Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Money and power clouds debate on education reform

The world of social media is buzzing with all sorts of activity in the overall debate on what constitutes true education reform.

And this fight (yes it is a fight) is full of the usual elements of any good fight. We have lots of name-calling, use and abuse of statistics, finger-pointing, and scapegoating.

But what else is new when the real fight has less to do with educating children, particularly poor (most often black) children and more to do with money and power.

The latest debate is being sparked, in part, by the movie Waiting for Superman. I have not seen the movie but I did study the article by Diane Ravitch titled "The Myth of Charter Schools."

Ms. Ravitch does a very thorough job of reviewing the movie before she launches her analysis and rebuttal.

Her article has been well received in the social media arena. It is all over Twitter and being celebrated as the knockout punch for the movie.

I have always admitted to not being an educator or policy expert. But, I am not intimidated by those who are either or both.

My overarching concern is focused primarily on the black community. I am trying to raise our level of appreciation for the real value of a good education and how that relates to the ability to make a living.

That's it. A good education is a tool that helps you protect and care for your family.

I am also in favor of a strong public school system. I am a product of public schools and most of the people I know are also like me.

However, I do not care to witness an endless debate over the merits of charters vs. non-charters. Frankly, I do not care what works, as long as it works.

And, works for me means that black kids are:

1) graduating from high school on time and on grade level,

2) performing on unbiased standardized tests as well as any other ethnic group,

3) attending and graduating from college or other post secondary training programs in numbers similar to any other ethnic group, and

4) prepared to compete for and win a fair share of the many rewarding career opportunities available in this wonderful country.

Now poor kids (remember mostly black) are being highlighted as the real problem. Well, let's frame it the way at least two recent presentations say it.

Mike Rose in a piece for the Washington Post blog, The Answer Sheet, says "There is a crisis in American education, and it involves mostly poor children, and thus it is a moral as well as educational outrage. But it is just not accurate to characterize public education itself as being in a 30 -year crisis."

Mr. Rose goes on to point out the well worn nexus between poverty and low achievement.

Diane Ravitch in her rebuttal to the movie makes the statement that "Guggenheim seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between income and test scores. He shows us footage of the pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, to the amazement of people who said it couldn't be done. Since Yeager broke the sound barrier, we should be prepared to believe that able teachers are all it takes to overcome the disadvantages of poverty, homelessness, joblessness, poor nutrition, absent parents, etc."

Well that's it folks. Poor kids are not generally getting a good education because of the impact of poverty, and they sure as hell are not going to break the cycle of poverty without a good education.

Sadly, too many are buying into this struggle over money and power and not staying tightly focused on the real issues.

Schools must be expected to educate the population they serve.

Educators and policy makers must be held accountable for devising the right combination of strategies to get the job done. The job is not to come up all the reasons the child is difficult to teach or reach.

Finally, I am also unforgiving when it comes to expecting parents to assume the ultimate responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the children they have been blessed to have.

Parents can not delegate or abrogate that responsibility to anyone.

Now all stakeholders should begin to hold each other accountable for providing a high quality education to all this nations' children. Anything else is just plain criminal.

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