Sunday, March 28, 2010

Utica's Grim Statistics . . .

Today's OD has an interesting Guest view: Utica stats grim, but education can turn the tide by David Mathis.

Mr. Mathis is correct that education is the way out of poverty, and that Utica's high poverty rate and poor education statistics fall hardest on the minority community. He asks for more programs and a "groundswell" of public outcry for more. However, he offers no specifics on exactly what he is looking for.

The related issues of poverty and lack of education in Utica's population are not really about race but about years of neglect, ineffectiveness, and, perhaps, self-interest among those charged with moving the city forward educationally. It seems the entire city is in a hole.

More than enough is spent on education in the City of Utica, but it has been blown on trivia, not the transmission of core knowledge. Content has been diluted and subjected to experimentation. Objective knowledge-based standards have been traded for subjective performance standards where it is unclear what, if anything in particular, students are required to know. Direct instruction, the teaching method shown to be the most effective among disadvantaged students and the method almost everyone learned from 50 years ago, has been jettisoned for group and self-directed activities. We heard no complaints from community leaders, particularly the leaders of minority communities, about these changes when they were being made. We have also heard no calls for reversal of these changes. Many of these changes have been grant driven. Could the leaders who should have complained personally benefited from promoting the changes?

A strong neighborhood school system strengthens neighborhoods and benefits students. Children walk to school becoming physically fit and connected to their neighborhood. Parental involvement in school is encouraged by proximity. Self-monitoring neighborhood-based social networks develop around the school giving parents more opportunities to know each other and what their children are doing. Lessons can be tailored to meet the needs of the neighborhood and draw upon students'shared experiences from the neighborhood. Neighborhood schools were discarded in the name of a government-mandated social experiment: racial balance. Now the neighborhoods are decaying; neighbors don't know each other as well and don't know what their children are doing. School officials complain about a lack of discipline, lack of parental involvement, and obese students. Valuable time is wasted on a school bus. Students and the community have suffered, and the taxpayers got saddled with higher expenses. Where were our leaders, including leaders of the minority community, when all this was happening? While their intentions with regard to racial balance were good, why can't they now admit it was a mistake, and that more was lost than gained?

Utica once had a strong Vocational Education program within the city limits. Academic and vocational training were conveniently located on the same sites. There was no stigma attached to the vocational program. The program provided the way out of poverty and to a secure career for many. But the program was dismantled and sent to BOCES in the suburbs, a place where problematic suburban students were once sent. Utica did not need to do this because it had the population to support a Voc-Ed program, but it did it anyway. How many students now avoid Voc-Ed courses because of the difficulty of working them into their schedules, the bus ride, or the social stigma? Where were Utica's community leaders when all this happened? Where are their efforts to bring Voc-Ed back into Utica Schools?

There are specific things that can be done to lift children, especially minority children, out of poverty. They are the things alluded to above: a knowledge-based content-rich curriculum delivered by direct instruction; neighborhood schools; and a vocational education program integrated with the city's high school. But Mr. Mathis does not ask for any of these things, only "more" programs and and a "groundswell" of demands.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent post. The other side of the coin is to note that Mathis has been a " more programs" advocate for 30 years. The cultural aspects of the problem including drug use, unwed teenagers, single parent households, lack of manners and respect,failure to take advantage of public education,etc.., are never addressed appropriately. The Proctor drop out rate is what? 35%-40%. These are forever lost youth. The whole notion of individual resposibilty has been lost and the "more program" types are part and parcel of the problem.