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State Takeover of Newark Schools

Article on "Race, Social Class and Educational Reform" In New Issue of Teachers College Record

Study Details Teachers' Verbal Abuse Of Marginalized Children, 'You Borderline People'

New Jersey's takeover of the Newark public schools probably will not improve education much in that city, says a Rutgers University professor in an article published in the Teachers College Record.

Jean Anyon, a noted researcher who writes about the problems of one K-8 school in Newark during a recent school-reform attempt, notes that most of the curriculum in that project came from the state department of education. The curriculum relied on "mainstream texts and workbooks" that did not take into consideration the lives of the students in the Newark schools, the professor writes.

State officials' demands that all the material in the classes be written in standard English (which the students and even some of the teachers did not speak) and "at grade-level" also fostered failure among the children, who had already been "marginalized by poverty and race," Anyon writes.

Such marginalization leads to frustation on the part of both children and teachers, Anyon reports. Most often, outsiders judge the success of a reform initiative on students' scores on standardized tests, and students in inner-city schools do not take these tests seriously.

Although she wrote the article months before the state took over the Newark schools, Anyon notes that her experience does not make her optimistic about the change. "Educational reform," she writes, "cannot compensate for the ravages of society."


The very personal observations in "Race, Social Class and Education Reform in an Inner-City School" are sure to spark controversy, especially Anyon's reporting of the way in which the teachers--both black and white--verbally assaulted the students.

"You're disgusting; you remind me of children I would see in a jail or something," one Black teacher told her class of Black and Hispanic first-graders in Anyon's presence. Another Black teacher called his class of six-graders "borderline people," Anyon reports.

Other teachers used profanity and obscenities in speaking to the children, one even making reference in street language to the sexual organs of a girl's mother when speaking to the girl. The teachers who spoke to the children in such a way defended themselves by saying the children were "used to it. They wouldn't listen if we didn't yell and put on a mean face. They know it's only a school voice."

Anyon, who is white, also saw teachers occasionally strike children. Although she was shocked, she says many people--especially in the African-American community--might consider such action to be merely strict teaching.

An associate professor and chair of the Education Department at Rutgers, Anyon worked as a staff developer in the school from 1991 to 1993.

During that time, she spent more than 200 hours observing teachers in their classrooms and lunch periods hanging out and talking with the students. In order for significant educational improvement to be seen in inner-city schools, Anyon writes, the schools must be desegregated and even that is not enough.

She writes that "school desegregation must be accompanied by (at the minimum) substantial housing and job desegregation." In short, racism and poverty must be combatted in order for any school-reform effort to work.

"Students who are less oppressed are easier to teach," Anyon writes, "and teachers can then more easily excel (as can students)." Anyon is now completing a book titled Race, Social Class, and Urban School Reform.

The Teachers College Record, established in 1900, is America's oldest and most prestigious journal devoted to educational research and philosophy. It is now edited by Gary Natriello, associate professor of sociology and education at Teachers College and an authority on the schooling of disadvantaged youth.

Teachers College, a graduate school devoted to education, psychology and health science, is an affiliate of Columbia University but retains its legal and financial independence. In a recent survey of education schools in America completed by U.S. News & World Report, Teachers College was ranked fourth in the nation and first in the New York City area.

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