Teacher Dwayne Betts, guest-posting on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic blog, asks: Can schools make a difference for children in poor neighborhoods?
Two months into my first real job teaching poetry at a middle school in Southeast D.C. the English teacher whose class I took over once a week got hit in the eye while breaking up a fight. Two weeks later, after the student who’d struck her hadn’t been expelled, she decided not to return. This was a seventh grade English class, first quarter of the school year. . . . The school never hired another teacher. I watched a rotating cycle of substitutes come in and hand out worksheets to students that ran the gamut from on grade level to barely reading.
Disorder pushes good teachers away from troubled schools, Betts writes. Most good young teachers in D.C. public schools leave for charter schools or private schools, “even when it means working more hours and longer school years.”
Betts is inspired by James Forman Jr.’s No Ordinary Success in Boston Review, which compares two reform models: Geoffrey Canada’s Promise Academy builds on an attempt to transform a high-poverty community, while KIPP middle schools work to educate low-income, minority children who can handle a structured, high-expectations model.
Promise Academy faced serious academic and behavior problems with its first middle-school students, who’d come from district-run public schools. Yet test scores went up significantly, even for the most troubled students, Forman writes.
In a visit to KIPP, he found seventh-grade boys discussing Raisin in the Sun, listening to each other politely and citing passages in the text to support their points.
But KIPP is able to hire excellent teachers, Forman writes. There aren’t enough to go around.
. . . many mediocre teachers and administrators do not have the capacity to improve to anywhere near the standard required to achieve KIPP-like results. As much as it thrills us to read about extraordinary people succeeding with poor children, I want to see how ordinary people can do the same.
Forman recommends Paul Tough’s Whatever It Takes on Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, Jay Mathews’ Work Hard. Be Nice. on KIPP and Charles Payne’s So Much Reform, So Little Change on the “persistence of failure in urban schools,” despite positive models.
In response to the ongoing “fix communities” versus “fix schools” debate, those doing the work in the trenches increasingly are settling on a single answer: do both.
“Canada started out running social programs, but when he peeked inside Harlem classrooms, he quickly realized he could never transform the neighborhood without fixing the schools,” Forman writes. KIPP is now offering preschool, afterschool and summer school programs in some cities, plus “individual tutoring, social workers for kids in distress, and, at some campuses, classes for parents. It is also actively involved in community partnerships that address families’ medical and other needs.”
It seems to me that fixing poverty is a lot harder and more expensive than creating effective schools that protect teachers (and students) from violent kids.
Via Class Struggle.