Hugh Price: Parades, Prizes, and Boot Camps?

It’s not enough to just throw money at a failing school. Think of something new, urges Hugh B. Price, former CEO of the National Urban League. Parades, prizes, and boot camps – they are just some of the suggestions that Price, former CEO of the National Urban League, is likely to put forward in a provocative talk on Wednesday, May 20, at7:30 p.m. at the Nassau Club. His topic: “Urban School Reform: Thinking – and Looking – Outside the Box.” Price’s talk is sponsored by the Princeton Chamber. Register at (Full disclosure: I’m on the committee that scheduled this, and I’m basing this entry on his speeches and writings.)

Known for his turnaround of the National Urban League, which was faltering when he took over as CEO in 1994, Price is now a visiting scholar at Princeton University. A graduate of Amherst College and Yale Law School, he has been a vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation, a member of the editorial board of the New York Times. and has written several books, including the recent “Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed.”

We need to think of innovative ways to inspire urban students, Price says. He proposes that New York City should sponsor a parade down the “canyon of heroes” for all the students who passed their state reading exam. “We have parades for every reason on earth except to celebrate children who are doing well in school.”  He cites how Eleanor Horne, the vice president of Educational Testing Service, spoke at a SAT awareness rally in Columbia, South Carolina. (Horne happens to have been thePrinceton chamber’s honoree and luncheon speaker earlier this month.) You wouldn’t think that an SAT rally would be very popular, but 700 students came, and the event made national news.

Price is also a proponent of transferring the military’s expertise to public education. “The military spends more money understanding human development than any other institution on earth,” Price has said.  “It has a well-deserved reputation for reaching, teaching, and developing young people who are rudderless.”

He wants public schools to find the generic equivalents to military values.  It’s not for nothing that soldiers work for promotions —  rewards and recognition are needed, says Price. Other needed values: a sense of belonging, teamwork, motivation, self discipline, structure and routine, accountability and consequences, safety and security, training and monitoring, and adhering demanding schedules. Most important: valuing and believing that every youngster can succeed. “The military doesn’t believe that its young people are stupid.” When he was at the Rockefeller Foundation, he challenged the National Guard to extend its development expertise to high school students. The result: In 25 years more than 81,000 youngsters have spent two weeks on a military base.

Regarding diversity, Price is worried about what ETS has called “The Perfect Storm.
a report that was explored in a workforce development seminar in February. As a Brookings Institution fellow, in response to a Supreme Court ruling, Price wrote, “The argument that integration and diversity comprise a compelling state interest is even more convincing in the case of public schools, because a vastly broader swath of future citizens would experience the advantages of diversity. Looking to the future, the
U.S. economy will rely increasingly on minority workers, entrepreneurs, and taxpyaers who represent a growing segment of the population. Yet black and Latino pupils in particular are concentrated in the nation’s lowest performing schools with the least able teachers and most inadequate facilities… 

Price has not been afraid to challenge the establishment, and I’m curious to learn what he will say about Trenton and Camden schools, versus the schools in more privileged municipalities. I grew up in Baltimore County, where all schools got the same amount of money, but I can’t imagine Princeton schools agreeing to merge with any neighboring school system, let alone Trenton‘s. Short of consolidation, what can we do to help educate everybody’s children, not just our own? 



3 thoughts on “Hugh Price: Parades, Prizes, and Boot Camps?

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