is a shiny object, nothing more, in my opinion.

Larry Jones

December 19th, 2009
2:16 pm

What a terrible waste of money. That greedy Oprah should give a ton of money to the most needy on the face of the planet, and there are plenty out there. Instead, she gives a paltry amount to some lame school in Atlanta that would survive anyway without it. Talk about a cheap billionaire. And a very ignorant one at that.

natural lice removal

December 20th, 2009
12:26 am

I would like to say congratulations to Ron Clark Academy. Also, my opinion is, Oprah can do whatever she like with HER money.

natural lice removal

December 20th, 2009
12:27 am


December 20th, 2009
12:47 am

why are so many of the posters surprised that little poor Black kids are articulate? wow..if that’s not blatant then I don’t know what is…