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THOMPSON: Getting to the Core

 I had forgotten the ending of Katherine Boo’s wonderful story of Denver  superintendent Michael Bennet and his efforDenialt to "save" 558 students at Manual High, a school he was shutting down. The story closes with the words of Noberto, one of the featured students, "‘The eleven-year old with the Uzi, no one wants to get to the core of it."

But what if we all tried to get to the core of "it," the challenge of turning around our toughest schools? Honestly, what would it really take to transform "teenagers who hadn’t had a decent year of schooling in their lives?"

Boo wrote, "Other ambitious superintendents admit privately that radical reform has its collateral costs, and that students like Noberto bear them. Compared to pliable second graders, teen-agers are a poor investment." But Bennet devised a plan for at-risk high school students where "computer programs would track their performance - a failed test here, a week of unexplained absence there - and identify those who might need extra help." Is there any reason (other than denial)  why society did not start those efforts with elementary students when they were still pliable?

In her brilliant ending, Boo wrote "Bennet considered the instruments of standardized testing primitive, and their results incomplete ... Still, if a person held the numbers up to a certain light, after a celebratory Bourbon, he might see in them the power of plain and unrelenting expectation."

Perhaps that is the synthesis that Obama is seeking. There is nothing wrong with the intoxicating desire to cure all, as long as we wake up the next morning and get to the core of the world as it really is.


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