19 January 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2015 - Evaluating Education

The old history teacher in me just wants you to watch this, first. :)

Now, as far as my commentary...

Whenever I think about the legacy of Dr. King in my own profession, I immediately reflect on where we are as far as education equality for young people of color (African-American and Hispanic). I'd like to say that most people in America can agree that simply legislatively desegregating schools was not enough. For 30 years kids have been bussed in and out of poor, predominately black schools to more affluent schools in the suburbs because it was evident that a "desegregated" school is only in name if the conditions in that school persist.

Attempting to meet this goal of educational civil rights for continues in 2015. You only need look at a map of the St. Louis region to find see the practical segregation of our schools. 
map via http://demographics.coopercenter.org/DotMap/index.html

Is the region doing work to combat this practical segregation? Sort of. The Missouri Supreme Court ruling that allowed students in unaccredited schools like Normandy (where I live) and Riverview Gardens opened up opportunity for hundreds of kids to a "better" education. But is it "better" to have to ride more than an hour to school everyday? Kids in St. Louis Public Schools do this everyday to escape the neighborhood, unspecialized (mostly black) school and attend a lottery-based magnet school (of which some are very good). I don't like the busing approach because it assumes that some kids "don't deserve" a better education because their families did not or could not get them enrolled in the new district (because "they don't care."). 

I view the educational inequity of our city (and in America) as a problem of resources: economic, intellectual, and of time. Just 2 days ago I had a friend ask me, "Is math education on the computer and digital now, or is it mostly still on paper and with a book?" I told him that in my district (and other schools in the green section of that map above), math class is largely still VERY traditional. 

Kids get their expensive, hardbound math textbook, and the majority of the learning activities center around performing exercises out of that book or from worksheets. That's not altogether bad (kids DO need practice), but from my experience, that model only works for the kids that are buying into "school" and have a cultural/family support that going to school and getting good grades will get you into a good school and you'll get a good job and you'll have a good life. This doesn't work in impoverished schools because instead of graduating and moving on with that degree, because fewer people in these communities go to college, even fewer are successful in college, and even fewer get good jobs with those degrees (okay, so I don't have data to link on this right now, but I promise, I've seen some.)

What's the answer? "You have to give more relevant work. Give your students project-based learning units. There are a ton on BIE." This is a great idea, IF you have technology in your school to allow kids to research and work on these projects. So schools start to push PBL and get devices in all of their kids' backpacks, and create maker spaces in their schools to encourage students to explore their interests. 

What's the problem with implementing PBL? You need those devices and spaces available to students. High-poverty schools struggling to keep accreditation don't often have the extra capital around or the community support to raise funds to finance that technology. Extra money they do have is spent on tutoring, Saturday programs, and credit recovery classes so they can keep up their graduation rates. 

A school district doesn't need to be affluent to give their students technology rich environments, but they are forced to make choices. 

What do you need to make those choices? Dynamic leadership, community support, wiggle room on test scores (in case there's an intentional drop while teachers and students adjust to the change), capacity for change amongst the staff, lots of professional development, and probably a little bit of luck. That's a lot of pieces to fall into place for schools. Local district Maplewood-Richmond Heights was able to do that, but its been a 10 year (and continuing) process. 

As long as children of color have to wait on miracle grants to come and save their schools or rely on 5 or 6 variables of school improvement to all fall in line, we'll have a system that lacks equity for ALL children, and we'll have work to do.

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Thanks for sharing!