October 18, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 10
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Melvin B. Miller
Editor & Publisher

New academic stars

There is substantial evidence that early education helps children to become academically adept. However, the converse is not necessarily true. There is a belief that students who show academic difficulties in grade four are unlikely to perform at grade level thereafter. The success of Roxbury Prep students on the MCAS tests strikes at that theory, proving that a dynamic pedagogy can transform marginal students into the academic elite.

Roxbury Preparatory Charter School students outperformed every school in Massachusetts on the 2007 eighth grade math MCAS test. Roxbury Prep had the highest percentage of students scoring either proficient or advanced, the two highest categories, on that test. With 94 percent scoring in those categories, Roxbury Prep pupils outscored students at Boston Latin (90 percent) and in the suburbs of Wayland (82 percent), Wellesley (74 percent) and Weston (74 percent).

Students at Roxbury Prep do not come from affluent families; 68 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Unlike Boston Latin, Roxbury Prep is not an exam school for the brightest elementary school students. It is a public school open to any Boston resident with assignment the result of an admissions lottery. All of the school’s 200 students are black, Latino or Asian. Many of the students who enter Roxbury Prep in the sixth grade are academically deficient, but after two years of hard work they are ready to blossom in the eighth grade.

Only slightly less dramatic has been the improvement in MCAS scores among the black students at Brookline High, half of whom are METCO students from Boston. On the 2007 MCAS tests, 74 percent scored proficient or advanced in English and 67 percent were at that level in math. This is a substantial jump from 32 percent in English and 36 percent in math just two years ago. The numbers don’t lie: racial academic disparities at Brookline High are disappearing.

Judging by these two sterling examples, it seems that the secret of success is hard work, together with constant encouragement to assure students that their efforts will be rewarded with demonstrable results.

The politics of genocide

Every civilized society imposes restrictions on the taking of a human life, but there is some debate among industrial nations as to whether the restrictions are severe enough. On one point, however, everyone is unanimous: genocide is uncivilized and unacceptable.

Nonetheless, there are differences of opinion as to what constitutes genocide. Rational people agree that the Jewish Holocaust during World War II constitutes genocide. Germany and Austria, the nations primarily responsible for the slaughter of Jews in Europe, have even passed laws to punish anyone who publicly disputes the reality of the atrocities.

Acknowledgement of the Holocaust has raised human awareness of the enormous cruelties that apparently civilized people are capable of committing. This is a great public service, because publicity about the Holocaust has created an environment in which it is politically unacceptable to endorse genocide.

When Saddam Hussein dropped poison gas on the Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988, he called it military intervention. The International Criminal Court in The Hague called it genocide. When Slobodan Milosevic pursued his policy of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the world saw it as genocide. When the Hutus slaughtered the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, the United States and European countries failed to intervene, but everyone agreed it was genocide.

Now, in the name of a repugnant realpolitik, the president of the United States is ready to deny the right of American citizens of Armenian descent to a formal acknowledgement from their government of the genocide that forced them from Turkey. U.S. public officials are reluctant to anger Turkey, even though the genocide began 92 years ago in 1915 under the Ottoman Empire.

Regardless of political considerations, the only moral policy for civilized nations is never to compromise on matters involving proven cases of genocide.


“It’s surprising what you can do when you believe in yourself…”

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