Redesigning urban education
How Rutgers students and professors are changing New Jersey’s city schools
Archived article from Mar 8, 2004
By Patricia Lamiell
“Anybody need more money?” Dave DeOliveira shouted above the din of his classroom at the Ridge Street School in Newark. DeOliveira and Lisa Warner, a senior mathematics specialist with the Local Systemic Change Project partnering Rutgers with the Newark public schools, were distributing quarters to a group of energetic eighth graders. None retorted with the obvious, “Yeah, Mr. D., we all need more money.”
They were busy with a problem: If four quarters are tossed into the air, what is the probability that they would come up all heads? As they picked up and tossed the coins, teams of students broke into small groups around the sunny classroom, with its vintage 1911 high ceilings and alabaster-painted walls plastered with inspirational messages and reports on Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman and Jackie Robinson.
Hypothesizing, challenging, discarding and hypothesizing again: The teams rose one by one to an overhead projector to deliver and justify their answers. Warner, who is also a doctoral student in mathematics education at the Graduate School of Education–New Brunswick, guided them with Socratic questioning through their presentations but withheld the answer (6.25 percent) for the next session.
The class at Ridge Street School is just one of Rutgers’ many cooperative programs with urban schools in all three cities—Camden, New Brunswick and Newark—where the university has campuses. The schools serve as “laboratories” for training future teachers and trying out new teaching methods. In exchange, they get Rutgers’ help in rewriting their educational agendas based on the most current research and teaching methods.
The programs are based on the belief that urban students respond to teaching methods that aren’t often used in their schools, says Roberta Y. Schorr, associate professor of mathematics education on the Newark campus and the principal investigator for the Rutgers component of the Local Systemic Change Project. “Notice that we let them grapple with these questions,” Schorr said, while observing DeOliveira’s class. “We create a culture in which thinking is valued, and the kids pick up on that.”
Rutgers’ work in urban schools is part of its mission as the state university of New Jersey. State Supreme Court rulings in recent years have noted that children in poor districts enter kindergarten as much as two years behind their suburban counterparts, and that, absent intervention, the gap widens as they go through school. The court has directed a massive infusion of state resources into thoroughly reforming urban schools, and Rutgers is an important conduit for those resources and a source of expertise.
“It is essential that Rutgers play a role,” said Paul Tractenberg, a professor of law at the School of Law–Newark who has worked since 1970 on education funding and reform issues and is founder and director of the Institute on Education Law and Policy, an interdisciplinary research center on education policy at Rutgers–Newark. “This is a perfect and a crucial marriage to occur now.”
Richard De Lisi, acting dean of the Graduate School of Education (GSE), said that because Rutgers has campuses in three of New Jersey's largest cities, the university is in a position to develop cooperative relationships with urban schools. “This gives us the opportunity to closely study the problems in urban education, which are massive, and to offer our resources, wherever we can, to try to solve them,” De Lisi said. He noted that Rutgers also funnels national funding to urban schools. The Local Systemic Change Project in Newark, for example, is funded by a $5.6 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The Newark program was followed by a $10 million NSF-funded center for learning and teaching called MetroMath: The Center for Mathematics in America’s Cities. MetroMath is a partnership of Rutgers–New Brunswick, Rutgers–Newark, the City University of New York/Graduate Center and the University of Pennsylvania as well as public school districts in Newark, Plainfield, New York City and Philadelphia.
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