Dealing with the Chronic Ailments in Urban Public Schools
By Hilderbrand Pelzer III
Author of Unlocking Potential
Recently, I wrote a blog article ("Changing the Perception of Urban Public Schools" - coverage found at www.hp3-unlockingpotential.com/blog.html) depicting the way the media colors people’s negative perceptions of struggling urban public schools by focusing on writing stories about their ills. The article was well-received by readers all around the world. The article was intended to turn the conversation away from crime and violence in schools, and instead toward a focus that will generate academic development among struggling schools.
The civil rights data the U.S. Department of Education recently released has freed the elephants from the room, and now allows the media and public to focus on real issues that have been hidden from conversational view for a very long time: Discipline, Curricula, and Teacher Quality. Deal with discipline, curricula, and teacher quality (and funding formulas and resources management – but I will save these issues for another day!), and you have cured what is really ailing struggling urban public schools.
Among the U.S. Department of Education’s key findings are:
· Black boys are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers.
· Non-white students are not offered courses such as Calculus, Physics, or Advanced Placement.
· Teacher quality in schools that enroll mostly black and Hispanic students is characteristically deprived.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the findings are a “wake-up call.” He added, “The power of data is not only in numbers themselves, but the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change . . .”
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali said, “These new data categories are a powerful tool to aid schools and districts in crafting policy, and can unleash the power of research to advance reform in schools.”
But, wait! Haven’t past U.S. Secretaries of Education and high-level government officials said something similar before? Yet, we still tinker around the edges when it comes to addressing education reform in urban areas.
I am encouraging the media to stop focusing on crime, violence, and other negative realities in urban public schools that keep the status quo churning. The public is well aware that crime and violence can occur inside of schools, just like they occur at university campuses, airports, U.S. Post Offices, and other public places. The findings of the U.S. Department of Education provide three alternative universal concentrations for all those concerned with struggling urban public schools that, if tackled, will generate academic growth among struggling urban public schools. The three areas of focus are Discipline, Curricula, and Teacher Quality.
It is common practice for many urban school districts across the nation to set up disciplinary schools in order to have an “educational setting” where they can dump their student code of conduct violators. Once dumped, the students linger without any real educational experience in schools that do not offer academic learning, a scholarly learning environment, or any academic functions or instructional coherence. The concept of “discipline” is all wrong in many urban school districts. The terms discipline, discipline schools, disciplinary process, or disciplinary students are buzzwords for “the end of the road is near.” Even more compelling is the fact that “discipline” is handed out mostly to black and Latino boys and girls, of all ages.
Curriculum and instruction is the heart of a school. If you cut out the school’s heart, then the school will die! The promise of public schools was to foster students’ development and ensure their academic development. Today, this promise is nearly obsolete in so many urban public schools, based on the large numbers of high school dropouts and undereducated youth facing doubtful futures. Many students reach high school, and even the twelfth grade, without competency in the basic subject areas: reading, writing, and math. As a result, struggling urban public schools focus their curriculum and instruction plan and meager resources on remediation programs, credit recovery for over-aged/under-credited students, and summer school for large groups of students who have failed courses during the ten-month school year. These practices make it a herculean task for students to ever complete Physics, Calculus, Advanced Placement, and other college preparation courses.
Low teacher quality plays a major role in creating educational gaps between student groups. Teachers’ low expectations often undermine the educational and academic progress of the very students they are responsible for educating. Components of teacher quality include planning meaningful lessons, delivering instruction, working to encourage improvements in individual student performance, and monitoring academic progress. Teacher commitment—the will to educate all students, regardless of ethnicity, social status, parental support, and poverty—must emanate from within each individual teacher. The key is the desire to deliver instruction to other people’s children with the same veracity, intensity, and desire for success that one would offer one’s own children.
So, stop digging dumping grounds in which to bury disciplinary problems. Instead, focus on resuscitating curriculum and instruction in schools. Recruit and retain high quality teachers and educational leaders. Sensational headlines color people’s perception of urban public schools and damage their confidence in the schools’ capacities and capabilities to perform for students. Urban public schools can perform!
What do you think? I am sure there are other opinions out there. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.
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