Denise Johnson: The aggressive educator

  • Article by: Denise Johnson
  • Updated: June 8, 2009 - 7:45 PM

FROM APPEARANCES ON CNN, "60 MINUTES'' AND OPRAH, Geoffrey Canada has become a familiar national commentator on strategies to close the achievement gap in education among low-income students. ¶ Raised in a tough New York neighborhood himself, Canada earned a graduate degree in education from Harvard, then returned home to teach. Frustrated that traditional schools weren't making progress with poor African-American students, he designed a system of social and educational services, including charter schools, to surround kids and families with support. Called the Harlem Children's Zone, the effort is now a $60 million program that serves about 8,000 youths. He is also the author of several books about raising boys and about the culture of violence. ¶ Recently, conservative columnist David Brooks praised the Zone's "no-excuses'' approach for producing student gains that have eliminated -- not just narrowed -- black/white disparities. Minneapolis Foundation leaders recently brought Canada to the Twin Cities. Following are excerpts from a speeech he gave and from a separate conversation with Star Tribune editorial writer Denise Johnson. THE PROBLEM

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linolsonJun. 9, 09 6:28 AM

The problem with reforming education is not that no one knows what needs to be done. The problem is everyone thinks someone else is the reason nothing changes. The legislature thinks education only can happen between Labor Day and Memorial Day and that education has a lower priority than other interests. Educational bureaucrats erroneously believe that mandated tests reveal how much kids know about a given subject. Parents don’t want to spend the needed time to be involved in their children’s education because it takes time away from what they want to do. The teachers unions don’t want to implement a pay-for-performance plan (Q-Comp) unless it guarantees that MN is Lake Woebegone and all teachers are above average. Administrators and school boards are reluctant to make the changes necessary because they know they will get all kinds of negative push back from taxpayers, parents, students, and teachers from any really big substantive changes. So any changes in the education system will continue to be baby steps when there really needs to be giant strides. Unless the attitude toward education changes the US will continue to lose ground as a world leader in discovering/creating the innovations that make a difference in the lives of people around the world.

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sentientbeeJun. 9, 09 8:01 AM

His "child zone" curriculum, his big fat consultant & speaker fees... Let's see, since using a corporate model to run urban education was a disaster, how about we try...MILITARIZATION AND CHURCH!!! Militarization & churchifying of the public schools by conservative African American Harvard Education School grads (hint: look at the recent crop of supts in St Paul for proponents of this model) isn't the answer--it is just the current model being thrown at urban education, so the testing industry can remain BIG BIZ.

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eggplant23Jun. 9, 09 9:45 AM

good students if their non-academic lives are in tatters. (Broken homes, violence, substance abuse, poor nutrition, etc.) "Provide all the support services that families need -- health care, dental, meals -- to support education." Teachers can only motivate students who are in a position to want to learn. It is easy to indict the amorphous "education system"--but those serious about change start with one student, one school, one neighborhood at a time, and make decisions based on what is best for students.

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davehougJun. 9, 0911:52 AM

I will bet that the student with the A's has parents that CARE about helping with homework, reviewing assignments, asking teachers about subjects to understand well and help explain to their children. In short, all the resources in the article are good and valuable, but I'd wish caring parents on a student first. Ask a teacher if they see more parents of A students or F students at parent-teacher conferences. davehoug@comcast.net

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mohawk1953Jun. 9, 0912:30 PM

60 million, 8000 students = $7,500/student. Compare this to the Mpls school district budget that is close to $20,000/student, and decide if you think they are getting all they can out of their budget here. You don't need an enormous budget to produce. What you do need is involved teachers, parents, families, and neighborhoods, and the ability to not accept lame excuses for failing. The kids in Harlem could have used all the excuses we hear from school officials, politicians, and "community leaders" in Mpls, but instead they chose to move forward and kick some educational butt.

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