I am running out of patience. Like most educators I am by nature an optimist. I have thought and written about the issues of poverty and education for a long time and I find myself restating the same points I have made in the past.
Ten years ago I reported in City newspaper (“The Schools Problem? Concentrated Poverty,” March 30, 2005) on data from the 2003 International Reading and Literacy study on how our students were doing compared to students in other countries. This study found that U.S. schools with a student poverty rate below 25 per cent finished first in the world in literacy. The same study found the U S schools with student poverty rates between 25 and 50 percent ranked fourth in the world in achievement.
Most of those parents of students in those schools graded those schools highly. However students enrolled in high poverty schools scored well below international standards. I went to point out that 50 years of studies have showed us that despite pockets of success in urban schools due to a cadre of committed people, poor students invariably achieve better if they attend schools in which the poverty rate is under 40 percent. I doubt these data have changed much.
Then in a City article a few years later (“The Testification of Schools in America,” October 11, 2011) I wrote about what the top scoring countries had done to improve their education systems and found that our international competition provided poorer schools more staff development opportunities and support, smaller class sizes, subsidized day care and myriad of social services that helped diminish the effects of poverty. They also provided support for weaker schools from stronger schools by pairing those schools and sharing faculty and resources: think Brighton High School or Pittsford Sutherland sharing faculty, resources and students with Monroe or Edison.
But instead of following the lead of the countries that are out-performing us, when Rochester’s schools are in trouble we compare the apples of suburban schools with the oranges of city schools, set up “Choice” incentives that encourage competition not cooperation, and apply punitive accountability standards that label schools as failures and deny that market forces, politics and discriminatory housing practices have anything to do with low student achievement.
I concluded that article by asking that the education and business communities work together to follow the lead of our international competitors by creating partnerships between the haves and have-nots. This is at the heart of what GS4A is trying to do.
In an article two years later in the Democrat and Chronicle, I asked why advocates of school choice did not include more equitable regional solutions in their school choice plans (which turn out to be about choosing among city schools, not offering interdistrict choices).
After that article a group of like-minded advocates that became GS4A held two community discussions on the issues of regional solutions to poverty and education. And people from business and the suburbs did respond. Many advocates from outside Rochester have allied themselves with us and other groups in the community and are engaged in discussions on changing Monroe County schools. We are thankful and grateful to them.
Still, as I review my notes, articles and files from the last two decades I find myself saying the same thing. And as I talk to my friends in the suburbs I hear the same arguments from them that the problem with the city is that parents do not take personal responsibility for their kids and that their great grandfathers pulled themselves out of poverty and up by their bootstraps and these city folks can too. And when I answer arguments of these people who say it’s the parents’ fault I find myself feeling sorry for the children who are mired and low performing schools…. Even if it is somebody’s fault.
I’m tired of making the argument that we are once again at a tipping point. We have been making this argument for the last 25 years. And through it all, the clock continues to tick on yet another generation of city kids. No I take it back. It’s not a clock: It’s a time bomb.
Jeff Linn is the chairman of the department of educational administration at the College at Brockport and a member of the GS4A steering committee.