With the statewide assault on public education in full swing, parents – especially those of African American students – need every weapon available in their arsenal to ensure that their children have every advantage possible to help facilitate their academic success.
The test scores of African American students are cause for concern: 85 percent of African American fourth graders nationwide scored “below proficient” in reading. In Louisiana, 91 percent of fourth graders read below grade level.
While it seems that the odds are stacked against African American students, there is one effective weapon to fight this invisible crime: His name is Michael Phillips.
A tutor for over 40 years, Phillips admits that he got into tutoring more by accident than by choice. One day during Bible study, a fellow classmate approached him, and asked him if he would tutor her son.
“After I turned her down three times, [my classmate] asked my mother to intervene,” Michael said. “Since I wasn’t about to turn my mother down, I finally agreed.”
What Phillips learned from that experience – and what serves as the core of his teaching philosophy – is that how a student is taught is more important than the subject matter itself, as part of what he calls a “holistic approach” to teaching.
“[You have to] subscribe to teaching people in a manner they can appreciate first,” Mr. Phillips said. “Base everything [that is being taught] on students’ prior experience [first], then tell them what it’s called. Whenever I teach, I try to teach them new things, based on things that they already know.”
“If you illustrate it first, then brand it or name it, they are more comfortable with it. For example, if you wanted to teach children what a volcano is, you would first show them a picture of a volcano, then tell them: ‘this is volcano’,” he continued.
It is with this philosophy – and with these principles in mind – that Michael tutors his (primarily) African American students, whose ages range from 5 to adult. His core group and focus, however, are middle school and high school students who need solid preparation for “high-stakes” tests, such as the Integrated Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (iLEAP), the LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program), the SAT, and the ACT.
In just six weeks’ time, students under Mr. Phillips’ tutelage have seen an average increase of four to 12 points in their ACT scores, and in as little as three weeks’ time, students that Michael has worked with have gone from failing the LEAP to passing it.
“One of the common themes among students [that I have observed] is that all students want to achieve, and they appreciate success,” Phillips said. “When students see that success is possible, fear is abated, confidence is increased, and this effect trickles down into other subjects.”
In addition to his almost nightly tutoring sessions at the Shreveport (Louisiana) Barnes & Noble, Michael is working on a book – “Perspectives in Education” – that chronicles not only his experiences as an tutor, but also provides parents with valuable tools that they can implement at home to help ensure their children’s academic growth and development.
Phillips is also in the process of establishing a learning center and companion website – called the Phillips Development Project – so that he will have a dedicated space with which to not only tutor a greater number of students, but also so that he can train qualified, interested, “out-of-the-box” instructors in his methods, increasing access for the students who have the greatest need.
Michael’s students, many of whom have worked with him from elementary school all the way through high school graduation, have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships, and have been accepted to colleges and universities across the nation, including Morehouse College, Xavier University (Louisiana), Southern University, Tulane University, Howard University, Harvard University, and Louisiana Tech.
“I believe that if students work with me and follow my instructions,” Michael continued, “there is [absolutely] no limit to how far they can go, and there is no limit to what they will be able to achieve.”