Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Urban and Suburban Schools

This past Sunday I was fortunate enough to have an Op Ed printed in the Trenton Times. The main point of the piece was that there are fundamental differences between urban and suburban schools, differences supported by empirical evidence, and that the only way we are going to make any gains in the performance of these schools is to create a unique set of curriculum standards and a unique set of tests to evaluate teacher efficacy and student outcomes.

The “two prong” approach entails creating an agency at the State level singularly committed to the plight of urban schools and to loosen the grip on these schools by in essence treating each of these schools as charter schools.

Unfortunately, even with these changes I am not sanguine about the prospects for improvement. This is mainly due to my belief that the culture of the schools and student performance at school is inextricably linked to the demographics of the community. Until we can find a way to create greater socioeconomic diversity, these schools will be resigned to failure, regardless of what we are able to do in the schools. My hope is that if we can create some real improvement in the schools then we might be able to utilize financial inducements and create incentives to induce middle class families to move into the inner city and attend these public schools.

I am adamant about the need to create academic and co-curricular programs that are student-centered, based on student interests and tailored to meet the particular needs of inner city students whose career paths will for the most part be vastly different from the paths of students in suburban communities, students who are to an overwhelming degree being steered to college.

Though the schools will be student centered, they will also be teacher centered to the extent that teachers, cognizant of student interests and knowledgeable of the skill sets that these students need, will be free to design their own courses, courses that reflect the personal passions and knowledge of the faculty.

Finally it is important to understand that I am in no way making an expression of student “inadequacy” or inability to handle a rigorous academic program. Quite the contrary, I believe that many inner city students are capable of high level work and are currently being presented with coursework that lacks relevancy and challenge, that a culture of academic mediocrity has permeated these inner city schools. What I advocate is not an “easier” academic program, just a different one. I know this “smacks” of “separate but equal,” and I concede that this is the case. But I’m not going to run away from the statement. Decades ago when resources were clearly allocated by race, the expression was a canard. In today’s world, I do not believe it to be true.

Improving student performance in the inner city is a moral issue, touching on issues of equality of opportunity, fairness, and justice. We have a duty to improve the performance of these schools, but there is admittedly only so much that can be done by the schools alone. Parents in the inner city are obligated to do a better job advocating for their children and encouraging them to aspire achievement. They must spend less of their discretionary money on leisure, and more on resources that will benefit their children in school. We are all I this together; we all have a part to play. It is incumbent on our political leaders to do their share by creating an agency dedicated to our inner city schools. Once they make this commitment, it will be much easier to get other stakeholders on board. As that great philosopher Larry the Cable Guy so eloquently puts it: “Let’s get ‘er done.”

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