Friday, September 18, 2015

A Response to the Plan for Improving Urban Schools

A new report from, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), outlines a five-part plan for improving schools.  As a former urban teacher and principal, here is my critique and suggestions.

1. AROS: A challenging curriculum; including access to honors courses, services for English-language learners and special education students, GED preparation, and job training.

SC: More important than a challenging curriculum is an aligned curriculum.  Aligned to the learning standards of the state. In Texas, teaching the TEKS at the required rigor is challenging.  To not teach the TEKS is a disservice to any student, but especially to the at-risk student.  The same dynamic is true of states that have adopted the Common Core. 

I agree that access to honors courses is important, but without proactive leadership this will simply add to the all too common practice of using honors courses to segregate affluent students from poor students. Which in a word is... Repugnant.

I agree that we can do a much better job of serving our special needs students but will add that we must address the fact that we are significantly over-referring poor students to special education. 

GED preparation is simply a short-term solution that addresses the wave of under-educated students that we have ignored for multiple years.  The long-term solution is to improve the quality of education provided to students which in turn reduces the number of student who need to take the GED.

Career ready / college ready graduates from high school, every high school, must be the norm, not the exception.
2. AROS: Emphasis on quality teaching instead of high-stakes testing.

SC: A high stakes test aligned to state standards is not the enemy.  And it is high quality, aligned instruction (over time) that prepares students to be successful on any aligned test.  The issue is that those in charge of testing policy equate raw test scores with academic success.  Raw test scores are primarily a factor of family wealth.  The bottom line is that better instructional staffs and their schools measure performance.  Weaker staff and their schools make excuses.
3. AROS: Support services available to the school and surrounding community.

SC: I agree with this, in theory.  The more impoverished the community, the more external support (state and district) the campus requires to compete on an equal footing. However, I have yet to witness this implemented, at scale, with any true success.

4. AROS: Positive discipline practices, including social and emotional learning supports.

SC: I agree with this, but not for conventional thinking of “these kids are bad” reasons. Students at urban schools are not “bad.” If anything, they are justifiably wary of institutions and unfamiliar with middle-class language and expectations. Campus-wide social skills programs, coaching, and modeling better prepare poor and urban students to “code-switch” as they transition from poor to middle class settings and environments, often multiple times a day.

5. AROS: Improved parent and community engagement.

SC: As is generally the case, AROS is confusing leading and lagging indicators.  Improves parent and community engagement does not make a better school.  A better school improves parent and community engagement.

Think. Work. Achieve.
Your turn...

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