Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Troubled Schools, reforms tested again

This week the Chicago Tribune is focusing front page and feature articles on public schools since some have already started classes and others will start soon.

Monday's feature was titled, "Troubled Schools, reforms tested again" and shows that wave after wave of reform efforts often have little impact. Charles Payne wrote about this in a book titled 'So much reform, so little change.

The map created by the Tutor/Mentor Connection reinforces this. There were actually more schools added to the 2008 watch list than were removed from the 2007 list.

So, what's missing?

None of these articles are talking about how we expand the range of non-school places where youth can connect with volunteer tutors, mentors, technology, arts and enrichment, and caring adults who act as extra family and expanded community. This is a form of social capital referred to in research being done by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which was presented in a series of discussions titled
Is great teaching enough?

Volunteer based tutor/mentor programs can expand this network of adults in the lives of kids. Some, like Cabrini Connections, Link Unlimited, Midtown, and East Village Youth Program, are building long-term connections that continue as the young people are moving into their adult lives.

Building and sustaining these programs, so long-term connections can be created and continued takes many years of work, a dedicated set of leaders, and a dedicated core of donors. It takes the time and talent of many volunteers.

So why isn't the Tribune, or the Secretary of Education, or the President, or the Mayor, calling on volunteers and donors to reach out over the next few weeks to join these programs? Why is everything focused on schools, and not the non-school hours.

Why don't we say donate when we say volunteer? It costs money to provide the type of customer service and support that makes talented volunteers effective in these programs.

It's probably because no one want to face this truth. We'd rather focus on Gold Medal Athletics than Gold Medal Youth Programs. We'd rather focus on getting elected, or re-elected, rather than really doing what's needed to surround kids with comprehensive systems of support.

If we keep doing what we've been doing, we can be sure that we'll keep getting the same results we've been getting.

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