Teaching Trayvon

Common Core standards drafters want inner-city students to reach high standards, but don’t want teachers to “link literature to our students’ strengths,” writes John Thompson in the Huffington Post. That doesn’t show respect for students, he believes.

If he was back in the classroom, Thompson would be playing Bruce Springsteen’s American Skin:

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says now on these streets Charles
You got to understand the rules
Promise me if an officer stops you’ll always be polite
Never ever run away and promise mama you’ll keep your hands in sight

The song always sparked discussion, Thompson writes.

In the first verse, Springsteen wrote from the perspective of the white New York City cops who shot a Nigerian immigrant, Amadou Diallo, 41 times thinking he had a gun, even though it was his wallet. “Forty-one shots, and we’ll take this ride, cross the bloody river, to the other side.”

The second verse was from the perspective of a black mother warning her son in case he was racially profiled. The third verse was from a universal perspective as we are “baptized in each others’ blood,” and a crucial change is made in the chorus, “Is it a gun? Is it a knife? Is it in your heart? Is it in your sight?”

Asked the source of Springsteen’s image of “the river,” a girl replied, “Langston Hughes!”

“Great,” I answered, throwing a copy of Hughes’ poems to her, “Support your answer.”

Kesha read, “I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers….”

When “curriculum alignment became the district’s gospel,” Thompson played the song during orientation to illustrate issues that would be studied in Government and help English teachers teach “repetition, point of view and metaphor.” A high level administrator objected. “Our kids don’t have time for Bruce Springsteen.”

Money for nothing

New Jersey courts ordered the state to spend a “huge amount of money” on failing urban school districts, writes Myron Magnet in a City Journal article on power-hungry judges. The “Abbott” money hasn’t equalized results.

The 31 Abbott districts received more money than the rich districts, because inner-city kids have greater needs. The court funded all-day kindergarten, half-day preschools for three- and four-year-olds and transition programs to work or college, plus money to build or update school buildings.

What are New Jersey taxpayers accomplishing with the $22,000 to $27,000 they spend per pupil each year in the big inner-city districts? On test scores and graduation rates in Newark, the needle has scarcely flickered.

As the E3 education-reform group’s report Money for Nothing notes, high schools in the state’s biggest city can’t produce substantial numbers of juniors and seniors who can pass tests of eighth-grade knowledge and skills, and the report quotes testimony to the same effect before the state legislature about Camden’s schools.

Urban high schools hire security guards — 20 for one Trenton school — rather than creating a school culture that encourages students to want to learn, Magnet writes.

(Inner-city students)  need teachers rewarded for merit, not longevity, and a curriculum that stresses skills, knowledge, and striving, not grievance and unearned self-esteem. They need a school culture that expands their sense of opportunity and possibility strongly enough to counteract the culture of militant ignorance and failure that surrounds them in the narrow world they know.

Without that, money doesn’t make much difference.

 

The kids can learn

Jay Mathews’ Work Hard. Be Nice. on KIPP gets a great plug from Hugh Hewitt.

This is the story of Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin, two Ivy league graduates who signed up for Teach for America in 1990, failed miserably in their first months in the classroom, and then began a program of bringing to their desperately poor students discipline and enthusiasm, long school days, Saturday and summer school and rewards based on achievement. Nearly two decades later the KIPP –”Knowledge Is Power Program– charter school effort they began in Houston and the Bronx has spread to 66 schools in 19 states enrolling 14,000 students. . . . With every new success, KIPP proves again that many hundreds of thousands of kids who are warehoused in failing schools are perfectly capable of achieving in middle school, succeeding in high school, and graduating from college.

A perfect companion book:  Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.