Equity & Diversity Opinion

Schools Need Collective Leaders’ Voices to Advocate for Change

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — June 02, 2016 4 min read
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We need a louder leadership voice calling for local control and local options. Perhaps this is hard because as educators, we know our business but we work in a world where everyone else thinks they do also. The public isn’t likely to think they could do Tim Cook’s job at Apple but in a school district everyone has a thought and because we serve the public and are publically funded those thoughts matter. But, we have to find our voices and be heard.

A recent Washington Post article begins:

A child’s access to a decent education shouldn’t be limited by his Zip code. That mantra has helped drive the school choice movement during the past two decades, pushing a growing number of cities to embrace policies that allow children from poor families to escape troubled neighborhood schools and enroll elsewhere.
But has it worked? Has school choice been able to interrupt the strong link between home environments and academic success?
Not yet, according to a new analysis of New York City high school graduation rates. Researchers found that -- a decade after the city adopted a universal school choice policy for high school students -- a child’s likelihood of graduating on time remains tightly linked to the poverty rate, household income and adult educational attainment in that child’s neighborhood.

Of course. What educator is surprised by those findings? Policymakers cannot continue to see choice as the alternative to solve this problem. The powerful tie to the neighborhood negates school choice as the only operating solution.That is left to family income. In our recent post Schools Alone Can’t Resolve Problems of Race and Poverty we said,

This century’s issues regarding race and class are a manifestation of the last century’s inability to solve them. Schools both reflect and lead societal change. So, this is the decision moment for educational leaders. Which do we want to do on this ever troubling issue...reflect or lead? Money and resources matter so perhaps we begin there. But money will not solve the deeper underlying issue of differences in America. It has been a source of pride and of despair.... What we need are ideas, crazy, new ones that might never have worked before but now we are 21st century leaders in a 21st century world. The answer may not be a single one. That troubles policy makers...we need to push policymakers into their own unfamiliar places. And the urgency, this time, needs to come from us and it needs to be on behalf of every child not just the ones whose names we know in the neighborhood.

We know that schools can’t solve the problem of neighborhood income controlling the quality of the building, amount and quality of supplies, or the number of talented teachers willing to transcend their desire for adequate working conditions in order to teach the students they love. Yet, schools are still held responsible for the success of their students. Schools need something more than what they can offer. They need a community effort to surround and support them.

We Need Educators’ Voices
Poverty and home life are not the only external contributors to school problems. Each and every student comes with abilities and gaps and values and behaviors that educators manage to work, sometimes, in spite of. These are not excuses. They are realities. So, too, are drugs and violence and a myriad of other social challenges.

There needs to be a recognition that for the schools to really make the difference we want them to make. A concerted effort with the communities they serve must occur concomitantly. Can anyone seriously think that an inner city school, in a neighborhood where shootings take place, one or both parents might be incarcerated, drugs are sold on the streets, has identical programmatic and financial needs as a school in the suburbs of New York or in the mountains of North Carolina? Of course not. Yet, we continue to struggle toward the common goal of preparing graduates for their lives beyond their K-12 education within the same school structures.

Common academic standards hold our attention to a common goal. This is important as we have become an increasingly mobile society. Holding common standards makes the transience more manageable for the children asked to arrive in a new school, district, or state. But the route to these standards must be branched and multifaceted. These are the local needs that are calling for a louder leadership voice and leaders who are intensely aware and connected to their communities.

As much as students will benefit from common expectations, they will also benefit from programs and schools designed for the local communities. It is in those communities where projects and partnerships become relevant. Leadership voices have been directed at objection and resistance toward the national mandates and state implementations of them. The pull away from that toward voices raised with new vision and a plan can feel like the removal of a suction cup that has been securely attached to a wall. But, there has been an impact and the voices of resistance and opposition are being heard. Let’s take a lesson form that. If we speak out strongly, with a vision and a plan, we can also be heard. But, it will require the same kind of voice, loud and unrelenting, educator and parent and professor side by side.

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Illustration courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.