Redesigning urban education
How Rutgers students and professors are changing New Jersey’s city schools
Archived article from Mar 8, 2004
By Patricia Lamiell
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Numerous other programs put Rutgers faculty and students in classrooms in Newark, New Brunswick and Plainfield (see sidebar). Rutgers’ K-12 education programs are not confined to mathematics or to New Jersey. Lesley M. Morrow, a professor of early childhood education at the GSE and an international expert on early literacy, knows that many urban children fall behind very early in the journey to literacy.
As president of the International Reading Association, Morrow is preaching the necessity of literacy education in preschools in all communities. Last year, she created the Urban Deans Network of education school deans across the country to foster early literacy programs in urban school districts.
Recently, Morrow taught a televised class on preliteracy learning to preschool teachers in Albuquerque from the Distance Learning Room at the GSE in New Brunswick. “I’m getting questions about whether there should be a curriculum in preschool,” Morrow said. “Absolutely! You must have outcome goals.” But, she added, any curriculum needs to be created, selected and adapted for the children being taught. “We cannot assume that one size fits all. Programs must relate to students’ life experiences and build background knowledge for experiences they haven't had. Our kids need more background knowledge. Our children do not have enough information.”
Closer to home, Morrow works with New Jersey teachers and has consulted with schools in New Jersey and nationally to help them tap federal money for the Early Reading First program, part of the 2001 “No Child Left Behind” federal law that makes federal funding to public schools conditional on improved academic standards and compliance with federal mandates, such as allowing children to transfer out of persistently under-performing schools. Her work is aimed at getting preschoolers—especially urban preschoolers—ready to read. “I want to establish Rutgers as a center of excellence in this field,” she said.
It is early to quantify the effectiveness of Rutgers’ urban education efforts, but there are some promises of success. Attendance at International Reading Association workshops on urban educational issues increased from 150 in 2000 to more than 1,000 last year, and Morrow’s Urban Deans Network has scheduled two more national meetings since its inaugural gathering at Rutgers last fall.
Schorr’s Local Systemic Change Project in Newark is being evaluated in class visits by Rutgers education faculty and external evaluators, including the National Science Foundation. Schorr hopes to document that teachers are emerging from the program more knowledgeable about mathematics content and teaching strategies and that students’ standardized math scores will improve.
The MetroMath Center, directed by mathematics professor Joseph G. Rosenstein, hopes to train about 300 teacher leaders for urban public schools in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, and to support the work of 50 doctoral students whose focus is mathematics in the cities. Another goal is to develop a national, interdisciplinary community of educators who will discover what succeeds in urban settings, influence the future direction of research and become a major source of research-based solutions and leadership for the nation.
Schorr, Morrow and Rosenstein will certainly document what works. But to them, success is much more than an academic exercise. “Too many children are never getting the opportunity to be all that they can be. That is a blatant inequity. That is just something that cannot go unchecked,” Schorr said. “We absolutely must put the resources of the university into partnering with the school districts, so that together we can help to ameliorate that situation.”
Rutgers’ involvement in urban schools In addition to the Local Systemic Change Project in Newark and the MetroMath program in New Brunswick, Newark and Plainfield, Rutgers is visible in other K-12 initiatives in urban education. Here is a sampling of offerings:
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