Broken: 180 Days in the Wilderness of an Urban Middle School

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A new manual for rural school teachers was the Department's first major guide to what was termed "progressive education.

Broken, 180 Days in the Wilderness of an Urban Middle School

The "social studies" -- an amalgam of history, geography, civics, and economics -- were given a central place in a new secondary school curriculum approved by the Regents in Unified syllabi for the social studies were completed by the mids. An outline for secondary school social studies praised the "democratic way of life" and aimed to prepare young people for harmonious participation in the society and economy in which they found themselves.

After World War II the Department's curriculum and teaching experts emphasized conceptual understanding and the tools and skills of learning. However, political and intellectual trends also renewed educators' interest in curriculum subject matter. Social studies programs placed special emphasis on citizenship education in the s and '50s, international affairs in the s and '70s, and cultural diversity in the s and '90s. From until the mids the Department ran a center for international programs to help educators understand non-western cultures.

The secondary school science curriculum was revised in the late s, after a generation of relative neglect. The first science syllabus for the elementary grades had been issued in , and teaching of science on that level was finally mandated in , because of public concern over Soviet successes in space technology. Revised biology syllabi incorporated new knowledge in genetics and ecology; physics syllabi took account of discoveries in the sub-atomic realm. By the s algebra, geometry, and trigonometry were being merged into integrated mathematics courses.

In the s "new math" came and went.

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Around some special projects attempted "the humanization of the curriculum and the school as a whole," stressing social and environmental problems. Summer schools for the arts, established in , gave instruction to students with special talents in music, drama, dance, and art. Today the Department issues a catalog listing nearly three hundred curriculum publications, almost all of them produced or revised since the Regents Action Plan to Improve Elementary and Secondary Education was adopted in The State Examinations Board first organized in appoints committees of teachers to prepare questions for Regents exams and to advise on development of syllabi.

Curriculum development is a multi-step process involving needs assessment, project planning, research and drafting, and field review and testing. Curricula are implemented with the help of a network of advisers, set up in Challenges of Urban Education. Huge numbers of newcomers from the countryside and from abroad crowded into New York's cities between the s and the s.


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During that century, economic and social conditions increasingly favored the cause of mass elementary education -- basic literacy and numeracy. Though the gap between rich and poor was increasing, cities over the long term grew in size and overall wealth. They could and did tax themselves to build and staff public schools, even though those schools were often overcrowded. Family ties were strong, though many families were broken up -- by death, seldom by divorce. Schools, churches, synagogues, fraternal lodges, union halls, and neighborhoods offered family-like social bonds that promoted, rather successfully, positive codes of behavior.

The crime rate steadily declined from the s through the s , increasing safety and security for the young. Since the s urban education has faced increasingly serious obstacles. The cities have lost population and wealth, relative to the inner and outer suburbs. The general increase in personal wealth has stalled since the s, and New York is losing its economic preeminence in the United States. Urban crime rates climbed sharply from the s through the '80s, endangering public safety.

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Family ties and private social networks appeared to be less strong everywhere, not just in the inner cities. Yet the schools and colleges are expected to teach the young much more, for more years, than ever before, to supply skilled workers for a highly competitive labor market. And the cities and schools of New York have received a large influx of new immigrants from the American South, from Puerto Rico, and from many other countries.

The children of those newcomers need to be educated to become productive, responsible citizens -- a task for both the school and the community. Racial separation had long been present in New York's public school system. Schools for African-Americans had existed in a few places since the eighteenth century, and such schools were specifically authorized by statutes passed in and A couple dozen communities operated "colored" schools during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Laws of and passed at the urging of blacks forbade discrimination in access to schools on account of race.

However, state courts held in and that the separate schools for "colored children" were constitutional if they provided facilities equal to those for whites. The statute permitting separate schools for blacks was repealed in In Commissioner George D. Stoddard ordered the closing of the state's last all-black school, in Rockland County. From a small presence in the later nineteenth century, New York's City's African-American population increased steadily during and after the two World Wars.

See footnote 8 The black population also grew in Rochester, Buffalo, and other larger cities. The Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education established a constitutional principle that racially segregated schools are inherently unequal. Commissioners James E. Nyquist led the Regents and the Department in a twenty-year long campaign to desegregate and integrate New York's urban school systems.

In the Department set up a division of intercultural relations to administer New York's anti-discrimination legislation the Educational Practices Act of and to help school districts achieve "racial balance. A Commissioner's advisory committee recommended integrating schools across entire districts, without regard to neighborhood boundaries. In June Commissioner Allen directed every school district to report its policy and plan for eliminating racial imbalance. When progress was unsatisfactory in several New York City suburban districts and the Buffalo district, the Commissioner ordered them to implement plans for school desegregation; the courts upheld his authority to issue these orders.

By twenty-two districts had programs to achieve racial balance. However, in the increasingly skeptical Legislature barred the assignment of pupils to particular schools "for the purpose of achieving equality in attendance. During the early s Commissioner Nyquist ordered several more urban districts to desegregate their schools. The Department reviewed applications for federal grants to overcome "minority group isolation. However, after more than a decade of effort and controversy, school desegregation had not produced any definite overall improvements in pupil performance in inner-city schools.

In public and Department attention largely focused on the demands for "community control" of New York City schools. In Commissioner Allen had recommended a "" plan for New York City's public schools, with integrated middle schools and new comprehensive high schools in campus-like settings.

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The city was very slow to implement this plan. In , three experimental community school districts were set up in New York City, with support from the Ford Foundation. In the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district an extra-legal local board of education became engaged in a bitter controversy with the United Federation of Teachers regarding teacher transfers.

Three city-wide teachers' strikes occurred in the fall of , and Commissioner Allen worked with the city authorities to bring the union to an agreement that protected teachers' rights and temporarily turned the Brownsville district over to a state-appointed trustee. In the Legislature passed a compromise New York City school decentralization law which abolished the temporary districts; provided for permanent community school districts to run elementary and middle schools; replaced the city school superintendent with a chancellor having increased powers; and continued a city-wide board of education.

Commissioner Ewald B. Nyquist shared Allen's commitment to mandatory school desegregation.

At first a majority of the Regents were willing to support him, though they much preferred voluntary integration. However, by the early s the political climate for education was definitely changing. The Taylor Law permitted both school teachers and state workers to unionize. Legislative redistricting enabled the Democrats to take control of the Assembly in , and for the first time in generations that party had the deciding vote in the election of new Regents. The Board had been strongly Republican. Legislative and Budget staff became increasingly involved in negotiating state aid for schools, and the Governor and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly made the crucial budget decisions.

By the mids the Regents and the Department were under intense political and fiscal scrutiny. In the Governor made a controversial proposal for an independent "inspector general" to oversee the public education system. He did establish an Office of Education Performance Review abolished by a new administration in A majority of the Legislature disliked mandatory busing of children to accomplish school integration. In the Legislature reduced Regents' terms of office, with the avowed aim of replacing pro-busing incumbents.

The internal balance of the Regents changed, and in a majority of the board voted to dismiss the Commissioner, the first time this had ever occurred. However, new state and federal programs to assist disadvantaged children were by now well established; the emphasis of education policy had shifted from "equal opportunity" to "equal outcome.

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Experimental state programs for urban education in the early s included Project ABLE, helping school staffs to identify and assist talented minority students; and the School to Employment Program STEP , combining work and school for potential high school dropouts. The Department's concern for the cities was emphasized in the Regents' policy and plan for urban education, adopted in A center on innovation in education, supported by federal money, promoted educational programs to achieve integration and educational opportunity regardless of race or class.

An ambitious Urban Aid program was authorized by the Legislature in to "revitalize" city school systems, through programs of special instruction and community involvement. Urban aid for special projects was based on numbers of pupils with low reading scores or from poor families.


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This aid supplemented the fast-growing federal aid for educationally disadvantaged pupils, under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of PSEN aid was based on the number of students with low scores on reading and math tests, and was available to any district, urban, suburban, or rural. The Department was required to report to the Legislature on the impact of compensatory education programs.

Auditors severely criticized some aspects of state and local administration of PSEN aid, but PSEN aid did target and reach schools with under-performing students. Statewide Standards for Students and Schools. For decades the Regents syllabi and examinations were the means by which the Department set standards for secondary schools and assessed pupil achievement. However, a parallel, non-Regents secondary school program emerged. Starting high schools were authorized to issue a local diploma to students who had not taken and passed Regents exams.

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After high schools in city and village superintendencies could substitute other tests for the Regents exams. The first Regents rules setting basic and elective courses of study in secondary schools grades were adopted in English, social studies, health, and physical education were the only courses required of all students.

Minimum course requirements for the local high school diploma were somewhat strengthened in During the s and '60s integrated course sequences for grades K, the first ever, were developed. Interest in new statewide pupil assessment tools grew during the s and '30s, and in the Department began to issue standardized reading and math progress tests for general use in the middle and upper grades. Schools also employed national standardized tests. Falling student test scores became a statewide concern by the later s and '70s. New state tests measured the extent of the problem and helped set minimum standards.

After new basic competency tests in reading, writing, and math were given to all high school students, and passage of the tests became the minimum standard for the local high school diploma in Critics asserted that the tests were either too hard, or too easy. The Department also increased its oversight of schools. Since there had been a program to review and re- register new secondary schools after their initial registration.

In this process was extended to older, permanently-registered high schools, and all high schools were to be visited twice every ten years. In the Department started a cooperative, voluntary review service to assess a district's educational program and remedy deficiencies New York City was the first district to be reviewed. The Department had an increased presence in New York City's new community school districts, established in Urban aid programs of the early s were coordinated by an office of urban school services.