2011-04-08 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Teach Children To Be Citizens, Not Test Takers
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

The future lies in our children, and we are failing them. In March, Newsweek reported some very disturbing data. According to the magazine, when they “recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president, 73 percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War, 44 percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights, and 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar.”

Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker told Newsweek that one of the most important factors that have created this lack of knowledge is the different curriculums that run throughout the education systems in this country. “When you have more centrally managed curricula, you have more common knowledge and a stronger civic culture.”

Mayor Bloomberg is extremely proud of the changes that have been made under mayoral control of the public school system since he has been in office. Last March the city reported that high school graduation rates went up. But, just last month, as a result of an audit, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli – while he agreed that graduation rates are rising – said his audit showed that they were not as high as first reported by the city. The graduation rate, between the 2004 and 2008 school years may have been as low as 62.9 percent, rather than the 65.5 percent as reported by the DOE.

According to a gothamist.com article from February 2010, the New York State Department of Education found that, “Of the 64.5 percent of 2009’s high school graduates, only 22.8 percent were reportedly ‘college and careerready’ upon graduation.” The article goes on to say that, “Of the 60.4 percent of black students who graduated in the city in 2009, the state estimates that just 12.7 percent are ‘college-ready.’ And of the 79.2 percent of white students who graduated, 42.5 percent are ‘college ready.’ ”

The scope of what students are supposed to learn in New York City schools is mind-boggling. From kindergarten to middle school, students are supposed to learn their rights and responsibilities as citizens, how their communities compare with others, local history and government, the history of the Western Hemisphere, the Eastern Hemisphere, and United States and New York State history. In high school they start on global history and geography and move on to history dating back to 4000 BCE to the Scientific Revolution, the age of enlightenment in Europe, industrialization, and history of the 20th Century. All of the preceding information, by the way, comes from the DOE website.

Now I say ‘what students are supposed to learn’ because these days students are so busy learning how to take a test, and teachers are busy teaching them these skills that there is precious little time for learning the history of where they live, their country and the rest of the world, and the responsibilities that come with all of that.

While math and science are the main focus in our city’s public schools, there are places that have found ways to keep the balance. Such schools as the Challenge Preparatory Charter School in Arverne give children daily instruction in social studies while still preparing them for a world where science and math will be necessary; and in New Jersey, all of Rahway High School’s social studies classes are held five days a week. Unfortunately, these seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Bloomberg’s former schools Chancellor Joel Klein and now current Chancellor Kathie Black adherence to the method of teaching to the test has taken away important classroom time from subjects such as history. That only impedes students when they graduate, if they graduate, and move on to higher education. If they are not college-ready, they will have to take remedial courses during their first semesters in college to get ready.

Whether students go on to college or not, the children of New York will find that their future is in jeopardy because they’re not learning to be well-rounded citizens.

The government uses a list of 100 questions from which citizenship test questions are used. Six of 10 questions must be answered correctly to pass the test. If you’re interested in the types of questions on the test and what our children should be learning in school go to http://www.newsweek.com/2011/03/20/t ake-the-quiz-what-we-don-tknow/ america-s-founding-question- 1.html or http://usgovinfo.about.com/ library/blinstst_ new.htm to take the test.

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