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Educators Debate Negative Effects of School Reform

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New York City--This city's magnet-school program, by attracting motivated achieving students away from neighborhood high schools, has hurt both the educational programs and the reputation of neighborhood schools.

So charged the numerous educators who met here this month to discuss the possible negative consequences of the growing call for school reform.

"While the children of unlimited expectations go to Bronx High School of Science, and the children with some expectations go to [other magnet schools], those with no expectations go to Andrew Jackson High School," said Evelyn Jones-Rich, the principal of that school.

The Queens school has about 3,000 poor black students "who have been indoctrinated with the view that they cannot learn," she said.

Archer Dong, principal of Sun Yat Sen Intermediate School in the city's Chinatown area, voiced similar complaints. "My top students go uptown," he said. "Most of the students remaining are recent immigrants from Oriental countries who give the school a reputation as a school for non-English-speaking children," he said.

"The excellence movement can make it worse for certain kids if it excludes them from such things as magnet schools," said Joan First, executive director of the Boston-based National Coalition of Advocates for Students.

The two-day gathering on May 10 and 11 was entitled, "Our Children at Risk," playing upon the title of the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, "A Nation at Risk."

'At-Risk' Children

City educators and advocates spoke about the problems of local "at-risk" children--poor, minority, handicapped--before a coalition-sponsored panel that is investigating similar issues nationwide.

Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Children's Defense Fund and the panel's co-chairman, said the group had already heard from educators in four cities and would visit another four cities before issuing a report in the fall.

"These new recommendations have been issued in a manner that will serve to reinforce the disadvantages of society," said Ms. Edelman.

"Very few resources have been committed to implementing the new recommendations. It sounds nice to call for reform but it is a hollow call," she said.

"I also object to the emphasis on beating the schools down," Ms. Edelman continued. "I haven't heard anyone articulating the things that schools have succeeded at doing."

Among the other issues raised by the educators here were: lowering student-teacher ratios in New York City schools from the current 34 to 1 to below 20 to 1; permitting principals of all-black schools to hire more black teachers (hiring practices are circumscribed by federal civil-rights guidelines); increasing services for immigrants; raising teachers' salaries; and dealing more effectively with dropouts.

"Our kids need a whack at excellence, too," said Ms. First. "Whether the schools that didn't get the toilet paper in the '60's or the books in the '70's will get the computers in the '80's--that's our concern. We don't want these kids to be left out."

Nathan Quinones, who has been acting chancellor of the New York City schools for the past seven weeks, said he agreed that magnet schools should not be "skimming away" students from the neighborhood schools.

"We cannot have a school system providing for what may be a private education," he said.

Mr. Quinones also asked the group to consider one note of progress in the schools that occurred in conjunction with a move toward increased emphasis on academics.

"More youngsters are taking and passing Regents academic courses in our city schools than did five years ago," he said. "This is contrary to national trends."

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