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In the Spotlight: Edmund W. Gordon and the Institute for Urban and Minority Education

The Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) is undergoing a renaissance under the leadership of founding director Edmund W. Gordon. New partnerships, research, outreach and a possible move into Harlem are all in the works for the Institute.

Gordon, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University and Richard March Hoe Professor of Psychology and Education Emeritus at TC, created IUME at Teachers College in 1973. Dr. Gordon left Teachers College in 1979 for Yale, and returned after his retirement from there in 1991. Since his retirement he has served as special advisor to the President, trustee, and acting dean before re-assuming the directorship of IUME. In the last two years IUME has initiated a series of research and outreach initiatives aimed at better understanding the educational, psychological and social development of urban and minority students. Along with the institute's current effort, Gordon envisions a host of future activities aimed at providing educational and economic opportunity to the Harlem community.

Dr. Gordon focuses much of his energies on a research project on the correlates of high academic achievement. The aim of the project is to describe and document how high achieving people from historically low-achieving populations--eg. Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans-- are able to succeed as they do. The project has four distinct prongs: looking at ecological and environmental factors, studying characteristics of individuals, looking at select higher education programs that have a reputation for succeeding with minority students, and identifying public schools that are also successful with these students. One study that looks at individual characteristics compares Caribbean-born and Continent-born people of African descent. In general, Caribbean-born people outdistance their Continent-born counterparts in academics, and the study seeks to understand why and how that happens. The higher education study is looking specifically at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County, which has a reputation for turning out black Ph.D.s in mathematics and hard sciences; and Xavier University in New Orleans, a historically black institution which sends more black students to medical and dental school than any other school in the country.

Another major aspect of IUME's work is the Education Extension Service, which provides technical assistance, professional development, relational data management, research and evaluation, and research information services to public schools struggling with the achievement gap between white and Asian and other minority students. The Education Extension Service is most active in the Tri-State area and has less intensive relationships with 13 urban schools around the country, as well as some suburban schools. The Education Extension Service is the outreach arm of IUME. It sends a bulletin to affiliated schools and helps schools understand relevant research.

The third major project of IUME is curriculum development. The curriculum development project includes M2, which focuses on creating new ways of teaching math that build upon the cultural and numeric skills that students bring to school. IUME also has a dynamic assessment project that explores new ways of approaching assessment. The aim is to build assessment into the instruction process so that it is seamlessly embedded in the curriculum.
The fourth major IUME project is supplementary education. Supplementary education refers to the informal educational opportunities that many affluent families offer their children, including good nutrition, health, support, trips to museums, dance, music lessons, etc.

One research project studied "Defiers of Negative Prediction," people who've defied negative predictions in their achievement. The study found that these defiers come from families or communities where they receive support in the form of supplementary education. Currently IUME is field testing an approach to supplementary education in a small community in upstate New York. The Institute will be embarking on an attempt to have faith-based organizations in Harlem accept the supplementary education model.

All of these initiatives began in the last two years under Dr. Gordon's leadership. Dr. Gordon says IUME is taking "the lead in trying to help the College create a presence in northern Manhattan." Future plans for the Institute include becoming more engaged with the Harlem community. By fall IUME plans to move to offices on 125th Street in order to provide education services to the community. Dr. Gordon also hopes that IUME will become a vehicle for economic development in upper Manhattan. He wants to create a building trades school that will train students from crafts to management, allowing them access into the historically insular building trades. Dr. Gordon also envisions a professional development service that will service the New York City schools. While IUME focuses on supporting and improving the public schools, Dr. Gordon's dream is to start a school for able and gifted students in Harlem of sufficiently high caliber to attract students, not only from Harlem, but from the entire city. Tuition would be on a sliding scale, and students from the community would be given preference.

In the meantime, the 81-year-old professor emeritus is focusing on the correlates of achievement and curriculum development projects. He also has a book coming out this summer on supplementary education and one to follow in the fall. Dr. Gordon plans to someday write his "conceptual memoirs," documenting his ideas about the decades of educational change he's lived through. Dr. Gordon is the author of over 200 journal articles and book chapters as well as over 15 books. He was also one of the founders and designers of the Head Start program, and helped write the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, among many other achievements. Under his visionary leadership IUME is poised to aid in the challenges facing public schools in the 21st century.

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