Can these schools be saved?

Salon's week-long look at the state of America's public schools

Topics: Education,

All across America, the two major presidential candidates are climbing behind tiny desks and perching awkwardly on little chairs in classrooms great and small, to prove their devotion to the issue voters say is the country’s most pressing: reforming American schools. With roughly 90 — 90! — school visits between them, and almost six months until the election, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush have dutifully eaten bad cafeteria food and read themselves hoarse in their quest to become our “education president.”

The bad news is that, as Bush likes to say, neither man is running for school superintendent, and the federal role in education funding and regulation is comparatively small, contributing about 7 percent of all school funds. The good news is that the presidency, and a presidential race, provides an unrivalled bully pulpit for a national conversation about the sorry state of America’s public schools, one that is long overdue.

There’s more good news: In the last few years, the school reform debate has become a good deal less polarized. Last month the American Federation of Teachers — often skeptical about proposals to improve teacher performance — endorsed tougher standards for its members, a small but important step toward improving the nation’s teaching force. Meanwhile, last week in New York, there was barely a murmur about the fact that new schools Chancellor Harold Levy happens to be white — New York’s first white chancellor in 15 years — showing that race is no longer quite as divisive, within the public school reform coalition, as it has been for the last three decades. And the very same week, San Francisco chose its first black superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, to lead a district that is only 10 percent African American — another sign that competence is becoming more important than color when choosing school leaders.

And most education reformers on the left and the right today agree on the need for some form of school choice. Although vouchers still rankle most Democrats, the charter school movement has the backing of many advocates for poor and minority kids, who believe that the publicly funded, privately managed experimental schools can give them the freedom to put student achievement before bureaucratic mandates.



Even vouchers are getting their chance, in Cleveland, Milwaukee and some Florida cities — though the Cleveland and Florida experiments have been challenged in court. And today the coalition behind vouchers includes some minority parents and fed-up school reformers who are ready to try anything to improve educational options for low-income kids.

Now, back to the bad news: We are trying anything, and everything, in our zeal to reform troubled schools, and much of it isn’t working. This week Salon zeroes in on public education with the series “Can These Schools Be Saved?” We’ll look at innovative efforts to reform public schools, and what such initiatives have — and haven’t — achieved.

On Monday, Louis Freedberg looks at one of Washington’s best public high schools, Woodrow Wilson High — the school Gore could have, but didn’t, send his children to — and compares it to Sidwell Friends, the private school attended by young Albert Gore and Chelsea Clinton. Jennifer Sweeney asks why we insist parents make a political statement out of where their children attend school in the first place.

Tuesday, Eve Pell examines White Hat Management, a for-profit company that runs a chain of charter schools in Ohio. Founder David Brennan avidly defends his philosophy: “Are we hurting children because we are doing a good job with them? If we are able to make a profit out of an enterprise where everybody else is losing money, is that bad?”

Wednesday, Salon looks at vouchers: Steven Talbot examines Cleveland’s far-reaching, uneven experiment with providing public funds to private schools, while Stanley Crouch asks why conservatives devote virtually all their education-reform energy to vouchers, which even if passed can’t serve more than a fraction of the low-income kids in bad schools.

Thursday, Jonathan Schorr takes a look at nonprofit charter schools, and compares a success story in East Palo Alto, Calif., with a failure in nearby Oakland to examine the promise, and the limits, of the charter school strategy.

Friday, James Traub weighs in with his take on the curriculum wars, asking why so many education reformers have stuck with so-called progressive “student-centered” teaching strategies, though research shows that traditional, teacher-directed curriculum — yes, that includes the dreaded phonics — leads to improved student achievement. And former teacher Catherine Davis writes about how teacher-directed curriculum can be mowed down and manipulated in wealthy school districts where parents donate big bucks and then expect to have control over curriculum and school policy decisions.

Salon will continue this series on public education regularly throughout this election year and beyond.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>