For too long, our answer to the problems of poverty, inequality, diminishing social mobility, and unfair access to learning opportunities has been “the schools will fix it.” However, U.S. public schools, even after a quarter-century of well-intentioned, vigorous, and expensive school reform, have been unable to fix these problems or close the achievement gaps that are symptoms of them.
It is still the case that schools generally act to reinforce rather than change the existing social/economic order. The best predictor of your educational achievement and attainment is still your family’s socioeconomic status. Education reformers in the 1990s set out to change the correlation between demographics and destiny in America. Now, after reviewing the evidence,we can definitively say those efforts have failed.
Based on that evidence, we need to step back and rewrite the problem statement that education reform was designed to address. A new statement might acknowledge poverty and inequity as directly implicated in failures by schools and individuals to achieve success for students. Taking this into account means reform needs a new theory of action: If we hope to prepare all students to succeed in college and careers, our communities will have to provide all children with the supports and services (comparable to what affluent children take for granted) needed to guarantee that they can come to continuously improving schools each and every day ready to learn.
For schools to work, children need to be safe, trauma-free, healthy, well nourished, and emotionally stable. Children also need positive stimulation, enrichment, and opportunities to learn in the 80 percent of their waking hours they spend outside of school. Affluent children usually take these aspects of life, support, and enrichment for granted. Less advantaged children need the adults in their communities to rise up and provide these essential ingredients for building a successful life.
Community-based, holistic approaches to child development and education are working in places where initiatives like StriveTogether, the Promise Neighborhoods, Communities in Schools, Say Yes to Education, and the Coalition for Community Schools are operating. In our work with Harvard’s By All Means cities, visionary mayors, superintendents, and children’s advocates in and outside of government have been joining together in powerful “children’s cabinets” to set goals for child and youth development, to determine strategies, to jointly build new systems of support and opportunity, and to hold themselves accountable for real progress.Studies of the effect of Communities In Schools, a national model that offers an array of tiered supports to elementary, middle, and high school students, reveal promising academic and nonacademic outcomes. Elementary school students enrolled at partnered schools have higher attendance rates, while high school students have better on-time graduation rates than students who did not receive integrated supports. The organization’s intensive case management services also enhance high school students’ school engagement, attitude about school, and belief about the value of education, and a study of the Chicago program showed that elementary and middle school students in partner schools reached proficiency at higher rates than those in nonpartner schools.
Read more at The 74 Million.