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Panel Discusses Strategies for Saving NYC Schools

A panel of six Teachers College faculty members and advocates for public education discussed the future of New York City's public schools at the Columbia Club on March 14. The event, titled, "Can Urban Education Be Saved?" was organized by the Metro New York City Alumni Club, a chapter of the TC Alumni Association.
A panel of six Teachers College faculty members and advocates forpublic education discussed the future of New York City's public schoolsat the Columbia Club on March 14. The event, titled, "Can UrbanEducation Be Saved?" was organized by the Metro New York City AlumniClub, a chapter of the TC Alumni Association.
Followingwelcoming remarks from Joseph Brosnan, Vice President for Developmentand External Affairs, moderator Celeste Ford, the WABC-TV educationreporter, introduced the speakers. They included Henry M. Levin, theWilliam Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at TC andDirector of the National Center for the Study of Privatization inEducation; Maxine Greene, William F. Russell Professor of theFoundations of Education (Emerita); Eugene M. Lang, business leader,philanthropist and founder of the Eugene M. Lang Foundation; MichaelRebell, Adjunct Professor of Law and Education at TC and ExecutiveDirector and Counsel for The Campaign for Fiscal Equity; Thomas Sobol,Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice; andHenry J. Stern, former New York City Parks and Recreation Commissionerand Founder of NYCivic.
"To the question, 'Can urban educationbe saved?', my answer is yes, yes, yes," said Levin, who is best knownas a specialist in the economics of education and human resources. "Butto accomplish that, we need smaller schools and smaller classes," hesaid. "Good education is possible only when children are fully engagedand that is most likely to happen in small, caring environments, wherepeople know them."
Educators must also banish the concept ofremediation from their thinking, he said. "Remediation implies that ourchildren are defective and in need of repair," Levin said. We need, hesaid, "to enrich their educational experiences and deepen thechallenges we offer them." At the same time, teachers need to berecruited more selectively and paid higher salaries. "And we need todevote more resources to mentoring and professional development," hesaid.
Lang recalled being "impulsively carried away" whiledelivering a commencement address at a New York City junior high schoolin 1981 when he promised the young graduates that he would pay fortheir college education. His spontaneous pledge gave rise to the I Havea Dream program, providing the assurance of a college education andcaring, year-round intervention for 15,000 children in 70 cities.
"Mythoughts about education are anchored in three fundamental conditions,"added Lang, who retired from a highly successful business career in1997 to devote his full efforts to philanthropy. "First, that everychild has the birthright to a quality education. Second, thatsatisfying that entitlement is this country's top priority. And third,that our public education system has the primary responsibility toachieve that priority." There are no quick fixes, he said. "Whateverwell-intended solutions we come up with, they will have only a marginalimpact unless they are joined with delivery systems based on reality."
Recountinga landmark lawsuit in which he challenged New York State's fundingformula for public education, Rebell noted that "New York City educates74 percent of the state's poverty-level children but receives $1,200less per student that the state average." As a result, New York Citypublic school students "have never had a chance to show what they coulddo if the city were given adequate resources and the obstacles wereremoved from their path," he said. "The funding gap means that we havethe most unqualified teacher corps in the state. Many teachers areuncertified. Class sizes are, on average, 25 percent bigger than theyare in the rest of the state. School buildings are old and indisrepair."
In its defense, the state argued that the cityschool system was mired in waste and inefficiency and that "throwingmoney at the problem wouldn't solve anything," Rebell recalled. "Butthe state failed to show any real examples of significant waste-or tosuccessfully rebut the charge that money isn't the answer. Money doesmatter; it's an important starting point."
Sobol suggestedseveral approaches to rescuing the city school system from what hedescribed as its "vast middle ground of stagnant mediocrity." A firststep, he said, is to realize the school system is too big to controlcentrally. "I think it's important to retain central authority. But weneed to create smaller operating units, to provide local communitieswith autonomy within guidelines."
Sobol also exhortededucators to place a higher priority on diversity. He also decried the"immorality and stupidity of telling children what they need to know tofunction in society and holding them responsible to get thatknowledge-and depriving them of adequate resources."
Sternintroduced himself as "a product of the New York City public schoolsystem." Noting that when he was a student, "things were pretty good.But between my graduation from Bronx High School of Science in theearly 1950s and Ocean Hill-Brownsville in 1968, something happened. Theperception has been that we've gone from a working system to one that'sdysfunctional." The fate of the school system, he said, "will bedetermined not by politicians, but by the courts-just as they determineother aspects of public policy." Meanwhile, the empowerment of "sixseparate appointing authorities" on the Board of Education "is aformula for chaos," he said. "I definitely support mayoral control ofthe board."
Speaking as a philosopher, Greene said, "I am moreinterested in questions than answers, more interested in possibilitythan prediction." She expressed the view that "alternative schools, newvision schools and charter schools must all be included in a larger,richer version of public education." Whatever future is envisioned, shesaid, "We must expand the notion of public education to be moreinclusive, while still maintaining our commitment to the democraticideal."
A vocal supporter of educational standards, shesuggested that standards imposed "from outside" are doomed to failure."Standards must awaken a sense of urgency in each child," she said."They cannot be seen as a matter of compliance."

Published Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2002

Panel Discusses Strategies for Saving NYC Schools

A panel of six Teachers College faculty members and advocates forpublic education discussed the future of New York City's public schoolsat the Columbia Club on March 14. The event, titled, "Can UrbanEducation Be Saved?" was organized by the Metro New York City AlumniClub, a chapter of the TC Alumni Association.
Followingwelcoming remarks from Joseph Brosnan, Vice President for Developmentand External Affairs, moderator Celeste Ford, the WABC-TV educationreporter, introduced the speakers. They included Henry M. Levin, theWilliam Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at TC andDirector of the National Center for the Study of Privatization inEducation; Maxine Greene, William F. Russell Professor of theFoundations of Education (Emerita); Eugene M. Lang, business leader,philanthropist and founder of the Eugene M. Lang Foundation; MichaelRebell, Adjunct Professor of Law and Education at TC and ExecutiveDirector and Counsel for The Campaign for Fiscal Equity; Thomas Sobol,Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice; andHenry J. Stern, former New York City Parks and Recreation Commissionerand Founder of NYCivic.
"To the question, 'Can urban educationbe saved?', my answer is yes, yes, yes," said Levin, who is best knownas a specialist in the economics of education and human resources. "Butto accomplish that, we need smaller schools and smaller classes," hesaid. "Good education is possible only when children are fully engagedand that is most likely to happen in small, caring environments, wherepeople know them."
Educators must also banish the concept ofremediation from their thinking, he said. "Remediation implies that ourchildren are defective and in need of repair," Levin said. We need, hesaid, "to enrich their educational experiences and deepen thechallenges we offer them." At the same time, teachers need to berecruited more selectively and paid higher salaries. "And we need todevote more resources to mentoring and professional development," hesaid.
Lang recalled being "impulsively carried away" whiledelivering a commencement address at a New York City junior high schoolin 1981 when he promised the young graduates that he would pay fortheir college education. His spontaneous pledge gave rise to the I Havea Dream program, providing the assurance of a college education andcaring, year-round intervention for 15,000 children in 70 cities.
"Mythoughts about education are anchored in three fundamental conditions,"added Lang, who retired from a highly successful business career in1997 to devote his full efforts to philanthropy. "First, that everychild has the birthright to a quality education. Second, thatsatisfying that entitlement is this country's top priority. And third,that our public education system has the primary responsibility toachieve that priority." There are no quick fixes, he said. "Whateverwell-intended solutions we come up with, they will have only a marginalimpact unless they are joined with delivery systems based on reality."
Recountinga landmark lawsuit in which he challenged New York State's fundingformula for public education, Rebell noted that "New York City educates74 percent of the state's poverty-level children but receives $1,200less per student that the state average." As a result, New York Citypublic school students "have never had a chance to show what they coulddo if the city were given adequate resources and the obstacles wereremoved from their path," he said. "The funding gap means that we havethe most unqualified teacher corps in the state. Many teachers areuncertified. Class sizes are, on average, 25 percent bigger than theyare in the rest of the state. School buildings are old and indisrepair."
In its defense, the state argued that the cityschool system was mired in waste and inefficiency and that "throwingmoney at the problem wouldn't solve anything," Rebell recalled. "Butthe state failed to show any real examples of significant waste-or tosuccessfully rebut the charge that money isn't the answer. Money doesmatter; it's an important starting point."
Sobol suggestedseveral approaches to rescuing the city school system from what hedescribed as its "vast middle ground of stagnant mediocrity." A firststep, he said, is to realize the school system is too big to controlcentrally. "I think it's important to retain central authority. But weneed to create smaller operating units, to provide local communitieswith autonomy within guidelines."
Sobol also exhortededucators to place a higher priority on diversity. He also decried the"immorality and stupidity of telling children what they need to know tofunction in society and holding them responsible to get thatknowledge-and depriving them of adequate resources."
Sternintroduced himself as "a product of the New York City public schoolsystem." Noting that when he was a student, "things were pretty good.But between my graduation from Bronx High School of Science in theearly 1950s and Ocean Hill-Brownsville in 1968, something happened. Theperception has been that we've gone from a working system to one that'sdysfunctional." The fate of the school system, he said, "will bedetermined not by politicians, but by the courts-just as they determineother aspects of public policy." Meanwhile, the empowerment of "sixseparate appointing authorities" on the Board of Education "is aformula for chaos," he said. "I definitely support mayoral control ofthe board."
Speaking as a philosopher, Greene said, "I am moreinterested in questions than answers, more interested in possibilitythan prediction." She expressed the view that "alternative schools, newvision schools and charter schools must all be included in a larger,richer version of public education." Whatever future is envisioned, shesaid, "We must expand the notion of public education to be moreinclusive, while still maintaining our commitment to the democraticideal."
A vocal supporter of educational standards, shesuggested that standards imposed "from outside" are doomed to failure."Standards must awaken a sense of urgency in each child," she said."They cannot be seen as a matter of compliance."
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