Rethinking Schools posed three questions to each df the new Community Superintendents. We then selected two replies from each superintendent, replies that we felt most clearly articulated a distinctive point of view.
1. What do you believe is responsible for the achievement gap between white students and students of color?
Janie R. Hatton:
“Believe in yourself.” Attitude plus aptitude determine altitude. A prevailing sense of hopelessness is eating at our children. The portals of education must allow the flow of students, teachers and parents to find “common ground” in reaching educational excellence.
Segregation and differential treatment of students of color, particularly African-Americans, continues to be widespread. African-American children (on the average) enter schools with substantially greater socio-economic handicaps and as a result, learning that is oftentimes predicated on experiential modes is not commensurate with student needs.
Schools must compensate for disadvantages by focusing on the needs of partnering with parents and significant others involved in a child’s life and empowering local school staffs to try novel approaches that promote cooperative learning. Bonding a relationship between home, school and community will ultimately help bring parity in achievement.
The primary reason for the existence of the achievement gap between middle class and poor children has to do with expectations. The achievement gap is not only a condition affected by factors of color, but it is also a function of poverty conditions which affect children’s schooling. You will note that in urban systems most poor children tend to perform at a lower rate and are often suspended at a rate higher than more affluent children. The same pattern holds true for students in exceptional and alternative education programs where students of color are over represented.
We must question why this is happening and change this pattern by changing our actions. Children can not progress if they are not expected to achieve. Expectations have to do with what we honestly expect of children and the. Assumptions that we make about them when these assumptions are grounded in ignorance and/or racism.
The achievement gap is also evident in how we teach middle class children as opposed to poor children. Different children have different learning styles. We must learn to tap the learning style that allows each child to reach his/her maximum potential. The first step, therefore, is to start with high expectations.
Raymond D. Waier:
I believe that when test scores are looked at individually and analyzed carefully, the record will show that economically and educationally disadvaptaged students, regardless of race, are experiencing significant learning gaps between themselves and their more well-off counterparts. Urban centers across the country have become the critical focus of this problem in that they are home for a growing number of economically disadvantaged families.
The economically disadvantaged suffer from the lack of employment opportunities, a growing technology that demands more sophisticated employability skills they do not possess and constant exposure to the serious social problems that permeate our society. The result is a growing underclass, disenfranchised from the mainstream of society and unfortunately living without hope for a better life. This set of converging forces is impacting upon our children producing a population of educationally disadvantaged young people.
Public education is and must be the pathway to a better life. Those of us that serve this institution must serve it with a renewed dedication knowing that we must make a positive difference in the educational preparation we provide to fill young people but especially to those who come to us from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.
As long as there is one school successfully reducing this learning gap for economically disadvantaged children—and there are many more than one—we have every reason to expect that all schools can.
2. What is the most important thing for children to learn in our schools and how should we assess whether they are learning it?
A major task for our public schools is helping children learn how to become responsible
and productive citizens. The educative process for assisting children and youth to prepare themselves to be effective citizens is connected with all aspects of the educational program. Four of the key elements in the process are; reading, writing, computing, and thinking. In order for all students to be successful in these areas, we must assist them in the development and maintenance of a positive self-image. Therefore it becomes a critical piece for all school personnel to communicate to students both verbally and non-verbally that we believe in them and their ability to be successful students and productive citizens.
Two approaches for assessing whether or not children and youth are learning to become good citizens are the use of standardized tests and teacher evaluations. A survey instrument could be used to appraise the student’s self-image. For those students who are not progressing toward responsible and productive citizenship, it would be necessary to provide appropriate strategies that are designed to address individual needs.
Janie R. Hatton:
Children must be nurtured so as to believe that they can do anything. Accessing resources that facilitate personal growth (cognitive and affective) will occur when school cultures adapt and implement philosophies that reflect the will of such people as Mary McCleod Bethune. Every student should enter school to learn; they should exit to serve with their heads, hands, and heart
Obviously, the basic disciplines of Responsibility, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Critical Thinking, and Computer Literacy will improve significantly. Yet, the challenge confronting institutions (schools, government, churches, community-based groups) is for us to collaborate on helping a child to become the best, productive person. Helping each child develop a frame of reference to become a viable contributor to society as a patriotic citizen will help to shape the course of humanity.
C. Edward Lawrence:
To prepare for their future in the 21st century, children have many important things to learn. Students must develop and demonstrate self-confidence in their ability to find success in school. Therefore, schools must provide children with learning opportunities that enable them to develop their self-confidence.
Once children develop a positive belief system, school becomes an enjoyable experience, and education becomes a rewarding challenge. In fact, achieving a good education becomes easy when students begin learning important things like the following:
- Basic skills—reading, writing, mathematics, critical thinking and computer technology
- Expressing themselves in standard English
- Getting along with others
- How to compete in a highly competitive society
- How to enter the world of work
- Continuing their education after high school
Measuring the results of things that children should learn in school requires a multifaceted evaluation plan. Although standardized tests scores have been the primary instrument for measuring things children learn, attendance, grade level failure, the failure rate, the suspension rate, grade point averages, and high school drop out rates should also be used to evaluate student progress.
The most important thing is not only to teach children to be self-motivated learners but also to respect and accept one another. Respect for one another begins with the staff. The staff must recognize the child’s ability and need to learn as well as the child’s need to learn how to get along with others. In an effective school it is not even necessaiy to measure the climate; one can feel it in the air as soon as one walks into the building. It is evident in the halls and in the way students, parents, and staff relate to one another.
3. What is the most important change from current MPS operations/practices that you would like to have occur in your service delivery area?
Based on conversations and feedback from parents, members of the community, and school personnel, the most important change from current MPS operations/ practices will be improved services and programs for children and youth. Under the decentralized concept, I shall endeavor to make sure that these services and programs are meeting the needs of our service delivery area. There will be a sustained effort with respect to empowering parents and staff members in all schools to develop and maintain the best educative process for all students.
Another aspect of this change is that there will be an improved opportunity for getting parents and other community members involved in the schools. The Community Advisory Council will serve a key role in providing information to parents about MPS and Service Delivery Area III in particular. Thus, we should have greater parental and community involvement in our schools.
C. Edward Lawrence:
By reorganizing into six service delivery areas, the Milwaukee Public School System has taken revolutionary steps to improve its schools. This organizational change will make schools more accountable to parents, with the overall goal of the SDAs being to increase learning opportunities for students and hence improve their level of achievement. With these improvements, our school district’s vision will become a reality, making MPS the first urban school district in the nation to be educationally effective for all children regardless of their socioeconomic background.
By increasing the flow of community involvement in schools to include parents, business leaders, civil leaders and others, the six SDAs will become the heart of the district. Through this cooperative effort, the-importance of education will be emphasized and achieve the desired positive results.
Raymond D. Wafer:
In my opinion there is not a single “most important change” but rather a constellation of changes that must form the critical mass or thrust that will identify the meaning of what we expect of the service delivery system concept
Certainly, improved student performance demands center stage in that it represents the most visible measurement of our success and is the success upon which we will be publicly judged. It is, however, only one part of a complicated picture.
We must also address the needs of professional teachers and other members of the educational family. Their renewed sense of personal efficacy as major actors who can make the difference for children is another piece. It is time for us to alter our professional expectations bringing a new vision of purpose with the confidence that we have the power to succeed. Service De– livery Area VI personnel have a major role in this process as colleagues, collaborators, and facilitators but, more importantly, as people who recognize and nurture the untapped potential and power in all of us.
Finally, the name Service Delivery Area must mean what it says. “Service Delivery” implies a high level of quality services to a given constituency. We intend to deliver just that to members of the Service Delivery Area VI.