If we are to believe all of the research that strongly suggests correlations between student achievement and “environmental” variables outside of the school’s reach, then we have to conclude that the most effective solutions to problems in education must be “localized,” that policies made in Trenton must be fungible so they can be more effectively carried out.
All of the mandates, rules, and requirements coming out of Trenton regarding the curriculum has, based on longitudinal studies, resulted in no statistically significant improvement, and in some areas performance has digressed. No improvement in graduation rates have emerged, and 99 of the 100 worst performing high schools still come from the inner city. Clearly, whatever has been tried has proven ineffective. Maybe what is needed is some counterintuitive thinking, some risk taking, and some radical reform in our State's approach to education.
We have unique problems in the inner city environment, problems ranging from issues at home to the influences and involvement of the local community to the availability of resources to complement learning to the relationship between the schools and stakeholders in the region.
The reason I bring this up is that I believe we need to create what would essentially be a Department of Urban Education. This “Department” should be singularly focused on the inner city and may in fact consider hiring people assigned the task of facilitating the relationship between individual schools or regions with the State, in a sense becoming ombudsmen for these schools. The Department would act as a “support system” for the schools as they try to revamp their culture of learning.
The main issue that this disengagement from the suburban districts would bring involves state mandates and requirements in areas such as testing, curriculum, and graduation. There would be differences between the two; this is not to suggest that we create something “easier” for the urban schools, just different. I strongly believe that there should be a different set of core content standards and a different graduation test for urban schools; our current system gives the impression that our schools are designed solely to prepare kids for college, and that the purpose of the CCCS and HSPA should be to monitor and assess that preparation. But college is not the goal of everyone, nor should it be, and feeding into that mantra is doing a disservice to many of our inner city students. In other blogs I have and will continue to detail what I have in mind as far as the "urban CCCS and HSPA."
This would be an enormous undertaking, but in my mind an absolutely essential one. One of the consequences of this new policy would be a decentralization of decision making from Trenton to the local schools; seeing as that they are primarily responsible for the implementation of new rules or mandates (which I hope would be minimal) and the utilization of any resources provided by Trenton, it just makes more sense that the decisions be made by those most aware of the school and the community. What I would essentially want to do is turn each urban school into the equivalent of a charter school, with all high school teachers drawn from content areas at college and with a performance pay element to their salary structure. This reform idea should make conservatives, as I'm trading an approach heavy on government interference for one that returns education to the local level and draws on local stakeholders to effectively partner with these schools.
A new Department of Urban Education does suggest “more government,” but in reality we are just creating two entities rather than one. It is like slicing the apple in two; you don’t have more apples, just two smaller ones.
Our urban students are on the precipice of a future not much different from their parent(s). The cycle of poverty and over-dependence on State services will continue unabated unless new opportunities are available. It is wonderful when the “fortunate few,” those students, who, with the right support, were able to navigate the system and graduate with a bright future. But it is the responsibility of our society to create a system where opportunity is more broadly accessible, then it is up to the student, with support from the family, to take the reins and help themselves.
By creating an Urban Department of Education we are telling our inner city residents that we care, and isn’t that really what these residents need; some reason to hope. It is my hope we could make this happen.