Outstanding Educators of the Year Honored at the Harvard Club
It was a great day for education in New York as the city’s power elite in the world of learning came to the Harvard Club to help Education Update honor 22 outstanding public school administrators and teachers and present its 2007 Distinguished Leader in Education award to George Weiss, founder of “Say Yes to Education.” Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan, City College School of Education Dean Alfred Posamentier, and The City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein all participated in the proud celebration.
In a very thoughtful and provocative keynote address, Chancellor Goldstein put forth a warning and a challenge. “A national security problem for the United States is the paucity of students enrolling in the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” The number of minorities seeking advanced degrees in science is especially low, further exacerbating the problem. “I cannot exaggerate enough the implications for our society,” he said. “The US is lagging further and further behind. More and more places around the globe lead the US.” A glance at science labs in American universities shows a preponderance of foreign students, yet ‘they cannot stay and contribute” because of the “arcane practices in this country about retaining students from abroad.” Currently, 50 percent of engineering degrees in the US go to foreign nationals, and Goldstein predicts a time when 90 percent of all scientists will be Asian. The growing gap between need and production of mathematicians and scientists in the US has been called “a quiet crisis.” Goldstein sees a major attitudinal difference since the mid-50’s when a kind of Marshall Plan for science education was born in response to the Soviet Sputnik. In today’s culture, the understanding that “these are difficult disciplines and you have to work hard and give up things to succeed” is a strong disincentive. To deal with the problem, Goldstein offered a revolutionary plan to spot science talent at an early age and nurture it. “There must be hundreds of, not good, but exceptional students in the city”, he declared. “We have to start very early if we truly want to educate people at the level I’m speaking of. You can’t start in high school. The game is over then.” Once discovered, students would be given “supplemental interventions” to prepare for university work, and, in a unique twist, undergraduate college admission would be coupled with pre-acceptance to a coveted doctoral program at a major university. “It will take commitment and money,” he declared, but, “we must develop a workforce able to compete.”
In a supportive response, UFT’s Weingarten cited New York City’s budget surplus with, “If not now, when.” She also offered positive reminders that, unlike many of our international competitors, the US offers universal access, upward mobility, and a vital middle class. She called for “a decent high school education for all” as a minimum for success and noted the importance of educators who recognize and teach to the needs of each child. Congratulating the teachers being honored, she said, “You have been allowed the gift of teaching, a real gift because in some schools it is not allowed.”
Honoree Weiss was praised for his deep and enduring commitment to success in school for inner-city youngsters. His organization, Say Yes to Education, founded almost twenty years ago, meets a variety of student needs, both academic and nonacademic, and creates vital support systems by also aiding parents and siblings in educational endeavors. He pledges a free college education to participants (“his kids”) who stay in school. Begun in Philadelphia and expanded to Hartford, CT and Cambridge, MA, Say Yes is now in five schools in Harlem. Proud of its successes, Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, president of Say Yes, asks, “How do we do this for all children…not just a group of students in a single school, but a whole district.” Studies to determine how to replicate the program in scale are ongoing and public/private partnerships are being pursued.
Commenting on the Outstanding Educators celebration, Schools Chancellor Klein remarked, “This is an event I look forward to every year. It puts the spotlight where it should be.” Edith Everett, an awards presenter and longtime champion of quality education, remarked, “It is very exciting to personally acknowledge these dedicated individuals. We often think of them in the aggregate, but to see them individually is very inspiring.”#