Tuesday, January 30, 2007

To the Mayor. To the Tribune. To Presidential Candidates.

I received the Winter 2007 newsletter from the UCLA Center for Mental Health In Schools. The feature article is an open letter titled To the Mayor. The first three paragraphs are

Dear Mayor,

If you really want to help close the achievement gap and reduce dropout rates, you will have to directly zero-in on matters that are keeping too many students from connecting effectively with good instruction.

Good instruction, of course, is essential! It's a truism that schools continuously need to improve the quality of teaching. And, a logical role for you in this is to contribute to efforts to enhance the recruitment, preparation, ongoing capacity building, and retention of good teachers.

But, as you know, better instruction alone cannot ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed at school. Indeed, focusing mainly on improving instruction is a recipe for maintaining a very unsatisfactory status quo for too many students in urban schools and in poor rural areas. So, focusing on instruction is not where you can make your greatest contribution.

I encourage you to read the full article and use it to write a letter to your own mayor.

If you read this, and if you want to be elected to be President, or Mayor of a big city, I encourage you also to review reports like this one that I received today from the Illinois Facilities Fund. It is titled, Here and Now: The need for Performing Schools in Chicago's Neighborhoods. Like the Chapin Hall Center For Children report that I wrote about last week, this report includes maps that show where poverty and poorly performing schools are concentrated.

Leaders need to be building an understanding of the information coming from UCLA, and using maps to build a strategy that makes good schools and a comprehensive network of non-school learning supports, like volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring programs, consistently available in every high poverty neighborhood, and near every poorly performing schools.

Leaders need to be learning from organizations all over the world, such as at http://www.healthworkforce.org/guide/Youth-Mentoring.htm. This is just one of more than 1000 resources in the Tutor/Mentor Connection Links Library.

Business and professional leadership needs to be involved in sophisticated and comprehensive ways. Spending millions of dollars to building charter schools is not the answer. This does not engage the people from your industry as tutors/mentors who expand the social capital for youth living in highly segregated, high poverty neighborhoods.

Look at the maps. These are the places where schools are performing poorly.

Building strategies that engage your employees, your technology, your knowledge, your jobs and your customers in a long-term collaborative effort that leads more kids through school and into 21st century jobs and careers is where the answer can be found.

Bringing such groups together in a network of purpose is what I hope mayor and future presidents will do.

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