Touted by many to be one of the greatest speakers for Education in our time, Diane Ravitch frequently names poverty as a barrier to quality education, a “barrier” that our schools overcome.
“If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our educational problems would be solved. And that would be a miracle.”
Firstly, poverty is not a barrier to a quality education. It is an obstacle that can be overcome. Our Member schools have made this “miracle” (as Diane says) come true. They frequently have proficiencies higher than those of their more wealthy peers. Why is this? Our schools differ in governance styles (charter, district, parochial, independent), city regulation, funding requirements, but they’re making this happen.
We are finding out exactly what these schools have in common to share with the rest of the country. We’re also finding what they do uniquely, because every effective practice of one school may not fit perfectly at another.
What we’ve found so far:
First, everyone in the school (teachers, administrators, school leaders) must believe that ever child can learn. A culture must be created around this idea that is adhered to every moment of every day. This culture must include high expectations for all students, teachers, and leaders and fulfill that expectation without excuses. Excuses don’t just exist for the students, they exist with teachers and leaders too. Thinking that children cannot learn because of poverty is an excuse. Schools must cater to the needs of the students, and if something isn’t working, you must change your system to achieve different results.
Seth Andrew, Head of School at Democracy Prep in Harlem thinks that poverty and lack of parental involvement are excuses for failure. A recent Study Tour at the Harlem school was organized to disseminate its effective practices regarding parent engagement. Like many of the area school leaders who attended, you will be surprised and intrigued. Take a look at this clip from the discussion:
Due to Democracy Prep’s success, Seth is now in charge of turning around Harlem Day while keeping all the same students.
Harlem Day had incredibly low class size, tons of adults, one of the highest philanthropy per-pupil rates if not the highest, and a really nice building,” Andrew said today. “So all of the traditional arguments that people make about what’s needed to fix schools: more money, smaller class sizes, more teachers, are just wrong. What you need is better teachers in a rigorous academic program.”
Andrew said he hoped to succeed in turning around Harlem Day and become a “national proof-point” for other charter school operators to model themselves after.
While Diane Ravitch is stuck on the idea that educating low income children is hopeless, Democracy Prep is just one example of a school that is proving her wrong. She’s also quick to say that we should be skeptical of any school producing radical changes, implying that they are false gains, but Democracy Prep stands up to that scrutiny and will prove again with this new turnaround school that not only does every child deserve a quality education, every child can have one.