My recent blogs have considered the quality of education offered at Durham’s Hillside High School. Responses have fluctuated from a firm rebuke of anyone with the guts to attack the school, to passionate pleas for someone to fix the mess before it’s too late. Thrown in the middle of it all was my apology for pondering the matter at all. Some have addressed my apology. One parent reminded me that I had no reason to apologize. That, in that parents opinion, everything I wrote unraveled the sad truth of what is happening at the school.
Lost in this discussion is what matters the most-elevating the standards for all our schools. Hillside High School is in the forefront of this discussion due to the vicious cycle implored to address the malady of problems there-change the dude in charge. My initial blog spoke of the importance of changing the culture of our schools. Mine was a challenge to raise the bar, not a venomous rebuke of those in charge.
It is easy to make assumptions related to what is wrong in our schools. The countless opinions regarding the root of what is wrong leaves us grappling to get from out under the stack of problems that keep us in catch up mode. Eleanor Seaton, a professor at UNC, has conducted research within public schools in Chicago and Philadelphia. During a conversation she pressed me to consider the importance of researchers entering into schools to do what they do best. Until we get a firm grip on what is happening we will continue this once a year rollercoaster ride.
There are a variety of possible reasons for the achievement gap, disciplinary problems in our schools and horrific test scores. Some could blame testing of students. Others may claim it all began when crack cocaine flooded the streets of America. Still others may charge poor leadership on the school board. The rhetoric surrounding the attack does little to address the mounting problems with public education in Durham, NC and across the nation. The more we wait, the more we will witness an escalating trend-the resegregation of our schools.
The longer we wait, the more we will witness the rise of private and charter school enrollment. More parents will seek alternatives to meet the educational needs of their children. We will witness declining faith in the public education system, and, with this movement, our public school population will reflect the students with the greatest need. Disparities will remind us of why integration and merger was needed. Integration was a reaction to two separate and incredibly unequal systems-one for whites and the other for blacks. The merger of the former Durham City and Durham County School districts came after citizens demanded the provision of equal resources for those attending the Durham City School District.
Durham had failed to integrate after the monumental Supreme Court decision. Two systems with drastically disparate revenue streams continued to exist until 1995. The merger of the systems began the end of economics as an excuse for poor academic performance. It was assumed that the gap in achievement was the function of more in the county school district. The aftermath of integration and merger forces us to contemplate something more than throwing dollars to fix academic disparities.
One has to be critical of the poor academic performance at both Hillside and Southern High. Some will argue that things aren’t as bad as they seem, and will attack anyone for drawing attention to the measures of success and failure used by the State of North Carolina. Others will hide behind the failures of the population attending the school, parental involvement, economic trends and peer pressure. Each excuse may be enough to explain why Hillside, Southern and other schools with the same demographics, struggle in meeting academic goals. These may be explanations for why schools can’t get over the hump, but should we allow these excuses to defeat us before we get started?
We have proven that throwing money at the problem will not fix what ails us. It will take much more than that. The problem is we have little credible evidence regarding what it will take to shift the tide. Why? Because we continue to regress while presumptuously contending the same methods will produce different results.
There’s one truth that I refuse to forfeit-we must demand more from our students. We should never consent to mediocrity. We should never defend an institution that, for whatever reason, fails to prepare those enrolled to survive in this evolving world. Shame on us if we are satisfied with having two separate and very unequal systems. Shame on us if we exert energy in promoting and protecting places that fail our youth.
That’s what got us here in the first place. Will someone sing with me “We Shall Overcome, Someday”