The Trentonian has been running a series comparing our city to Camden, and today’s focus was education. Camden schools have been taken over by the State, ostensibly to put an end to the corruption, cronyism, and patronage that has seriously compromised the quality of Camden schools. The implicit message of the piece was that a State takeover of Trenton may be a possible remedy to the problems in our District. An accompanying article highlighted the Leap Academy, one of several charter schools in Camden that has shown great results at graduating Camden students.As far as a state takeover, all I would say is that I would be hesitant to support any policy that takes the decision making power even farther from the local level. That is not to say that local control has succeeded, put I would much rather improve things at the local level than place our students’ future in the hands of “experts” and politicians at the Capitol. Taken together, the two articles imply that expansion of charter schools and state control will together be a cure for Trenton’s dismal track record.
I don’t necessarily disagree with expanding charters, but my position is that what should be done is to turn ALL of our public schools into charter schools. If we were to liberate these schools from onerous mandates placed on our inner city districts, and, combined with an aggressive effort to find content specialists from our colleges, a salary system that includes performance pay, and a commitment to intense clinical supervision, we can dramatically improve the quality of learning in our inner city schools, particularly at the three high schools. There is of course more to the equation, but creating a more teacher centered and student centered education system built around the charter school philosophy provides a great foundation.The Trenton Times article, actually an Op-Ed, speaks to the need for “healthier lifestyles for Trenton’s students.” The point of the article is that Trenton schools need to become more “green,” and that the school curriculum should make a more concerted effort to teach health and fitness to better address serious health issues such as obesity. And by “greening” the schools we can also better prepare our students for career opportunities that will begin to emerge in a “green economy.”
I definitely agree with the author, Doug Demeo, but would take the issue a step further. I believe that our State’s Core Curriculum Content Standards and HSPA exam are a complete disservice to our inner city students, and think that we need to completely rethink what it is that students MUST learn as a condition for graduation. In this rethinking there should be a place for Health, Fitness, and Environmental Awareness, and that this should be one of the new categories required under a revamped CCCS. All students should graduate demonstrating competency or mastery of content in this area. By demonstrating knowledge in this area students will be prepared to maintain a better quality of life for themselves and their children; it is an unfortunate reality that a significant number of graduates will soon become parents themselves, placing a high level of responsibility on them to take better care of themselves and their children. It is hard to look at the existing Core Content requirements and not believe that we can pare it down significantly, making room for content in this area.So taken together, these articles suggest several things that we can do to improve our inner city schools. Make our schools more entrepreneurial by making a commitment to turn them into something akin to charter schools, and then redesign our content standards to make room for learning a “healthy lifestyle.” Don’t just teach it, but require that it be learned by making it part of the HSPA, thus holding teachers more accountable for teaching the content.
Creative thinking is definitely at a premium in Trenton, and changes like these definitely fall within this domain. Let’s hope that our legislators will reconsider how we teach and what we teach in our inner city schools, because we are currently on a path to failure, and failure, whether by our students or our politicians, should never be an option.