The Fragile Success of School Reform in the Bronx is the title of a massive article in today’s New York Times Magazine, and it’s well worth reading. It’s about a middle school in the South Bronx and its principal, Ramón González.
Given his and Klein’s conflicting agendas, it’s no surprise that González is critical of many of the policies of education reform. He has no problem with schools being held accountable for their performance, but he worries that the reform movement’s infatuation with competition will undermine the broader goal of improving public education — that by grading schools against their peers you are encouraging them to hoard their successful innovations rather than to share them. He is concerned as well about the fact that the new principals being sent, disproportionately, into disadvantaged neighborhoods have little experience with or connection to the communities they’re supposed to serve. And he is made uncomfortable by all of the educational experimentation, the endless stream of pilot programs, being implemented in neighborhoods like his. “I’m just afraid that our kids are being sacrificed while everyone is learning on the job,” he says. “This is not some sort of urban experiment. These are kids’ lives were talking about.”
It’s hard to disagree with the reform movement’s insistence that poverty, like ignorant or apathetic parents, should not be accepted as an excuse for failing schools. But watching Saquan, it’s just as hard to ignore the reality that poverty is an immutable obstacle in the path of improving public education, one that can’t simply be swept aside by the rhetoric of raised expectations. Is it really a surprise that a child whose family had been forced to move into a homeless shelter where he was sharing a bedroom with his mother and three brothers was having trouble getting himself to school and was acting out in class? Is it realistic to think that demanding more of him and his teachers is all that is required?