It Still Takes a Village

A decade ago, the notion that “it took a village to raise a child” quickly became a political punchline, used by critics to demonstrate that the big bad government was somehow deflecting its responsibility for the education, healthcare, and general social services it takes to help prepare a young person for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

In reading the draft guidance for both Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation, one could get the sense that the schools themselves are the only entities who can truly guide improvement and innovation in the schools.  While i3 offers a tip of the cap to the role that not-for-profits can play in the new push for innovation, both grant programs are still very much a systems-based approach, with new dollars going to the old systems that have long failed to take the specific actions necessary to boost student achievement and close the achievement gap.
That shouldn’t be surprising.  Like it or not, if we are going to improve our public school offerings for all students, we must start inside the system.  While public/private partnerships, afterschool programs, enrichment centers, SES providers, and a host of other actors can play a part in improvement, if you don’t get to the root of the system — the school itself — you will never make the lasting, systemic change that RttT and i3 are seeking.  You’re simply tinkering around the edges, hoping an effort a step or two removes from the core academic day can have real impact on student learning.
But that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t take a village to for those improvements and innovations to take hold and stick around well after the federal funding is gone.  The burden is not simply on the classroom teacher to boost those achievement scores, it is also on parents and families, community leaders, ministers and church leaders, local businesses, and everyone else who touches the lives of today’s young people (and their families).  It is about recognizing that education does not happen in a vacuum, but rather is intrinsically linked to each and every corner of our lives, from our earliest memories to our latest actions.
Don’t believe Eduflack?  Think this just sounds like more of the typical status quo rhetoric to distract us from the issues of assessments, student performance, and test scores?  Take a look at the cover story of the latest American School Board Journal, written by EdSec Arne Duncan.
In his piece on “The Importance of Board and Mayoral Partnerships,” Duncan speaks of the conditions necessary for positive impact from mayoral control of the schools.  Noting a recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report stating that “if schools don’t work, the city does not work,” Duncan opines on the value of elected school boards, a strong mayor, a commitment to accountability, and a focused goal  He does some of it through the lens of his Chicago experience, but hits on mayoral successes like Boston as well.  The full article can be found here.
But perhaps the most interesting line written by Duncan is the following: “It takes more than a school to educate a student.  it takes a city that can provide support from the parks department, health services, law enforcement, social services, after-school programs, nonprofits, businesses, and churches.”
Yes, if the schools don’t work, the city doesn’t work.  But the responsibility is not purely on the schools themselves to self-repair.  Yes, it requires investment from all of the stakeholders articulated by Duncan.  But the good EdSec has left out an essential component to the school success equation — the family.  Schools also need engaged parents, family members who take an interest in the day-to-day learning of their children.  Families who do more than come in when their is a discipline problem or a desire to complain to a teacher about the workload or the “stress” on a child.  Parents who are engaging their children after the school house doors are closed, through afterschool programs, weekend and summer learning, and even family reading time at home.  Families who make sure the homework is done, the children are fed, and everything is being done to maximize the school day.  Parents who know that nothing is more important than their children’s education and they will do anything necessary to ensure their kids have access to the best teachers, the best curriculum, and the best resources possible.
Earlier this week, the Pew Hispanic Center surveyed Hispanic youth ages 16-25.  They found that nine in 10 surveyed believed a college education is “necessary” to get ahead in life.  So educators are getting the importance of a good education across.  Disturbingly, though, fewer than half of Hispanic students say they will earn a bachelor’s degree (compared with more than 60 percent of all students), and only 24 percent of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 are actually enrolled in postsecondary education.  USA Today has the full story here.
It is up to that village to bridge the gap between understanding the importance of postsecondary education and actually acting on that understanding.  It falls on the nonprofits, businesses, churches, and government agencies Duncan speaks of — along with the families — to ensure students are graduating from high school and enrolling in college.  Our teachers can offer the pathways, but it is up to all of the other actors in a young person’s life to ensure that they pursue all that is available to them and actually do what is necessary to get ahead in life.  A high school diploma should be a non-negotiable in every family, with no one seeing dropping out as a viable alternative.  And those high school experiences should be used to show all students that college is possible and is an achievable goal for any student with the right commitment, work ethic, and attitude.
If our schools don’t work, the city does not work.  If our kids are not educated, our kids do not work.  And if our kids do not work, our nation cannot succeed.  It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out the correlations there.

327 thoughts on “It Still Takes a Village

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