Spotlight on education
Rita Papazian
Norwalk-Citizen News
Published: Friday, October 1, 2010


I feel as if this large spotlight has been strung in the sky illuminating the education system in the United States.

It seems everywhere one turns there is a news article, a movie review, a talk show, a morning news program, a press conference and then there's Oprah all talking about education.

All of a sudden Mark Zuckerberg, the son of a dentist from Westchester County, a Harvard dropout, the founder and CEO of Facebook, considered to be the type of personality that would never use social networking, is chatting it up with Oprah Winfrey, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as Zuckerberg announces a $100 million matching grant for the Newark Public Schools System. The announcement came weeks after New Jersey lost an opportunity for a reported $400 million federal grant for what some report was a clerical error.

Zuckerberg announced his challenge grant on the day the movie, "The Social Network," was released.

The film is a fictional account of Facebook's founding. That movie is garnering headlines along with a documentary, "Waiting For Superman," which focuses on one man's quest to improve the public schools in Harlem.

Add to the mix, NBC's "Education Nation," programming this week, which is continuing the dialogue about the state of education in this country today and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's four-pronged educational plan to improve his city's public schools.

There's even a new reality show, "Teach" beginning this evening on A& E that chronicles actor Tony Danza's one year teaching English in a Philadelphia high school.

As an adjunct professor at a community college, the mother of three adult children (and their spouses) who all have earned graduate degrees and now keep up a continual dialogue about learning with their own children, I've been following these very exciting announcements.

Bloomberg announced that the City of New York and IBM have partnered to create a high school for students in grades 9 through 14, so by the time they graduate they will have earned an associate's degree and a guaranteed job waiting for them at IBM.

In addition, the mayor plans to work toward additional public and private partnerships, improve classroom technology and build 100 new small schools and 100 charter schools over the next three years. He also wants to address the tenure issue and eliminate the guaranteed job security and also change the layoff policy in which the newest teacher is the first to go.

Incidentally, the Zuckerberg challenge grant comes with a few strings including the fact that Mayor Booker must continue to be mayor to oversee how the money is spent and reportedly Zuckerberg will have a say in the implementation.

Of all the recent news about grants and education plans, what really got my attention this week was listening to Tony Danza plugging his reality show, but at the same time, making some astute comments about education and his experience as a teacher. He noted that there's been so much emphasis on the teachers; he reminds people that we live in a "crazy culture" and that "parents have to be involved."

Following Oprah's show announcing Zuckerberg's challenge grant and talks about how school systems must get rid of the bad teachers and reward the good teachers, Oprah received a number of calls criticizing the program's focus on teachers with no mention of the responsibility parents play in their children's education.

And as, Danza noted, one cannot discount the culture and its influences on young people today.

Children attend school one third of their day; the rest is spent out in the community or at home, the responsibility of their parents. Consider the influences: drugs, alcohol, sex, television, peer pressure, unsupervised hours, divorce, financial pressures, etc.

Educating a child takes a partnership among the parents, educators, the business community, religious organizations and the community at-large. None is to be discounted, especially the role of parents, which is a 24-7 responsibility.

It is exciting to learn about the new directions, plans and goals that these urban school systems, such as Newark and New York, are taking. Smaller schools, longer school days, extending school curriculum through the earning of an associate's degree with a guaranteed job after graduation is exciting. Not only does such a plan encourage students to continue their education after high school, but also addresses the financial burdens that come with attending graduate school.

This semester with my own experience teaching at a community college, I have noticed that the majority of my students represent the traditional student who just graduated high school and who would normally have gone onto to a four-year college or university, which most likely would have included room and board, Instead, with the economy and the financial pressures many households are facing, these students and their parents see the financial benefits in earning an associate's degree and then, if the student chooses, go on to a four-year college. Such a plan saves the family money and also gives the student opportunity to experience higher education without a full financial commitment.

While this country has lacked behind in educating its youth and fails badly when it comes to comparisons with the educational accomplishments of other countries, it is good news to see the attention public education is getting. But, let's keep in mind, educating a child begins at birth. Or, as this week's Time magazine notes, there are many factors that begin in the womb.

Rita Papazian is a freelance writer who has covered Norwalk extensively. She can be reached at ritapap@comcast.net

Copyright 2011 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.