November/December 1993

This Issue
Vol. 05, Issue 03

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Efforts To Meet National Goals Still Fall Short

For the second year in a row, the annual report on the national education goals shows that the United States is making only "modest progress'' toward meeting those targets by 2000.

The challenge of moving our public education system from the 19th century to the 21st is truly daunting. It cannot be done without the support of the public, and especially parents--many of whom are alienated from public schools when educational administrators and state bureaucrats make decisions that appear to defy common sense.

That was the case in last month's cover story, "Rebel Mom,'' about a Pennsylvania mother and her followers who were able to derail the state's overly elaborate outcome-based education plan because the officials who designed it were not able to explain or defend it effectively. And it was also evident in "Soul Searching,'' our September story on school prayer, which depicted administrators overreacting to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision by banning from schools anything even tinged with religion. It is also the case in this month's cover story, "Going Too Far.''

Walking through the halls of my child's middle school the other day, I was delighted by how well we--my child and I--had done our, I mean her, recent homework assignment: creating a poster that illustrated the history of our family's origins. Compared with her classmates' work on the corridor walls, we had held our own. While some of the work had superior graphics or more extensive maps, ours was informative and well-executed. I was relieved.

After all, wasn't that what homework was all about: parents helping their kids complete an assignment to a standard that could be displayed proudly (or at least without embarrassment)? Wasn't that what the teachers wanted? Expected? Rewarded?

This is the ninth in a series of profiles of teacher leaders underwritten by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Cudahy, Calif., is one of those small cities southeast of Los Angeles that even most Southern Californians are only vaguely aware of. Bordered by the city of Bell to the north, South Gate to the south, Huntington Park to the west, and Bell Gardens to the east, the city is part of an area characterized by The Los Angeles Times as "California in a microcosm: dead factories, a lot of immigrants, gangs, poverty, crowded schools.'' With a population of about 23,000 packed into 1.1 square miles, Cudahy ranks as the third densest city in Los Angeles County. It is also poor: According to the 1990 census, 27.4 percent of its residents live below the poverty level. From 1980 to 1990, Cudahy's Hispanic population increased by 62 percent, while its Anglo population decreased by 61 percent. It is now about 90 percent Hispanic. One could live a lifetime in Cudahy and not speak a word of English.

Sean stood at my desk--an 11year-old with a briefcase. The briefcase amused me. Although out of character for a 6th grader, it fit his personality. Even his peer-conscious classmates, respecting his quiet dignity, refrained from making taunting remarks.

"What can I do for you, Sean?'' I asked.

Rebel Mom

Peg Luksik certainly "walloped'' Pennsylvania's outcome-based education plan ["Rebel Mom,'' October], but Harrisburg's worst enemy was Harrisburg itself. The state board of education completely failed to arm its own natural allies.


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That, in part, is why Minnie Howard, which opened in September, is devoted exclusively to that unique, noisy, and precarious grade level.

"High school is a nightmare for younger kids,'' says Margaret Walsh, Minnie Howard's principal. "You're sharing a bathroom with some kids who are nearly 20 when you're 13, and this is at a time when self-confidence issues are critical.'' The program, she says, "is giving us a chance to latch onto one of the most critical age groups.''

As the man assigned to police the city's schools, Stancik gets little rest these days. His is a unique job, and a big one. The New York City School District's special commissioner of investigation since 1990, he has the task of ridding the nation's largest school system of political corruption, fraud, and threats to children's safety. No other big-city school system is investigated by an independent commissioner.

Stancik conducts outside investigations of the New York school system with 42 investigators, nine lawyers, and the same tools and techniques he once used to go after the mob for the Manhattan district attorney. His reliance on interrogators, undercover agents, and hidden cameras and microphones has generated criticism and controversy; challenges to some of his investigative tactics are pending in court.

The preceding feature story about Christine Gutierrez (page 28) and the round table that follows are the final installments in an occasional series on teacher leadership that began in March 1992. Underwritten by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the series has featured dedicated teachers who have taken risks to shape their schools, their profession, and their communities.

Following is an edited transcript of a discussion held last May in New York City. The 12 educators who participated are members of the National Re:Learning Faculty, a group of more than 100 teacher-leaders who work with some 500 schools around the country to deepen their commitment to the principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools. These teachers are also known as Citibank Faculty because their work is supported by a grant from that corporation.

The primary subject of the District 150 school board meeting last August had been school discipline, but the Peoria, Ill., residents queued before the microphone at the open forum had something altogether different on their minds. As they spoke, one after the other, the school board members looked on wearily. They had heard the same statements intoned time and time again, often by the very same people, ever since an advisory committee had proposed a new comprehensive sex education curriculum--a curriculum that would include the topics of birth control, homosexuality, masturbation, and sexual fantasy.

November 6.

ABC presents "Answering Children's Questions: Violence and Conflict Resolution,'' the latest segment in a continuing series of open forums on news topics of relevance to children. Anchored by Peter Jennings, the live 90-minute program begins at 11:30 a.m. (EST). For a free subscription to ABC Classroom Connection, which is designed to help educators use ABC programming, contact: ABC Classroom Connection Hot Line: (800) 647-4222.

After he grew up and became a 1st grade teacher in Rockford, Mich., he taught his own students to write in much the same way--although he never actually rapped any knuckles himself. And, like his own teachers had done, he gave his pupils thick, round pencils and asked them to make their letters 1-inch high.

Then he got a better idea.