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9th January

First Published in The New York Sun, January 9, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

Herman Badillo and his new book, “One Nation, One Standard,” will be celebrated today at a luncheon held by the Manhattan Institute, where he will be introduced by Mayor Koch. Even before it hit the stores, the ideas expressed in the book have been a source of controversy because Mr. Badillo takes his fellow Hispanics to task for not stressing the importance of education to their children. “Education is not a high priority in the Hispanic community. … Hispanics have simply failed to recognize the overriding importance of education.”

Mr. Badillo’s standing comes not only from his own ethnic background and service as Bronx president and a member of Congress but also from his service as the chairman of the board of trustees of the City University of New York. After decades of declining reputation brought on by an “open admissions” policy, Mr. Badillo led the charge to end the practice of offering remedial classes for ill-prepared students in the system’s senior colleges. With remediation limited to the system’s two-year community colleges, high standards at the City University have returned and ignited a renaissance.

During the debate over standards at CUNY in 1997, a particular controversy erupted over the bilingual program at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College in the South Bronx. The school was founded in the 1960s to help recent immigrant students pursue higher education while picking up English language skills. A scandal erupted upon discovery that Hostos was graduating students who could not pass the CUNY writing competency exam. That year, of 104 graduating students, only 13 passed. The trustees made passage a prerequisite for obtaining a degree.

That Mr. Badillo was willing to demand that Latino students learn English didn’t sit well with the current generation of Bronx political leaders. Fernando Ferrer, then the Bronx president, and Roberto Ramirez, who was the “boss” of the Bronx Democratic Party, showed up at the Hostos graduation and turned it into what the Daily News called little more than a “four hour political rally that passed as a graduation exercise.” Mr. Ramirez exhorted the students to “honor our Spanish” and described Mr. Badillo as “someone who is one of us and forgot where he came from.”

Two contentious years later, Mr. Badillo, amid oft-repeated charges that minority students would disappear from CUNY campuses, finally won passage of his plan to eliminate remediation from the senior colleges. In the years since, his insistence on high standards appears to have been vindicated. Rather than fewer minority enrollees at CUNY, the number has grown. And in a development no one could have predicted, an impressive number of Gotham’s best and brightest have chosen CUNY’s new Honor’s College above even Ivy League competitors.

Success has not silenced Mr. Badillo’s critics. Rather than embrace his advice and act on it, the Hispanic political leadership is ratcheting up the criticism. In reaction to the tough love Mr. Badillo advocates in “One Nation, One Standard,” according to the New York Post, the Bronx Democratic leader, Assemblyman Jose Rivera “blamed Badillo for educational shortcomings of Latinos — because Badillo held city leadership positions overseeing education under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch. ‘He was part of the system that miseducated our children for many years. We are constantly being shortchanged,’ Mr. Rivera said.”

Another slap came from Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, who for years enjoyed near total control over schools in the south Bronx’s underperforming District 7 under the old decentralized system. “Badillo is an insult to the Hispanic community. I am ashamed of him. … He’s blanquito,” Ms. Arroyo said, according to the Post. She used the Latino equivalent of taunts of “acting white” that are sometimes directed at high achieving students in the African-American community.

Yet the words of a prominent African-American underscore Mr. Badillo’s concern. According to Newsweek, Oprah Winfrey, who has just opened a school in South Africa for young women, became discouraged by her efforts to improve the lot of poor children here. “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going,” Ms. Winfrey said as quoted by Newsweek. “The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there.”

The concerns of both Mr. Badillo and Ms. Winfrey seem to be borne out by a statistic that came out just last week from the city’s Department of Education. Of 184,790 students eligible for free tutoring under the No Child Left Behind law, virtually all are poor and a minority. But only 50,524, or just 27.3%, are taking advantage of the service,

The blame for this shocking statistic cannot be laid at the feet of the “system.” Rather it is time for parents to step up to the plate and begin to take responsibility and advantage. That is the message Mr. Badillo eloquently delivers in his important book — a courageous message for parents who want their children to succeed.

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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