[ProgressiveEd] Leave the Progressive, Integrated Schools Alone

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Wed, 5 Mar 2003 06:49:55 EST

Leave the Progressive, Integrated Schools Alone: One Parent’s ViewChancellor 
Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are right to press for radical 
transformation of New York's school system. Unfortunately, the cookie-cutter 
curriculum they are about to impose on most city schools threatens 
progressive programs that should be applauded for promoting racial diversity. 
As the mother of children in two such schools, I urge the mayor and 
chancellor to let them be. 
The battle being waged over parents' and teachers' right to shape their 
children's curriculum has to do with race, class, democracy, and the measure 
of a true education. Progressive schools admit children at all levels of 
academic ability. This guarantees racial and class diversity, a goal central 
to the culture of these schools, and points the way to the establishment of 
successful education for all. Progressive schools are working against the 
alarming national trend toward school resegregation identified by Gary 
Orfield and Susan Eaton of the Harvard-based Civil Rights Project. 
And yet the chancellor's plans would thwart these programs. Two weeks ago, 
Klein released a list of 209 "successful" schools that will be exempt from 
adopting a standard math and reading curriculum the 1,000 or so other schools 
in the system must begin using in September, 2003. Klein based his decision 
in large part on school test scores. As a result, many "gifted and talented" 
programs that skim off the best students and provide havens for white and 
middle class students made the list. Too many progressive schools that admit 
children at all levels of academic ability did not. 
What Klein failed to understand is that numbers don't tell the whole story. A 
case in point is the Muscota New School Academy, part of the Progressive 
Education Network of New York (PENNY) and the Center for Collaborative 
Education. The school was formed 10 years ago by Washington Heights' parents 
hungry for a high quality, alternative school integrated by both race and 
class. Our kids emerge as creative, cooperative, and self-motivated learners 
who know how to think critically. These students can explain why and how they 
arrive at math solutions; they can write and perform their own plays. 
Instead of being strait-jacketed in a uniform curriculum, Muscota and the 
other progressive schools should be allowed to flourish. 
I am also concerned that our battles over curriculums are being fought 
separately from battles against another round of budget cuts from Albany. 
When the cuts came in one school I know of, parents dipped into their own 
pockets to pay for an art teacher and guidance counselor rather than lose 
those programs. In our Washington Heights district this is not an option, so 
we feel the full impact of the cuts. A piecemeal, silent "privatization" of 
public education discriminates against schools in poor neighborhoods. 
Officials need to acknowledge the deeper problem of racial and class 
segregation and concede that there is no path to successful learning without 
addressing it. I urge the mayor and chancellor to create special "learning 
zones" for progressive schools and permit them to continue promoting 
integration and innovative education. 
Through the years, and in spite of the ups and downs of city politics, 
parents have built progressive schools because we treasure diversity and 
choice. We would be delighted to share what we have learned, and we appeal to 
the mayor and chancellor to let us. 
(Share your thoughts on this issue with a letter to our Mailbag.) 
-- Carol Barton (the author's children attend the Computer School and the 
Muscota New School in Manhattan.) 
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