Saturday, July 21, 2012

My Vision for Urban Education

As everyone knows, I am extremely critical of current trends in education policy which involve deluging schools with standardized tests and rating teachers, administrators and whole institutions based on test result. Such policies result in school disengagement on the part of students, destroy teacher morale, and magnify health problems in poor and working class communities by crowding out exercise and the arts. Given my criticism of existing policies, skeptics have a right to ask-“What do you want to see urban schools doing that they are not doing now.” So let me take the time to lay out my own vision of what kind of things urban schools should be doing that will promote student engagement, parent involvement, teacher excitement, and transform schools into centers of community empowerment Portions of what I am talking about are already being done by schools all over the country. I invite you to see what Professor Henry Taylor and his colleagues are doing to embed schools on the East Side of Buffalo into a larger program of community development; to visit Urban Academy on the East Side of Manhattan, an innovative multiracial high school that is project based rather than test based, and PS 140 in the South Bronx a school which has developed a museum devoted to community history; but it would be difficult to broadly implement what I recommend unless Federal and state educational policies give schools far more freedom to experiment, and reverse the current emphasis on high stakes testing. Basically, I would like to see urban schools emphasize community involvement, artistic expression, and physical and emotional health on the part of their students. We have to end the pretense that poverty- reflected in homelessness and housing overcrowding, poor nutrition, high levels of violence and stress- are not factors shaping students academic engagement and performance. Schools should be places where young people know they are going to be fed, nurtured, protected, loved and have their confidence built up in many spheres of life and where parents and community members can go to discuss and solve broader community problems. This means in the first instant, that schools be open from the crack of dawn till 9 or ten in the evening and open to community groups for public meetings, as well as for concerts, festivals and recreational activities. But it also means that we should emphasize activities now deemed “expendable” in test driven . To that end, I would like the following. 1 .That at least an hour of every school day be devoted to recreation and physical activity, whether it be recess, physical education classes or school sports. 2. That at least an hour of every school day be devoted to the arts, be it music, theater, visual arts, poetry and creative writing. 3. That urban agriculture and health education be made an integral part of schools curricula, fueling hands on science instruction, and promoting the development of the production of fresh food in communities which are food deserts. If it were up to me, every urban school would have it’s own indoor and outdoor gardens which grow food, 4. That a portion of social studies curriculum should involve an analysis of community history and an in depth look at community issues, and give students credit for internships with community organizations or involvement in community development projects 5. That every school should be open 3-6 PM for supervised activity which includes all of the above elements, as well as quiet study time for students who don’t have tat at home. Think of what life would be like in working class communities if schools were organized this way. Young people would eat better, be healthier, have lower levels of stress, and develop their talents in ways which build up their self-confidence and promote community solidarity and economic development. They would also dramatically lower school drop out rates, reduce violence, and, over time, improve cognitive and analytical skills often neglected by the kind of rote learning and test prep taking place now. Instead of policing, constricting, and testing young people into submission, we need to unleash their creativity and imaginations and tap their idealism to improve life for everyone around them Doesn’t this sound better than current policies, which result in turning schools into zones of fear and stress for all concerned July 20, 2012

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