Friday, April 27, 2007

TC Faces Challenge of Aiding Local Schools - Despite Top Ranking, Teachers College Works to Prove Its Status In Harlem, Around City

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TC Faces Challenge of Aiding Local Schools
Despite Top Ranking, Teachers College Works to Prove Its Status In Harlem, Around City
By Joy Resmovits
Issue date: 4/27/07 Section: News

On March 30, U.S. News and World Report named Teachers College the number one graduate school of education, up one spot from last year and topping Stanford and Harvard. But despite its top status, TC is surrounded by some of the lowest-performing public schools in Manhattan.

"How can the College be a great college, if it is next door to failing schools?" TC trustee Arthur Zankel asked in regards to his donation to a TC program.

Teachers College has had a relationship with New York City schools since its inception in 1887.

According to TC President Susan Fuhrman, the school was founded with the express intent to serve its surrounding community. "It was New York City children that the founders had in mind," she said.

It has succeeded in nurturing many talented educators and at conducting extensive research and policy analysis, but its collaboration with surrounding underachieving schools is still being fine-tuned and streamlined to help children in the city school system who are still "left behind."

"Since TC is ... within Harlem, it has an obligation to have a continuous dialogue with schools of color," Jonathan Jungblut, TC '07, said, adding that they should consult with the school before making decisions. "If TC is seen as so well-performing, why would you want to rock the boat?"

But new leadership has expressed interest in rocking the boat. The same day TC hit the top of the charts, TC President Susan Fuhrman met with the principals and district superintendants of District 5 to discuss their needs and TC's role in meeting them. "We all agree our work in the schools can be more focused so it has more consequences for kids," Fuhrman said.

Higher-ups at Teachers College claimed that TC does impact local schools, but not in a way that affects students everyday. Some said that TC's neighboring schools are behind because TC's involvement is on more of an ad hoc, project-by-project basis, rather than systematically.

Despite TC's decades of work in the neighborhood, senior advisor to the Campaign for Educational Equity and Professor Emeritus of psychology Edmund Gordon said, it's still "more of an emerging relationship than an established one."

Teaching Hospital

While there is a formal laboratory school, the Heritage School, on-site run jointly by TC and the Department of Education, Teachers College professors and students use classrooms throughout the city as laboratories in their research, and then work as policy advisors to encourage schools to pick up successful techniques and programs. Gordon called TC's work in this respect like that of a "teaching hospital."

One of the "teaching hospital's" methods is its pre-service program that requires degree candidates to teach in NYC schools.Harriet Barnes, President of District 5 Community Education Council, said she is aware of the TC student teachers. "I know they're helping," she said. "Some people consider it help, some people consider it as the children being used as guinea pigs."

Though they may have to study in public schools, student-teachers are more likely to get placed in successful schools rather than the struggling neighborhood schools near TC. Dawn Arno, Director of TC EdZone Partnership, a group that sends TC students to aid children at local city schools, acknowledged that TC's best and brightest tend to study at schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

In response to the student-teaching program's lack of what she called "civic engagement," Arno started EdZone using funds donated by the trustee, Zankel. In the structured tutoring program, reading and math buddies spend two and a half hours daily with groups of six students.

Arno said that EdZone has increased children's desire to read. One boy in the program started bringing in the newspaper for his teacher to read. Arno said that other students picked up on the practice, saying that they looked like "little Wall Street men with newspapers under their arms."

Gordon said that deep involvement in individual schools is more effective than outreach to disparate departments in many schools. "Urban colleges and universities should assume at least partial responsibility for the quality of education," he said. "I don't think we have become responsible enough."

Research and Shaping Curricula

In an effort to make TC more accountable for the academic performance of neighborhood students, TC has begun evaluating the progress of the Harlem Children's Zone, a tutoring center co-headed by Gordon.

HCZ is an educational institution that tutors and holds extracurricular programs in schools, to ensure the safety of 12,500 children and adults in schools throughout 60 blocks in Central Harlem. Harlem Peacemakers, a program funded partially by UNICEF, promotes non-violence among students. The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project produces a great number of literacy teachers, who then train teachers at public schools around the city-but not all parents are thrilled with its influence.Parent Susan Crawford said she was dissatisfied with the project.

"As a mother of two dyslexic children, there can be too much reading and too much writing," she said.Educational Policy and School FundingBut much of the interaction TC has with the public schools system happens outside of the classroom. Professor of Law and Educational Practice at TC Michael Rebell spent over 10 years fighting for increased funding in public schools as the co-founder for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, an organization that provided the framework for the money and programs which the state government recently allocated to city schools.

Rebell said his concern is now ensuring that the money is allocated equitably among schools. "Although it sounds like a lot of money...the money goes fast," Rebell said, referring to the five billion they will receive over the next four years. "We want it to be given to schools with greatest needs, our local Harlem schools."

The colaboration between TC and the city is still growing, and this growth is encouraged by representatives of city schools, who are brimming with recommendations. "I would like to see TC come into the elementary schools and start over with a curriculum of grammar," Barnes said. "These kids are speaking Ebonics. Some of the teachers are too."

If nothing else, Fuhrman's meeting with local principals to discuss TC's role in NYC education is indicative of the desire to turn over a new leaf. "I'm going to talk, [Rep. Charles] Rangel's going to talk, we're going to have it set up so the principals and other administrators can engage in our faculty," Fuhrman said.

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