Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Schools will be major test for next mayor

How many times have you heard the statement "your preaching to the chior" meaning the people you're talking to already are deeply committed to what you are talking about?

To me, that's the problem with anti-poverty and school reform efforts. There are too few people who don't live in poverty, but do vote, and do control wealth and jobs, who are personally connected and engaged. How many leaders do you know who incorporate the leadership strategies shown here?

In today's Chicago Tribune, one article's headline was "Schools will be major test for next mayor"

I wish voters in Chicago actually were holding the Mayor and other elected officials accountable for what they do to improve student learning. If that were true we might have had a new mayor in Chicago more than once over the past 18 years.

If that were true candidates and voters might be reading the map articles we post on the Tutor/Mentor and Mapping for Justice blogs. Philanthropist and corporate sponsors might be providing funds to help us create these maps and share information about tutor/mentor programs in Chicago.

While maps can show where poverty and poorly performing schools are located, and if there are any non-school tutor/mentor programs in a neighborhood, voters and leaders still need to do their own homework to know more about the poverty gap, and why it is a critical issue that affects all of us, not just the poor. This web site is one resource we'd point to.

When most people think about tutoring/mentoring they ask about the impact on kids. That's important, and the goal, but I've been trying to get the Mayor and other leaders to step back and think of this from a larger perspective.

Think about how long-term involvement in a mentoring program creates a bond between the youth and volunteer and how the volunteer learns more about the challenges of inner city poverty through this experience. Mentoring in well-organized, long-term programs connects people who don't live in poverty with those who do. Many of the volunteers who get involved stay connected to youth for many years. Many become donors and help build capacity of the schools and/or non-school programs they work with.

If we cannot increase the resources available, and sustain these consistently for many years, how can we expect to help a youth entering an inner-city school today be graduating with a college and career plan in 12 years.

With public funds shrinking, how can we expand private sector involvement?

When we think of volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring I feel we need to think of how transforming the volunteer can create new leaders and new sources of ideas, talent and dollars to support all of the afterschool programs the candidates for Mayor are talking about.

Thus leaders need to be thinking of strategies that support the infrastructure of existing programs and help new programs grow where none now exist.

I wrote about this in this blog article, and an intern from the University of Michigan created this animated presentation to interpret this concept. You can see more ideas like this on this page.

If Mayor Daley had embraced the ideas we were offering him since we first met in the early 1990s perhaps there would be a much broader distribution of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in Chicago. Perhaps there would be thousands of people like me who grew up outside of Chicago without any exposure to poverty or to minorities who now spend 50 hours or more a week working to help Chicago kids expand their networks and learning opportunities.

We cannot change what is past. Whoever is elected in Chicago and other cities this year can change what happens in the future. We'd like to help these leaders understand and use the information we've been collecting and sharing for the past 18 years.

If you're connected to one of the candidates why not introduce us. Maybe they can incorporate some of these ideas in their campaign platforms and implement them when they get elected.

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