Kaleem Caire, via a kind email:
February 6, 2013
Dear Friends & Colleagues.
As the Board of Education deliberates on who the next Superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District will be, and as school districts in our state and across the nation wrestle with what to do to eliminate the racial achievement gap in education, while at the same time establishing world class schools that help prepare all children to learn, succeed and thrive in the 21st century, it’s important that we not lose sight of what the research continues to tell us really makes the difference in a child’s education.
More than 40 years of research on effective schools and transformational education have informed us that the key drivers for eliminating the racial achievement gap in schools and ensuring all students graduate from high school prepared for college and life continue to be:
- An Effective Teacher in Every Classroom – We must ensure every classroom is led by an effective teacher who is committed to and passionate about teaching young people, inspires all children to want to learn, has an appropriate depth of knowledge of the content they are teaching, is comfortable teaching and empowering diverse students, and coaches all of their students to high performance and expectations. Through its Race to the Top Initiative, the Obama Administration also defined an effective teacher as someone who can improve a students’ achievement by 1.0 grade levels in one school year while a highly effective teacher is someone who can improve student achievement by 1.5 grade levels annually. Schools with large numbers of students who are academically behind, therefore, should have the most effective teachers teaching them to ensure they catch up.
- High Quality, Effective Schools with Effective Leaders and Practices – Schools that are considered high quality have a combination of effective leaders, effective teachers, a rigorous curriculum, utilize data-driven instruction, frequently assess student growth and learning, offer a supportive and inspiring school culture, maintain effective governing boards and enjoy support from the broader community in which they reside. They operate with a clear vision, mission, core values and measurable goals and objectives that are monitored frequently and embraced by all in the school community. They also have principals and educators who maintain positive relationships with parents and each other and effectively catalyze and deploy resources (people, money, partnerships) to support student learning and teacher success. Schools that serve high poverty students also are most effective when they provide additional instructional support that’s aligned with what students are learning in the classroom each day, and engage their students and families in extended learning opportunities that facilitate a stronger connection to school, enable children to explore careers and other interests, and provide greater context for what students are learning in the classroom.
- Adequately Employed and Engaged Parents – The impact of parents’ socio-economic status on a child’s educational outcomes, and their emotional and social development, has been well documented by education researchers and educational psychologists since the 1960s. However, the very best way to address the issue of poverty among students in schools is to ensure that the parents of children attending a school are employed and earning wages that allow them to provide for the basic needs of their children. The most effective plans to address the persistent underachievement of low-income students, therefore, must include strategies that lead to quality job training, high school completion and higher education, and employment among parents. Parents who are employed and can provide food and shelter for their children are much more likely to be engaged in their children’s education than those who are not. Besides being employed, parents who emphasize and model the importance of learning, provide a safe, nurturing, structured and orderly living environment at home, demonstrate healthy behaviors and habits in their interactions with their children and others, expose their children to extended learning opportunities, and hold their children accountable to high standards of character and conduct generally rear children who do well in school. Presently, 74% of Black women and 72% of white women residing in Dane County are in the labor force; however, black women are much more likely to be unemployed and looking for work, unmarried and raising children by themselves, or working in low wage jobs even if they have a higher education.
- Positive Peer Relationships and Affiliations – A child’s peer group can have an extraordinarily positive, or negative, affect on their persistence and success in school. Students who spend time with other students who believe that learning and attending school is important, and who inspire and support each other, generally spend more time focused on learning in class, more time studying outside of class, and tend to place a higher value on school and learning overall. To the contrary, children who spend a lot of time with peer groups that devalue learning, or engage in bullying, are generally at a greater risk of under-performing themselves. Creating opportunities and space for positive peer relationships to form and persist within and outside of school can lead to significantly positive outcomes for student achievement.
- Community Support and Engagement – Children who are reared in safe and resourceful communities that celebrate their achievements, encourage them to excel, inform them that they are valued, hold them accountable to a high standard of character and integrity, provide them with a multitude of positive learning experiences, and work together to help them succeed rarely fail to graduate high school and are more likely to pursue higher education, regardless of their parents educational background. “It Takes A Whole Village to Raise a Child” is as true of a statement now as it was when the African proverb was written in ancient times. Unfortunately, as children encounter greater economic and social hardships, such as homelessness, joblessness, long-term poverty, poor health, poor parenting and safety concerns, the village must be stronger, more uplifting and more determined than ever to ensure these children have the opportunity to learn and remain hopeful. It is often hopelessness that brings us down, and others along with us.
If we place all of our eggs in just one of the five baskets rather than develop strategies that bring together all five areas that affect student outcomes, our efforts to improve student performance and provide quality schools where all children succeed will likely come up short. This is why the Urban League of Greater Madison is working with its partners to extend the learning time “in school” for middle schoolers who are most at-risk of failing when they reach high school, and why we’ll be engaging their parents in the process. It’s also why we’ve worked with the United Way and other partners to strengthen the Schools of Hope tutoring initiative for the 1,600 students it serves, and why we are working with local school districts to help them recruit effective, diverse educators and ensure the parents of the children they serve are employed and have access to education and job training services. Still, there is so much more to be done.
As a community, I strongly believe we can achieve the educational goals we set for our chlidren if we focus on the right work, invest in innovation, take a “no excuses” approach to setting policy and getting the work done, and hire a high potential, world-class Superintendent who can take us there.
God bless our children, families, schools and capital region.
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Madison