Sunday, October 24, 2010

Education Reform - Big Question

With Waiting for Superman drawing attention to public education, I hope more people are doing some deep thinking about what challenges we're trying to overcome, and how difficult this will be.

I would like to pose a couple of ideas that I hope will be shared. Which is more possible in the next decade?

Improving the level of teaching quality and effectiveness at every high poverty community classroom of every public school in America, and maintaining this high quality for the 13 years from when a youth moves from kindergarten to high school graduation. Such teachers must be better than those who do not teach in high poverty because they need to overcome the lack of positive education role models and experiences provided by family and community in more affluent areas. Furthermore the need to be able to overcome the negative influences of high poverty which surround a child in from birth till entering school, and are constantly present in the hours when that youth is not in school as he/she moves from first grade through high school, and post high school toward a job and career.


Creating a system of mentor-rich non-school supports that are available to at least 25% of youth in every poverty neighborhood, and which influence student aspirations, learning habits and motivation so youth come to school every day more prepared to learn. Such supports would include arts, technology, contact with adults who have college educations and work in jobs and careers not common in poverty areas.

The map of the Chicago region shows where poverty is concentrated, and shows locations of poorly performing schools. Every classroom in every one of these schools would need a high quality educator to assure that the kids coming through that school would finish prepared for the next level. What are the marketing and human resource development, and funding strategies, that can get us to the starting gate of great teachers in every one of these schools? What is the marketing, leadership and commitment needed to keep such teachers in place for 10 or 20 years until the impact of poverty in the area of each school is overcome by better educated youth who become adults living and working in these communities?

In each of these neighborhoods high quality non school programs such as Cabrini Connections are also needed. However, we may not need programs to reach 100% of the youth. There may be a tipping point where there are enough programs influencing the habits and aspirations of a strong minority or weak majority, but enough to tip the motivation scales an influence the learning habits of the rest of the kids in a school?

Funding and leadership for non-school programs can come from local networks of business, philanthropy, faith groups, and government, while funding for schools has to come from a broader community, state, or federal level commitment to tax dollars. Is it possible that we can influence learning and prepare youth for adult roles more by changing what is around the school, than what is happening in the school?

Is there a blend of these ideas where we focus on schools, and non schools, at the same time?

Do any of you know a place where these two ideas are being discussed on line, where others can listen in, contribute, or add ideas?

Visit the Tutor/Mentor Institute for more reflections from the Tutor/Mentor Connection on these challenges and potential solutions.

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