Thursday, May 17, 2007

City Schools Still Blowin' In The Wind

Our Town downtown
July 3, 2006

The news that the city schools’ graduation rate has improved should be a feelgood story, shouldn’t it, that things are improving under Mayor Bloomberg and his school guy Joel Klein?

What about this though, what about how long it has taken in this big, rich, supposedly-progressive city to get the graduation rate up to 58.2 percent? You read it right. 58.2 percent. That’s hard to accept as a success, isn’t it? Just a little over half the kids graduate on time from schools that certainly aren’t very challenging. And that’s the highest in 20 years.

For some private schools in the city 58.2 percent might well be the number of graduating seniors who are spending the summer traveling before they go off to college in the fall or maybe it’s the percentage of those graduates going on to schools ranked in the top 20 in the U.S. News and World Report’s survey. Certainly those schools graduate everyone, and their course of study is more challenging than the public schools’ curriculum.

Think of the difference between the two scenarios. Think of what 58.2 means in one part of the city and what it means in another. Same city. Same mayor. Same Yankees. Same Mets. Same local TV news anchors on the same oversize TVs.

But it’s two different worlds. There were cover stories saying it was two different worlds 40 years ago when a whole generation of baby boomers was starting to get mad at the world their parents had made in which school systems were not equal. Unequal schools seemed to symbolize what was wrong with everything. Unequal schools implied racism and insensitivity and it couldn’t go on, we promised ourselves.

Well, here we are with our iPods and our TiVos and our Whole Foods and our Jon Stewart and in the 40 years since we read Time and Newsweek about how bad the schools were for poor people, we’ve traveled to Hawaii and Boulder and learned about wine and joined Netflix and the local Pilates class and have seen all the “Law & Order” episodes and are now into “Deadwood” and worrying about global warming while buying our shower soap in plastic bottles. Will our kids hate us some day for those plastic bottles of soap? Will we hate ourselves for our failure to make the schools equal? Probably not.

We didn’t see our parents worrying about it to our satisfaction. Do our kids see us worrying about it enough? They see us worrying about their school needs, public or private. But they don’t see us worrying about poor people’s schools. They see us maybe watching “Frontline” and Bill Moyers and “60 Minutes” and all those correct shows and maybe they see us not eating meat even and marching in little marches against the war.

But do they see us doing what we said we’d do, fighting for school equality, fighting for poor kids? That’s what we said we’d do. But all we’ve got it up to is 58.2 percent in New York City where Bob Dylan sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” on 4th Street.

What’s to be done to get it up to 100%? And why not a hundred? Why would we not accept anything less than 100% at Collegiate and accept even 98% at a public high school? It’s high school we’re talking about, not Princeton. Why can’t it get done? What if it were a given that all the kids in New York City would graduate from high school in four years? Wouldn’t that direct the curriculum and the teachers and the parents? And wouldn’t they then direct the kids towards a degree? 58.2%? In New York City where Dylan came?

-- Bill Gunlocke

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