A new report about inner city graduation rates (.pdf) paints a pretty sobering picture, to put it mildly:
Our analysis finds that graduating from high school in the Americaâ€™s largest cities amounts, essentially, to a coin toss. Only about one-half (52 percent) of students in the principal school systems of the 50 largest cities complete high school with a diploma.
In Cleveland, Indianapolis and Detroit, the numbers are 35%, 31% and 25% respectively.
I worked for almost 22 years in a district that graduated over 90% of its students, sent over three-quarters to college, and by just about every measure was and is an amazing school by traditional standards. I’ve worked for the last two years going around the country speaking at over 200 schools and districts and conferences and I have come to realize very quickly just how much of an outlier my former career was. While I haven’t done a lot of work with inner city schools, I’ve done enough to see that without question, there remains an incredible degree of inequity between the haves and have nots in this country that has little to do with technology. This latest report is just one more indication: the system is broken.
We’re failing millions of kids.
To get a real feeling of this, read Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. Just be prepared to be severly depressed.
Ken Leebow says
I’m just curious: When are we going to address this problem? And, without all the political and political correctness strings attached.
Sadly, this is Katrina multiplied by 100.
Doug Noon says
Who are the ‘we’ you refer to here? At what level(s) should this problem be addressed? It’s a situation that stems from a broad set of conditions.
Will Richardson says
I agree, and the “we” is the broader society. I am still amazed when I listen to the presidential candidates rattle off the problems and priorities that I never, ever, ever, hear education mentioned aside from just a passing thought.
I agree with you but worry about your comment that “the system is broken.” The news media’s tone is often this way–graduation rates are down, therefore the school system must be broken.
When will the public at large realize that the system that is broken is not just the school system–the system that is broken is the social structure of our communities. Communities that don’t fund education. Families that don’t encourage learning. Families that don’t read to their children. Politicians that think that punitive measures against schools will improve learning. And on an on. Are educators at fault sometimes? Of course. But are they the only ones to blame? Mass media usually makes the case that they are.
Wm Chamberlain says
I agree, this is a failure of our society, not of education. Unfortunately, educators can only change the behavior of the students they come into contact with. I know teachers that don’t care for their students, I know teachers that do. I also know parents like this as well. This won’t be fixed by passing laws or changing standards. The only thing that can fix this is education our society so they change.
Beth Robertson says
I have taught in an urban setting for the last 15 years. Obviously, the inner city schools are a reflection of the hopelessness of the decaying cities. In my city, the decline in graduation rates follow the dramatic loss of employment opportunities.
Families that have the economic means move to where the educational opportunities are better.
Instead of raising expectations, we spend all our money on remediation programs that didn’t work the first time. Our very successful gifted program of over 25 years was eliminated 2 years ago for budget reasons.
Mike Parent says
Will et al,
Though I work in a suburban NJ district as an administrator, my mentor (Dr. Louis Centolanza) has opened my eyes and my heart to the pathetic nature of urban education. Yes, Greg, there are MANY variables that cause the ugliness Will refers to here. But the one variable that schools can control is what happens in their buildings between 7 am and 3 pm.
Three years ago, I was fortunate to meet and work with The Education Trust based in Washington, DC. Though many may see EdTrust as overbearing and out of tune, they are committed to working with urban schools who will have them to better their services. I admire EdTrust and their mission. What they will tell everyone is that the schools must stop pitying minorities and teach them as those who are affluent are taught. Subsequently, these schools must also expect that their students can and will learn.
On a side note, these latest stats leave me feeling very guilty and self-loathing. Why am I not putting myself in the trenches, trying to make this abomination right? No, I don’t fancy myself a messiah – just someone who might have to seriously consider making the choice to work toward a solution and stop being a distant spectator.
Oh yeah, the one thing EdTrust attempts to do is to get urban parents and schools thinking K-16, not K-12. A college degree may not be the panacea, but ONE sure way to try to end the cycle of poverty is to educate each person through at least college level. Disagree if you must, but what other alternative is there aside from stressing education? And admit it – we (this network) are who and where we are because of our education.
Mike Maloy says
Your point about inequities is important. I happen to work in a “have” suburban district that directly borders on a “have nots” urban district. The differences are striking.
I had an opportunity to hear the Superintendent of the urban district speak. He made the point that schools aren’t failing society, but that society is failing schools. He was proud that his school, which unfortunately has a very low graduation rates, is still be the best thing going in the lives of the students. The schools are filled with more caring and supportive people than the students may encounter anywhere else. The problems are too big for the teachers to tackle themselves. They need the support of the larger society.
The mayor of the city repeatedly says there are three major issues facing the city: unemployment, crime, and education. These problems are so inter-related where does one start?
Barbara Egan says
Unfortunately the problem is not new and it is truly discouraging that so little progress has been made. In the early 70s I had the opportunity to teach in two different public school districts that had some component of inner city children. Don’t know for sure, but I would guess that the statistics were much the same then, and the problem was not new even then. What was different in the two schools was the administration and the heart of the teachers and those two things made all the difference to the children they taught. In one school there was total indifference to student success and the students knew that very few in school cared. In the other, teachers and administration worked diligently to make sure as many students succeeded as possible. Most of those students knew that they were valued as individuals. It does make me wonder if the changes that are needed might need to come from within. Given the most recent decade of top-down mandates, it is likely that change from within may be as close to impossible as change from the top.
Darren Draper says
I think that Seneca’s comment (circa 40 AD) addresses our educational issues completely:
It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.
Mike Maloy says
This quote reminded me of one of my favorites from Robert Kennedy:
” Some look at the world and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream of a world that isn’t yet and ask, ‘Why not?'”
I’ve been teaching for 27 years and only half jokingly say that I’ve been in reform since day one. The state in which I teach was at the front of the reform wave. I’m glad and proud to say that in the 27 years I’ve been teaching the school in which I teach is a much better school. And yet…and yet I can’t say that we are graduating a higher percentage or that our graduates are better at math, science, reading, or writing.
That juxtaposition may sound amazing but it is true. While we are doing a better job at every level, our student body, our community, and our society has changed so that the students we get today are less well prepared for school, they spend less time doing school work and reading, and the schools don’t receive the same level of support from the community or parents that we once did. It is amazing to think that our system could be doing a better job while producing the same product but it is true. And this illustrates the problem we face. Fixing education isn’t just about fixing schools or preparing teachers better, or giving more assessments. It is about turning around our entire society.
Frankly I’m tired of hearing about how education is broken. It is time to tell some hard truths. Parents aren’t parenting and they are letting their children down. It all starts at home – children who are read to become readers. Readers succeed in school. Businessmen cannot berate me for how bad my school is and at the same time schedule my students to work 35 hours a week. And an educrat who spent 2 years as a teacher before leaving the classroom has little of value to tell me about running a classroom or preparing a lesson.
David, I’m afraid that the education system really is broken. But that’s not a slam on teachers (I am one). Most that I know are doing an outstanding job within the structure we are given.
However, for the most part that structure is fast becoming obsolete, if not there already. Most schools, public or private, are organized around the concept that we teachers have all the knowledge and the students have none. Around the idea that the best way for them to receive the learning is in relatively large groups from sources we have created or blessed.
The district in which I work is like Will’s where 90 something percent of the kids graduate and go on to higher ed (Lake Wobegon east :-). But I wonder how many of them are prepared for and actually succeed in the real world. How many have the skills necessary to adapt to constant changes in the way information is received, processed and used.
I agree that our educational system is broken, primarily because it is increasingly disconnected from the world around it.
I tend to think of the system as outdated rather than broken – the society that our current education system was designed for doesn’t exist any longer. (There’s nothing wrong with my 1957 Belair but you won’t see me driving it on the freeway; if you catch my drift.) The problem with education is that our leaders aren’t courageous enough (or bright enough) to admit this. Nor are they courageous enough to admit that educating our youth is the responsibility of all segments of our society – not just the part that works inside the school.
â€œTHE WORLD WE HAVE CREATED IS THE PRODUCT OF OUR OWN THINKING. IT CANNOT BE CHANGED WITHOUT CHANGING OUR THINKING.â€ –Albert Einstein
Stuart Ciske says
If you can’t serve as a good example, at least you can serve as a horrible warning…-Catherine Aird
I have been thinking about this issue since I moved to AZ 8 years ago and stand at graduation each year and see that the number of hispanic and native american boys is so low in comparison to the other students graduating. It is a sad state of affairs and disappoints me greatly. The community knows, the state knows, the parents know, the teachers know. There is a quote that goes something like “When we know better, we do better.” It’s time to do better, because we’ve known better for quite sometime.
This problem is probably as old as our current, outdated concept of school. I understand David’s remark the society that our schools were designed for doesn’t exist anymore. I question whether such an ideal ever existed, since the current school model was mainly a project in social engineering.
I also know that this problem is not inherently one of urban schools. I grew up in Michigan farm country, and there were 150 of us in 9th grade in 1970. In 1974, only 90 of us graduated. A small number of us went on to college, but most kids either worked the family farm or got jobs in the local factories. School, except for the Future Farmers of America, was irrelevant for the life most kids were headed for.
Now, some of the communities there have set up charter schools with a focus on farm and rural business, which I think was a step toward making school relevant. But as long as school assumes there is one schedule and one curriculum (with maybe some variations) and “my way or the highway”, we stand to continue to alienate plenty of people.
Everyone needs to check out http://detentionslip.org. It’s one of the leading sources for breaking crazy new in public schools. After seeing some of the stories, it makes sense that education is in the state that it is.
Frank Krasicki says
The lowered graduation rate is a preductable consequence of the NCLB legislation.
As for the system being broken, I don’t think so. The system is being held hostage by the current administration with a lot of complicity from the NEA.
there are ways out of the quagmire and you’ll find those ideas talked about regularly on my blog;
– Frank Krasicki
Pedro S. Ruiz says
I, for one, am still a student. Being so, I am constantly reminded of the deficiencies and inadequacies of the state of education in the United States. Additionally, living in Texas, a minority rich state, boasts the opportunity to witness the cogs and wheels of a rusted machine that is no longer fit to operate.
I was once naive. I believed it was a deep rooted sloth inherent to their beings, an inability to keep their pants on and eggs unfertilized, and general apathy to becoming educated that was ultimately to blame for their folly.
I now have a clearer idea of what’s happening. Texas, along with every other state in this country, has experienced the call of accountability. Educators’ goals have shifted; intellectually rich content has been disposed in order to teach students how to pass a standardized exam. I feel as if classrooms echo “I’m never going to use this, ever!” now more than ever. Meanwhile, students’ families can barely manage to fiscally survive. When their families summon them to work, they have no reason to object. The vast disparity between first and third class jobs is huge, and the second class job has been lost in the fray. Students that have had the luxury of attending an “at risk” school that places a huge focus on acceptable exam scores might find that they do not have the skills to move onto a first class job. So, then, why not drop out and start working a third class job and just bypass the whole high school thing?
But maybe I’m just crazy. I do not pretend to hold much credibility as a student.
I teach at a middle school that recently was awarded an extremely generous STEM grant that has caused a great deal of excitement among faculty, staff and students — we are now all looking forward to exciting changes next year that will add cutting-edge technology, emphasize science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, and include cross-curricular authentic products created by students in a highly constructivist teaching and learning environment.
Imagine if our society was willing to make that kind of investment in every American public school! (Of course, I keep in mind that per pupil spending varies considerably from district to district and achievement in some districts with low per pupil spending rates is quite high, so money isn’t everything, though one very important factor.)
Meanwhile, we are all also very stressed out at my school about our At Risk status, since for several years we have had difficulty getting some subgroups to pass the state-mandated achievement tests. Despite all of our very hard and best efforts since August, we are still concerned about those few students who did not pass the 5th and 6th grade reading tests and will soon face the 7th grade reading test. Though most of our students do well on the tests, the current system obviously isn’t meeting every student’s needs.
Christine Marie says
Read “Shame of a Nation” by Jonathan Kozol
It speaks of the haves and have nots in volumes, specifically NYC and comparing it to the surrounding areas. Very eye opening and very sad. I had the pleasure of listening to him speak and his words still resonate in my head.
Jocelyn Chappell says
There are many independently researched links between poverty and educational attainment at the following link reflecting school exam results in England.
As to the questions in as to who deals…, whose responsibility is this…? I am just an ICT teacher in a small school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties–but I have a small and unquantifiable share in those decisions taken or not taken in the corridors of power in my case in London, England. In a real sense although I have practically no say in them they are my actions as much as anyone else’s, and as we say in school, “My actions are my responsibility,” so I do what I can to put them right.