Taking urban public schools as they are, what strategies hold most promise for improving education and educational outcomes in high-poverty schools? Or is it simply unrealistic to expect significant and sustained improvements across the board in such schools? Answer with respect to the insights from the chapters from Our Schools Suck (particularly with respect to the question of promoting educational and civic engagement in high poverty schools), as well as the perspectives of Sentinels, Ryan, and our classroom visitors.
The perspectives of the authors we read and the lassoer visitors reflect a large presence and deep understanding of the barriers to significant and sustained improvements in high poverty schools. However, our interactions generally concluded on a constructive and hopeful note and the belief that improvements are necessary and possible.
Three main strategies emerge to hold most promise for improving education and educational outcomes in high-poverty schools: improving staff (teachers and principals); increasing diversity; and student activism & organizations – all in conjunction with creating more supportive environments for the youth and building a sense of community, rather than only sousing on the physical aspect of the schools themselves. All the opinions examined emphasized the importance of the principal and teachers.
Ryan, in “Five Miles Away, a World Apart”, identifies good principals and teacher as being “especially’ influential amongst various factors that are directly related to academic achievement. Don Coleman, a Richmond Public Schools board member strongly emphasized that one of the most important steps, apart from alleviating poverty and improving the neighborhood in general, is ensuring the people who directly run the schools and interact with the children are chosen carefully.
The principal and staff of the schools are ultimately the ones who are most influential in terms of the final learning experience and outcomes of each child. Of course, lack of resources, family backgrounds of students, rules and regulations etc. Do hinder their achievements, but many examples have proven that a passionate and committed teacher and/or principal can do great things with their students despite such obstacles.
Guidance counselors are mentioned by the three authors, Ryan, Sentinels and Us, and it is evident that they have a valuable role in shaping the students’ lives by leveraging heir education and available opportunities to succeed. This is one of the main challenges that the public education system faces, especially in high poverty schools given that the insufficiency of funding results in over worked and under paid teacher positions. Developing an effective strategy to attract and keep good teachers on a long term basis is essential.
Teach for America has its positives of attract young, enthusiastic, creative individuals as teachers for high poverty schools, however, it is limited to being short term and the fact that these recruits are not trained undermines the well intentioned strategy. Allison Devalued, who participated in the Teach For America programmer gave us first hand insights on the importance of cooperative, understanding and insightful principals/administrators alongside passionate teacher.
For example, instead of doing less necessary time-consuming tasks, the administrative staff should also be actively involved with students, Justice and civil society By reiterated She did however, point out the need for systematic level changes to bring in more resources to complement this strategy, emphasizing that simply having better and more involved teachers and principals would not be sustainable on large scale and in he long term. Another approach that most people see as promising is increasing diversity as a means to drawing more attention and resources to these high poverty schools.
The exposure, intrinsic educational values and overall community building effects of increased integration and diversity seem to be compelling means to improved educational outcomes of high poverty schools. Connecting schools and increasing diversity within them stands out as a fundamental strategy in improving education in high poverty schools, according to Ryan. He points out how “despite the recommit of their schools, Freeman and Tee-Jay students have little contact with and almost no knowledge of each other” and that they, “like Richmond and Henries, are separate physically, financially, academically, and politically’.
Apart from the inherent values of diversity in a learning environment, increased racial and socio-economic diversity also brings political benefits and greater accountability to schools. A major cause for these inequalities amongst schools lies in the lack of ‘political clout’ of urban school systems that middle class families bring, in the form of their own time, educational background and political savvy. Ryan, 2010) ‘Integration brings both direct and indirect benefits that cannot be replicated by other reforms” (Ryan, 2010).
Integrated schools, like middle income schools are more likely to have “strong principals, talented and engaged teachers, reasonable class size, a rich curriculum, high expectations on the part of teacher and students alike, adequate facilities and active parents”, that are all related to academic achievement. Regarding other strategies, Ryan (2010) says that efforts for “desegregation remained confined to Richmond; school finance reform faltered in court; and choice across district lines ever received serious consideration” and the “tests do relatively little to ensure that students at the two schools are taught the same material”.
Therefore, he proposes increased racial and socio-economic integration as the most effective and necessary strategy. According to Devalued, the majority black low income children can still do as well as those from high income families if given conducive opportunities. She too believes that the effectiveness of this strategy lies in the resources that middle and high income students would bring in terms of parents’ time, concerns, efforts and bargaining power.
Amongst strategies for increasing diversity, Ryan (2010) admits that socioeconomic integration is easier since these efforts ‘do not trigger the same sort of intensive Judicial scrutiny and are less ‘controversial politically than racial integration’. Racial diversity however, should be embraced as goal. Only focusing on academics and ignoring social aspects of education is short sighted, according to Ryan. The changing demographics, of younger middle income families that are moving into urban districts are promising.
Developing “creative and ways to attract and retain these families is the single most important task school districts could undertake”, according to Ryan (2010). Kim Bridges also supported this approach. While talking about the progress in Richmond public education, she cited the example of one particular urban community where both black and white of different socioeconomic classes are working together and investing in the development of the believes that encouraging families to work together in this manner to consciously and collectively participate in creating a conducive learning environment for their children is the emerging strategy.
She also mentioned new community schools that encourage continuing education, social service and recreation. These schools have the potential to make change in the community and the life of the children outside classes. Don Coleman also stressed on a community based approach, explaining that the focus should be on a system of schools rather than public vs.. Private vs.. Charter schools.
Further, the idea of community schools underlines the importance of the change required in the atmosphere and collaboration in neighborhoods which are crucial in maintaining a stable environment for the children and are essential factors in the healthy development and education of children. Such community based initiatives would also enable and empower the students to use their after-school programmer to nurture and sustain the child’s enthusiasm, creativity, and academic skills.
This leads on to the strategy that is explored in more depth “Our Schools Suck” by Us. Improving education and education outcomes I high poverty schools required more than efforts and changes within the schools and public school system. It calls for changes in the community and its attitude towards the children. Despite variations in these experts’ perspectives on how education should be improved, there s a general agreement on the importance of motivation of students, teachers and all others involved, by giving recognition and building trust.
Our schools suck draws largely from primary accounts of students in high poverty schools. The quote, “If we were adults, they wouldn’t treat us like that” (Us, 2009) serves to introduce the main strategy that Us believes has the potential to improve education in high poverty urban schools. Throughout the book, she emphasizes the importance of creating a supportive understanding, trusting atmosphere for youth and thus empowering hem to achieve and drive the necessary changes in urban schools and education systems.
Although Us agrees and appreciates the role of increasing diversity as an educational aim and tool to improve educational outcomes in these schools, she seems to put more emphasis on empowering the youth to be active agents of change. She does admit that the former approach is generally more acceptable in society quoting the example of how affluent middle-class families driving reform through parent campaigns and protests are seen as “legitimate and praiseworthy’, whereas low income inner city students pushing for similar policy changes are labeled as insolent rather than insightful” (Us, 2009).
She does acknowledge the barriers that segregation creates and the consequent the importance of integration, however she seems to advocate for student empowerment more strongly. Our schools suck present various successes of student initiatives to drive change, proving that this approach is effective. For example, student protests organized by Kids First! Were the cause of the $27 subsidy for monthly bus passes for low income families (Us, 2009).
In New York, Make the Road by Walking “convinced Bushwhack High School to open a second entrance so that students would not have to wait” long hours and waste valuable learning time (Us, 2009). The target group of efforts to improve education is students and youth and therefore, it makes them by default the ones who need to play a prominent role. Student organizations such as SUB are vehicles of improvements would mean the most. “SUB gave them the confidence they needed to relies that other people were on their side, that their opinions mattered, and that collectively, their hard work would pay off’ (Us, 2009).
These organizations also encourage self-help mechanisms for the students by allowing them to connect with ACH other and pursue initiatives such as the peer tutoring programmer set up by SUB. A belief in the power of collective effort and building a sense of community runs is common to all the ideologies and strategies of the educational experts sourced in this paper. The major challenges that organizations like SIBS face are the unresponsiveness of adults to their ideas and their own difficulty envisioning what a good school would look like, due to their limited experiences.
By helping them overcome these two challenges, the process of improving education in high poverty school can be facilitated. The attitude towards the youth needs to change. Their ideas and efforts need to be treated with respect and taken seriously rather than be dismissed. Society’s and authorities’ actions need to match the expectations they have of the youth – if students are expected to be responsible then they need to be treated as if they are responsible.
Us clearly criticizes those that attribute a ‘culture of failure’ amongst these youth to be the reason for their low achievement. She points out how “we should not assume that good students are ones who value education the most, and more pointedly, that those who struggle in school do not are”. ” A focus on the supposed values and preoccupations of inner-city students blames them for their failures while denying them the basic services all youth need to succeed”(Us, 2009).
She also supports increasing diversity as a part of this strategy, since a diverse an integrated school will remove the opportunity blaming the inadequacies of the urban schools and the underachievement of their students on insignificant attributes and often untrue stereotypes of the students. Therefore, she acknowledges the need for increased resources, better management and diversity in order to improve education in high poverty urban schools and she advocates the strategy of student activism and organization to drive these changes.
She says that these students are not simply looking for lower standards – they get excited when challenged and make progress, yet “they need some structural means of empowerment before explicitly tackling their own roles in school”(Us, 2009). She highlights that society’s role in this strategy is provide a more supportive and encouraging environment for these initiatives. She further stresses that more than physical resources, it is the mental and emotional support and motivation, that dents in high poverty schools need to achieve.
Further, these students need to be exposed to what consistent good schooling looks like, something that they may never have experienced before. They need to be empowered with a sense of entitlement to a good school and education. Lastly, through the insights from the various sources, it seems that political motives too often divert and may even pose obstacles towards substantial improvements for education in high poverty schools. The lack of incentive and disincentives of politicians and political systems to take necessary steps to improve education hinder efforts that may otherwise be successful.