VIDEO INTERVIEW: Click below to watch the interview at huffingtonpost.com.
INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: The below transcription is taken from oprah.com.
Bill Cosby: What are you doing that other schools aren't?
Deborah Kenny: Our country's approach to education has been wrong for decades. We're failing because we treat teachers like factory workers—they teach a prescribed curriculum from preselected books. The Harlem Village Academies are based on one core idea: belief in the power of teachers. We coach them weekly on how to make lessons more challenging and interesting for the kids and give them the freedom to run their own classrooms. That engenders passion and dedication, and in the end we can hold our teachers accountable for results.
BC: You get an estimated 500 applicants for one teacher opening. What makes you look at someone and say, "You're it!"?
DK: Of course teachers have to know their subjects inside and out. But the real question we want answered is: Do you believe that all children have the potential to learn? There are some educators who say things like "Some kids just won't make it" or "Let's go easy on these kids since they're poor or black and Hispanic." I don't want people with that attitude working in our school.
BC: Children come to Harlem Village Academies in the fifth grade but with first- and second-grade academic skills. How long does it take them to catch up?
DK: First, we should define "catching up." We don't use standardized tests as our measure because passing them is just the beginning. If you read the papers of children who live in high-income neighborhoods, you see they have a sophistication that goes well beyond the skills required to pass a basic test. We want our students to be sophisticated thinkers who are creative and able to study at an intense level. And it can take up to four years to get them to that level.
BC: Does it bother you that you've found a proven, successful approach to education, but other schools are not following the example?
DK: Yes, it does. There is not equality in America, and I think about it constantly. We have 14 million children living in poverty, and there is a complete disparity between the education they receive and that of a child in a high socioeconomic bracket. But we've learned many lessons over the years and are now figuring out how to share that knowledge with educators around the country. That's a critical first step to solving the education problem nationally.