Our Town downtown
January 22, 2007
When almost half the students in the public schools here don’t graduate in four years, something astounding needs to be done. New York isn’t alone in its need for something astounding to be done in the schools. All the major cities’ schools are just about equally unsuccessful. Those cities have given or are giving their mayors more control over the schools, like here. I haven’t read where any city has turned it all around, have you? We haven’t turned things around here. Other cities are looking to us to lead the way.
Will the moves that Mayor Bloomberg and his Chancellor Joel Klein announced the other day be the astounding changes that are needed? They don’t seem big enough or interesting enough to make much of a difference at all. They don’t seem radical. Isn’t something radical needed when half the kids aren’t engaged enough by what’s going on in school to graduate in four years in what can’t be at all a rigorous curriculum? Teachers getting asked to evaluate their principals. Tougher tenure standards. Eliminating some regional superintendents. Those aren’t major moves. A new formula for more equal funding of individual schools is a good thing, no doubt. But I’ll bet most people didn’t read the whole article in the daily paper about it. There was nothing headline grabbing about it. There needs to be something big done.
When the mayor said no more smoking in bars where the mirrors were almost brown from smoking traditions, that was a big move. When the mayor of London started charging extra for cars to enter the crowded part of the city, that was a major move. Bloomberg didn’t say we’re going to shift the monitoring of smoking in the city’s taverns to the department of social services. No, he said no more smoking. The London mayor didn’t say we’re going to make sure there are four people in every car entering the central city or they’ll be given a warning and possibly a ticket. No, he started charging them to go there and fewer of them now go there. Bold moves got results.
If the other cities are looking to New York to see how urban schools can work, then let’s do something radical. Columbia, NYU, Fordham, New School, Bank Street Teachers College; they’re here. Random House is here. Scholastic is here. Barnes & Noble and Strand are here. All those people that dress for those party pictures in the Sunday Times are here. Spike Lee is here. George Soros and Mike Nichols are here. Stern is here. The Times is here. Charlie Rose’s table is here. Shouldn’t we be able to come up with a way to make our schools bright and stimulating for the kids and lead the way? Seriously. We have a very bright guy as mayor who ought to be able to get the city’s minds and megabucks to turn the schools around. Don’t say Principal for a Day. Please.
The way it’s set up now must suck for the teachers as well as the kids. Who can feel good when the failure rate is so steadily high? Imagine the atmosphere in the hallways or the teachers lounge or the school library or the lunch room when half the kids aren’t graduating in four years. The media in town complain more about the Dolans’ handling of the Knicks and Rangers than they do about the schools. I didn’t say the callers to sports talk shows worry more about that stuff, I said the daily papers do. That’s ludicrous.
Someone has to bust a move. Ask Oprah to run the schools. I would. I’d try something more than what’s being done. Bill Gates is helping here. How about some New Yorkers? The mayor could get this done if he called upon the right people.
-- Bill Gunlocke