How to build better schools

Randal Jelks pointed to an interesting article from the New York Times on New York’s elite schools, highlighting the terribly small admission of African Americans. 14. The number is shocking. As he notes, the problem is not simply there on Manhattan, but also here on the banks of the Grand. Do our magnet schools, specifically City, suffer from the same disease? Or more accurately, do they function as a distraction from the point. As he notes:

(The magnet schools have) never been about the intellectual development of Black and Brown children who now make over 69% of the school district. Now mind you need middle class parents of all stripes in the GRPS, but not at the expense of majority the population. Too much excuse making in my opinion and reinforcement of race and class segregation with white folk being the power brokers

Perhaps. This does seem to  to pit the middle class against the needs by race. This may miss the issues of class. As Jelks alludes to, numerous studies not that it is poverty, not race which correlates with achievement. Moreover, achievement for low income students rises when they have the chance to be economically integrated; middle class engagement by parents and stakeholders is critical for the overall health of the schools.

Add to these observations the conditions at hand in our city. Of the total school age population in the city, Grand Rapids Public Schools gets slightly more than half. The rest are found in charters, schools of choice transfers, and to a limited extent the parochial. Of the share of the students 72% qualify for student lunch. Note GRPS is ~ 31% white, the census school age population is roughly 35% white. So the question of uplift is less racial than economic in nature; a broader economic base gives more possibility for lifting up more students. Again, integration

And finally, there are graduation statistics released yesterday. GRPS has made decided gains in the past five years, particularly among its black and latino populations, and especially with the men. Further, the graduation rates for  Innovation Central High School and Grand Rapids University Prep are both in the 90+% range, and both have more than 80% minority enrollment. These schools succeed because of stakeholder engagement, and there is simply no question that we need more of that. In short, this is not the district of 10 years ago, or even five.

Who’s the music for?

This afternoon had the opportunity to listen to the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony concert that included a wonderful performance of Holst’s The Planets. The orchestra was full and often thrilling in its playing. But I also left with a certain sadness, it was a concert that indirectly conveyed the continuing hit the arts have taken in our schools.

As was clear in the program, these high performing student comes from a rather restricted background: a few elite public schools, Christian schools, or home schools. Music that should be the common inheritance of all is instead nurtured only in a few schools or programs. This was most evident in the Classical Symphony (their training program) where most students were out of home schooled environments. While a host of benefits belong to learning and mastering a musical instrument, such work is now the area of a committed few. And as the Youth Symphony revealed, most often not in a public (or charter) setting. Directly or not, we’ve privatized out our music.

Not surprisingly, a privatized music is sociologically narrow, even (dare we say it) mono-chromatic. That’s not the students’ fault, or the organization’s, rather it points to conditions in our society, the audible disconnect with our communities. Much as I love the kids I know at Christian school kids, or the students it work with at City, what I long for is a different ensemble. Something Sphinx-inspired, music that frankly has a little more color in it.

I’m thinking we would all be better for it.

School is a headache

Between the demands of the classes at the college, and debate/speech four days a week at City — blogging has taken a back seat.

Plenty of good things are happening, but honestly, I need to make time. So as they say,

watch this space.