New Math

Beleaguered, the local city school district found itself in such desperate straits that it required outside help.

Pupils were suffering and not graduating, faculty were suffering and demoralized, and suffering citizens, politicians and school board members wrung their own and one another’s hands desperately, if pointlessly, in despair.

Graduation rates barely exceeded an astonishingly low 40 percent. Absenteeism among pupils soared seemingly higher each year, as did pupil suspensions.

Luckily, a local, private university with a long established School of Education – the place at which both teachers and educational administrators are trained – rode in to the rescue. This year, beginning in September, one city high school fell under the university’s management.

And, apparently, things are already looking up.

Last year, in 2014, after only two months of school and before the external management by the university, more than 400 student suspensions had been issued, according to a newspaper report.

This year, in 2015, and during the identical two months into the school year and with university help, the number of student suspensions plummeted from more than 400 to only 65.

The dramatic decrease occurred even though 6th-graders – more pupils – were added to the high school “pool.”

There is no shortage of problems associated with rust belt cities. (Would it help to call them “legacy” cities?)

When it comes to educating city citizens, few doubt the significance of the enterprise toward solving all the other urban problems. But most come up short in generating solutions.

By itself, throwing money at the problem hasn’t and doesn’t seem to make much a difference in the wide and deep well of despair. Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift (regardless of his motives) to the Newark, New Jersey public school system has yet to generate much of a return.

Partnering with prestigious university Schools of Education certainly can’t hurt.

(Cynics are quick to point out: Those can, do; those who can’t, teach; and those who can’t teach become education administrators.)

The drop from 400 to 65 suspensions noted above seems to be supporting evidence.

However, as the local newspaper also reported and without arching its eyebrow, a clever method was responsible for achieving the apparent success: school administrators simply stopped suspending students. Instead of a suspension, students were diverted to special sit-in-a-circle “group session” classes, complete with social workers and a “talking stick.”

Of course simply reclassifying a suspendible offense as one that is non-suspendible does not resolve the problem. It’s a sleight of hand. A nice parlor trick, one that would make even Houdini blush. But it is not a solution.

Perhaps the university educators attended the Abbott and Costello School of Arithmetic. Quick: who knows what 28 divided by 7 is?

13. And Lou proved it with division, addition and multiplication. Look it up.

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