Traditional Schools Serve All Who Come

By Lawrence Hardy

Three maps-- one of the nation, another of Europe, a third showing the entire world-- hang from the top of the blackboard of Evan Linhardt’s social studies classroom at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, N.J.

A third-year teacher out of Syracuse University, Linhardt stands beside the maps and explains how the scale of each differs, depending on the size of the area depicted. Then he shows five ninth-graders, facing him in manila desk-chairs and bent over worksheets of their own, how to compute the distances between cities.

“So now we want to take our note card and see how many notches from London to Madrid,” Linhardt says. “From the capital of England to the capital of Spain.”

If this exercise seems more appropriate for fifth or sixth grade than ninth, it’s important to note that all five students in Linhardt’s class receive special education services. At Woodrow Wilson, one of two comprehensive high schools in New Jersey’s poorest city, almost one out of every three students is classified as having special needs.

That’s just one indication of the tremendous challenges Wilson faces, and it’s emblematic of the problems confronting thousands of urban high schools that have long struggled to keep students from dropping out. Now these schools are under the spotlight as never before, their difficulties highlighted by the No Child Left Behind Act and further amplified by the Obama administration.

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