As a postscript to my previous Blog this piece will concern the all out attempt, as reported in today’s NYTimes (September 16, 2007) of the Newton School, a pre-K through 8th. grade school in Newark, NJ. to raise its test scores from their most recent abysmal levels. This effort will be led by the Newark Teachers Union in collaboration with the Seton Hall College of Education.
The story is just one of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of almost identical stories of failing inner city schools all trying, under the gun of NCLB, to raise the achievement of their mostly poor and minority students, and so far with little or no success.
However, it is not this particular one, nor the thousands of other similar reform efforts that interest me. Rather it was the visit to Newton of Newark’s Mayor, Cory A. Booker, and here I cite the Times reporter’s account of his visit:
The Newton faculty members had planned to introduce the “new Newton” to students during a schoolwide assembly in the afternoon. But it was postponed after Mayor Cory A. Booker stopped by as part of a tour of some of the city’s 77 public schools. Mr. Booker bounded from room to room, dispensing $1 bills to students who had mastered New Jersey history (what is the capital?) and politics (who is the governor?).
Then Mr. Booker came up with a stumper, worthy of $5.
“Who is the vice president of America?” the mayor asked a fifth-grade class. “Come on, I know some people want to forget…”
“George Bush?” guessed one boy.
“George Washington?” said another.
“George Washington Carver?” a third chimed in.
Though the mayor prodded the eager students, no one could name the vice president. Finally, Mr. Booker put his money away.
“All right,” he said. “You have a lot to do this school year.”
Now Cory A. Booker is one impressive guy. A B.A. from Stanford where he played football and made the All-Pacific Ten Academic team, a year at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, a J.D. degree from Yale Law School in 1997.
Since 1998 Booker has lived in inner city Newark, the last six years in Brick Towers, a notorious public housing project in Newark’s Central Ward. At present he occupies the top unit in a three-story rental on Hawthorne Avenue on Newark’s south side, an area described as "a drug- and gang-plagued neighborhood of boarded-up houses and empty lots."
So what might you have expected from the Mayor in the way of observations and comments during his visit to the Newton School? Certainly not what the reporter describes. Questions like what is the capital of NJ, who is the governor, who is the vice president of the U.S., and with dollar awards for the correct answers.
For this man, whose own education was the very best that our country can provide, there was only this parting comment following the kids’ failure to come up with the right answers to his questions, “All right, you have a lot to do this school year.”
Not that any of this makes any difference in the lives of these kids, these words or any other words from this Mayor. But to tell the kids that such things as knowing the names of state capitals and governors, and probably kings and rivers, is what education is all about, well that may be a misdemeanor if said only once, but surely a crime if said repeatedly.
The Mayor should have talked with the kids about what they did know, because education is, or should be, all about doing something with what you know or what you have. These kids, like all kids are alive and have all sorts of knowledge and all sorts of interests and it is with these that the school ought to begin.
The Mayor might have asked them about things important to them, about the adults in their lives, about the people and actions that they admired, about what they wanted to do with their lives, about what they wanted from the school, all things that concern the kids themselves. Instead of sending them away with the impression that the name of the vice president of the United States was all that important.