Issue Date: 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.
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:
• The LEAP Academy University Charter School, which enhances opportunities for the children and families of Camden through integrated education, health and human service programs, enrolls prekindergarten through seventh-grade students. LEAP High School enrolls students in grades eight through 11. The high school will open at a new building next fall at North Sixth and Cooper streets. The LEAP (Leadership, Education and Partnership) initiative is carried out by the Center for Strategic Urban Community Leadership at Rutgers–Camden, in collaborative partnership with Rutgers–Camden and several other higher education, business, government, philanthropic and community partners. In addition to state and federal per-pupil allocations, LEAP programs are funded by private donors, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
• A $1.2 million grant from the Knight Foundation funds training of prekindergarten teachers in strategies for teaching literacy and preliteracy skills in Camden. • The Educational Policy and Leadership track within the Camden campus’s two-year master’s of public administration (MPA) includes a one-year internship with a mentor principal in Camden. Successful participants will earn an MPA degree and become certified as school principals.
• A state-financed science instructional lab designed by Rutgers faculty at the Lincoln Professional Development School is used by GSE–New Brunswick faculty to teach master’s in science education students and working science teachers; Lincoln School students also take science classes there.
• The Reader Fluency Project at the GSE–New Brunswick received $1 million out of a total $5 million from various national funding sources to work with teachers on improving reading skills in second-graders. Work is concluding in North Plainfield and commencing in Rahway.
• The America Reads program trains about 60 undergraduates a year to be tutors of reading in the New Brunswick Public Schools. They tutor about 200 children in the course of the school year as Federal Work Study program participants.
• The New Jersey Math-Science Partnership, based at the Center for Math, Science and Computer Education at Rutgers–New Brunswick, unites Rutgers, Rowan and Kean universities with 12 school districts across New Jersey to improve the teaching of mathematics and science and raise student achievement from prekindergarten through 12th grade. Funded by the National Science Foundation and New Jersey state funds, the NJ MSP works in classrooms in Asbury Park, Bound Brook, Bridgeton, Millville, New Brunswick, Phillipsburg, Plainfield, Roselle, South Bound Brook, Toms River, Union City and Vineland.
• "Allies in Teaching Mathematics and Technology," funded by a $480,000 grant to Rutgers–Newark from the Lucent Foundation, works with Newark high schools to help them implement the meaningful use of technologies in mathematics.
• Project M.O.S.T. (Middle School Opportunities in Science and Technology) provides tutoring and science enrichment for Newark middle-school students on the Newark campus. The project is in its third year of connecting Rutgers-Newark undergraduate science and mathematics majors with at-risk Newark public school students, first as sixth- graders and continuing through eighth grade. The goals of the program are to improve the educational performance and aspirations of the school children and promote an interest in science careers among socially and educationally disadvantaged youth. The project, which received a $300,000 grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation, is administered by the Rutgers Academic Foundations Center at Rutgers-Newark in collaboration with Newark Public Schools.
• The Robert B. Davis Institute for Learning, a joint institute of the GSE–New Brunswick and Rutgers–Newark based at the GSE–New Brunswick, works with the Plainfield public schools in professional teacher development in mathematics. Plainfield is one of 12 participating districts in the New Jersey Math-Science Partnership, based at the Center for Math, Science and Computer Education at Rutgers–New Brunswick, as well as a target district for MetroMath. With a three-year, $1.3-million research grant from the National Science Foundation, the institute is following the development of mathematical reasoning among middle-school students in Plainfield and investigating how this development can be facilitated in an informal, after-school environment.
This article was published in the Mar 8, 2004 edition of the Rutgers Focus and is available online at http://urwebsrv.rutgers.edu/focus/article/link/1280/