Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's Not Just Schools

While we're spotlighting some special comments by our readers, we don't want to overlook the following which was posted by our fellow blogger fieldguidetomemphis in response to our post about the search for a superintendent of Memphis City Schools:

The future superintendent will have his/her hands full in dealing with the myriad interconnected problems facing children in Memphis who attend public schools. And it is so incredibly important that s/he understand that all of the problems hold hands - schools are microcosms of the community.

There seem to be three interrelated key issues that keep surfacing: test scores, dropout rates and the effects of poverty. Kids in poverty tend to have lower test scores and be at risk for dropping out, and they cost more to educate.

We might consider the idea that test scores in Memphis are actually higher because 1 in 3 students does not graduate from high school. If we were to retain these students who are likely behind their peers in reading, math and science, the test scores that - while on par with the state - are somewhat discouraging might be even more so if the dropouts contributed to the achievement tests.

This is a tremendous quandary. What do we do? If we kept more kids in school, our test scores could drop, jeopardizing AYP and succeeding under NCLB. But what is the alternative? Are we supposed to let kids drop out in droves to be scooped up by the prison system? To be scooped up by social services? To end up with dead-end low-paying jobs with no career ladders? Are we supposed to lower the bar so it's easier to pass the tests, to make the grade and to graduate?

Or do we hold on to higher standards and make everyone accountable and make the processes of determining achievement more transparent and less labyrinth-like? (This gets my vote.)

We all have to acknowledge that every child is worth saving. Every child is worth our investment. The future of children in economically and racially segregated schools is intimately tied to the future of our community. This "underclass" so named by William Julius Wilson does not have to exist in perpetuity. It is possible to envision and create another future where kids thrive, and where opportunities are not a zero-sum game. Some don't have to win, succeed and thrive at the expense of many.

We must have a comprehensive educational plan that starts in the prekindergarten classrooms and extends through early adulthood so we can recapture the dropouts and give them the skills and training (through GED or vocational or on-the-job) to create a successful life that breaks the cycle of poverty.

This is the key: a comprehensive strategy that begins in early childhood and extends to early adulthood, acknowledging the interrelatedness of all the issues facing students and schools.

"Every Day, Every Child, College Bound" is a fantastic slogan that should and can be true, but it's presently unrealistic given the massive middle-class opt out from public schools in our community and the public/private chasm that continues to widen. Susan Mayer's work ("How Economic Segregation Affects Children's Educational Attainment," Social Forces; September 2002) should be mandatory reading for our new superintendent.


Midtowner said...

Ultimately, we need to stop feeding the school systme with so many kids who live in poverty ... but that is whole different debate.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment midtowner,

How do you do that??

Anonymous said...

Stop the "Opt-out cycle" per Fieldguide. How do you do that?
Don't know.

Anonymous said...

How do you convince a 10th-grader who sees no decent jobs in his or her immediate vicinity that there is any earthly reason why he/she should buckle down and overcome an environment hostile toward education, a toxic existence filled with 9 bad options and 1 OK one? Why should they invest in themselves when the larger community, especially the most fortunate in that larger community, show only superficial investment into their children?

Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. Go to communities surrounding Frayser High or Manassas High (or Westwood or Hamilton or name-that-school) and find me those great jobs that a great education is going to give a child from those communities. In a sense, won't getting these children college bound actually adversely affect the communities? Because why on earth would someone with a college education return to so many of these neglected neighborhoods, bereft of jobs or infrastructure?

You could have the greatest school with the greatest administrators and greatest teachers and latest technology. If there are NO DECENT JOBS, what does it matter?

This is chicken/egg stuff, but it sure seems like the burden is almost always placed on the children and the administrators and teachers, and never on those who actually have the resources to invest in communities but throw a hissy fit if governments try to suspend PILOTS or demand sustainability fees.

Anonymous said...

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