Privatizing Public Schools

It’s a simple fact, yet one few people can seem to remember: When it comes right down to it, the clientele for New York City’s public schools are not the teachers, the political appointees to local school boards, the bureaucrats at 110 Livingston Street or the teachers’ union. They are, of course, the city’s 1.1 million public school students. But New York’s elected leaders pander to everyone but the students-and these kids could use some pandering. Which is why Schools Chancellor Harold Levy’s plan to privatize several of the city’s worst schools deserves a chance from parents and anyone else concerned about the fact that the city’s current education policies have been turning out an unproductive and uneducated work force for decades.

Of the 105 schools that New York State classifies as its worst, 96 of them are in New York City. Mr. Levy would like to start by taking five of those schools and handing them over to outside education companies such as Edison Schools, which runs schools in San Francisco, Dallas and other cities. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who supports Mr. Levy’s plan, wants to start with 20 schools. These newly minted charter schools would be free of most union rules and Board of Education policies, though students would still have to take the same tests required at public schools. For the conversion to take place, the majority of parents of children attending the school must vote in favor of the change, and are consulted about which company will be awarded the management contract. Naturally, all of this makes the United Federation of Teachers very nervous, and who can blame them? What will they say if the students at privatized schools start outperforming the union-staffed schools?

The harsh reality is that students suffering under the current system’s problems could not do any worse under an alternate method. Years of tinkering with the existing administration and faculty have not been enough. Only by breaking new ground will New York students emerge from the shadow of the education bureaucrats and union leaders who have learned to live with the failures of these schools.

Torricelli’s Latest Scam

It should come as no surprise that New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli has made it known he intends to run for governor of New Jersey, though he has not even completed his first term as a U.S. Senator. Mr. Torricelli knows that most of our recent Presidents have been drawn from the nation’s pool of governors, and he apparently has no intention of working for the sake of New Jersey residents in the Senate when he could be furthering his own Presidential ambitions in the governor’s mansion.

Mr. Torricelli’s ambition isn’t the only thing driving him. A governor, unlike a senator, has endless patronage plums at his disposal: He can appoint all manner of judges and hand out scores of jobs, an ability that is literally worth its weight in gold. And while Senator Torricelli is just one of a crowd in Washington-and one who, it bears noting, has not cracked that city’s social A-list- Governor Torricelli would be Mr. Big Shot in his hometown.

Mr. Torricelli gets antsy if he has to wait. If he served out the rest of his first term in the Senate, and won a second term, he would be able to acquire the kind of seniority that counts for power in Washington, and thereby have the clout to do some good for New Jersey residents. But that would require hard work, quiet intelligence and some civic spirit from a man who’s ability to delay gratification-and to share the spotlight-has never been notable. As has been recently noted, the senator personally made more than 100 stock trades last year, earning $135,000 in capital gains. He held some of the shares he bought for only a few days-and, in some cases, only a few hours. No wonder he found the daily business of the Senate to be such a bore. Surely New Jersey voters will be comforted by the thought of a governor who will keep one eye on his portfolio while attending to such secondary matters as education, health care and the state budget. And in any case, Mr. Torricelli is not politically housebroken; it is hard to imagine he would make an effective governor, a job that requires real collaboration with the state legislature.

Mr. Torricelli’s planned departure means that he will be paying scant attention to his Senate duties over the next two years, since he will need to raise an enormous amount of money to run for governor. If he is determined to run for that office, let him quit the Senate now, rather than just use his current job to get another.

Supermoms, Smart Rats

New York parents are forever looking for ways to turn their children into little geniuses. But the answer may be closer than they think: A little cuddling in the first few years of life can apparently go a long way toward making sure Junior makes the grade later in life. Researchers at McGill University have found that rats raised by nurturing mothers end up scoring higher on intelligence and memory tests than those brought up by less attentive moms. The scientists found that the more the rat pups were stroked, groomed, licked and nursed attentively, the more their brains later showed signs of enhanced connections between nerve cells crucial for learning. Others in the field agree. Bruce McEwen, a neuroendocrinologist at Rockefeller University, told the Associated Press: “The stimulation provided by these mothers is certainly a large part of what causes the brain to develop more extensively.”

The researchers also found that a little nurturing goes a long way: Rats born to neglectful mothers, but taken in by nourishing mothers, upped their intelligence thanks to the supermoms. What about the fathers? Sorry, Dad, but you don’t figure much in this rat race.