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KCLBADave

Fixing Schools Isn't Everything...Try Fixing Neighborhoods

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[i decided to post this as a separate topic because it is related to the article linked below...hope you all don't mind]

Fixing Schools Isn't Everything

This article, written by a preofessor of Education at Arizona State University, is very thought provoking and has much to say on the discussion we have been having here at UP about urban school revitalization, and where our focus should be.

Here are a few money quotes from the article:

It

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Meanwhile, our White and wealthier students, were they a nation, would score up at the top with the likes of Japan and Sweden.

Not to be picky, but I just cant believe this as true. If the professor added Private/homeschooled children this assumption would fit right in line with the average. (Private and homeschooled children tend to score lower on national tests, since most private and homeschool kids don't focus on science nearly as much as the public school system does)

Also if this were a national average, then states like Kansas and most (not all) of the plains states, and most of the Southeast would drag the US down even further.

Great neighborhoods are needed, especially in-town but the vicious cycle is that bad schools can contribute to bad neighborhoods, but bad neighborhoods contribute to bad schools. Raising the minimum wage, and other poverty assistance programs are a start, but not a solution. The real solution will come when someone invests the time and money to improve the neighborhoods with more development, and nicer facilities designed to facilitate the disadvantaged.

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I kind of feel like this study overlooks the role of parents. Parents that care about their children's schooling and take the time to ensure they get good grades and stay out of trouble make a huge difference. Unfortunately, poor neighborhoods have a higher likelihood of single parents, parents working multiple jobs or parents that just don't care.

You make a good point. However, by fusing together people from a broad range of economic backgrounds into one neighborhood, you can largely take care of this.

For instance, if I'm from the upper middle class, and my neighbor is from the lower class, and we have children the same age, attending the same school, they'll most likely be friends of some sort; it happens all the time in the sub divisions, kids are friends with the kids on the block so to speak. You know what happens when one of those parents needs to go do something, be it work or otherwise? The neighbors "chip in" so to speak and help look after the wellfare of the other children on the block. It's much easier for kids to get in trouble when there's NOBODY watching them. Having friends parents looking after them, even if only from a distance can solve a lot of problems. If a parent is gone 75% of the time the child is home, they'll never no what they're really doing. But when you involve more than one set of parents, you now have two sets of eyes watching things.

I think that's more the point of the study. By fixing the neighborhoods, and infusing them with a diversity of people (both race and financially), we can solve a lot of the "problem" with the schools. Right now, if a neighborhood is all "poor", chances are the parents are far to busy trying to make ends meet.

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There doesn't appear any new information in that article. Poor kids in poor neighborhoods don't do as well in school, we know. How about a study that would examine possible solutions instead of just pointing out the problems over and over again? And "access to better paying jobs" isn't a solution, its just shifting blame from the education to economics.

Same goes for more diverse neighborhoods. We all know that a vibrant and healthy neighborhoods tend to be diverse, (racially, socioeconomically and otherwise) but how do we achieve such diversity? How do we create access to better jobs?

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There doesn't appear any new information in that article. Poor kids in poor neighborhoods don't do as well in school, we know. How about a study that would examine possible solutions instead of just pointing out the problems over and over again? And "access to better paying jobs" isn't a solution, its just shifting blame from the education to economics.

Same goes for more diverse neighborhoods. We all know that a vibrant and healthy neighborhoods tend to be diverse, (racially, socioeconomically and otherwise) but how do we achieve such diversity? How do we create access to better jobs?

Actually the article is excerpts from a 60 page study that is a lot more throrough. It is also written from the view point of education. I think the point of the article is that public school systems are often blamed for the whole enchilada when in reality the problems are much more complex and inter-related with other social issues.

Nothing is ever cut and dry.

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when in reality the problems are much more complex and inter-related with other social issues.

Oh I absolutely agree with that. The whole issue is incredibly complicated. There certainly isn't any one area to which you can point and say "THAT is the problem."

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Interesting to note though that a majority of the wealthiest people in this country (1st generation, not inherited wealth) came from mostly middle and lower middle class neighborhoods and performed poorly in school. They took personal responsibility for their situation and fought tooth and nail to improve their lives.

An important factor is that somebody, somewhere along the line, whether it was a parent, a coach, or a teacher, told them that they believed in them and that they had what it takes to succeed. Rather than listening to all the voices telling them that the world's against them and that they can never make it because somebody's holding them down, they choose to believe the voice telling them that they can make it.

So much of this falls on the parents as mentioned before. Even a single mother who works three jobs and is hardly ever home can continually build her kids up and teach them to expect more, and do more than she ever did. Those are often the children who break the cycle to become our nation's wealthiest families.

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I would agree with this (the study). Much of the lure of the suburbs are the acclaimed "better schools". But are the SCHOOLS and the programs really better, which earns the schools higher marks on standardized tests? Or are the STUDENTS better because of the demographics of their households? Higher earners tend to have children with higher IQ's. It's easier to learn math when you're not worrying about where your next meal is coming from, or if you'll get shot today.

I think what Dave is saying from this study, is that the problems with GRPS can not be solved by having better this or better that. They can only be improved if there is a major change in the demographics of the school district. A mass influx of the middle and upper class into the city and its schools.

Compounding that problem is that poor children are increasingly being surrounded by only other poor children.

If higher income families (probably mostly white or Asian) are waiting around for GRPS to get better before they will move into the district, it probably won't happen.

Am I right?

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Interesting to note though that a majority of the wealthiest people in this country (1st generation, not inherited wealth) came from mostly middle and lower middle class neighborhoods and performed poorly in school.

Sorry eagle, but I don't know about that. Its true that many of the wealthiest and most successful people fought tooth and nail and struggled to get where they are, the bulk of them were probably "middle" and not "lower class", and I don't think that they performed poorly in school, otherwise they wouldn't have gotten into a college. But there are always exceptions. If you had statistics or something, I would love to see them though :thumbsup:

Oh BTW I am not saying that the "lower class" can't become wealthy or successful, they can. Don't misconstrue what I'm sayin'. ;)

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Yah, Andy, I agree too. That may have been possible in the earlier parts of this century, when many of the wealthiest people today created their wealth through industry. But's it's a rapidly changing world. If you don't even have ACCESS to a computer, you're probably not likely to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

Sounds a bit like a "Feel good rock-n-roll book on tape". :P

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I think what Dave is saying from this study, is that the problems with GRPS can not be solved by having better this or better that. They can only be improved if there is a major change in the demographics of the school district. A mass influx of the middle and upper class into the city and its schools

Am I right?

Yes, you are correct sir...

At Lighthouse we are trying to employ what we have come to call a re-neighboring strategy, which is intentionally encouraging middle income folks to move back into at risk urban neighborhoods. The KEY point in this strategy is not to have a "savior" of the neighborhood mentality, but simply to be good neighbors.

Imagine, if you will what would happen if 15 families all with children moved into a neighborhood around, say Congress School. Then imagine what would happen if all 15 families decided to intentionally enroll their kids in Congress (I simply choose Congress because it is the first one that came to mind.). Imagine that these families made the issues of the school and the issues of the neighborhood their issues. Imagine if these families got involved in Congress School's PTA, its school events, became room parents, etc. What would this school look like in a few years.

I am sure you have all heard of the broken window theory. When broken windows in buildings become accepted conditions in neighborhoods, it allows many other things to become normal...trash, peeliing paint, junk cars in the yard etc.

The same is true of at risk urban schools, apathy breeds apathy. If a small group of families decided to get involved and raise the bar for that school, it would encourage others to do the same. Pumping money into schools will not work...pumping more resources into schools will not work, even putting the best teachers into an at risk school is not a guarantee that the school will turn around. However, infusing active families with resources into at risk schools will certainly make a difference in both the neighborhood and the school.

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I'm with ya Dave. I am FORTUNATE enough to have one of my kids enrolled in Forest Hills schools (fortunate meaning I appreciate what I have), and the parent involvement is so much so that it is borderline ANNOYING. <_< Many of these families have the means so that one parent can stay home full time or work part time, and devote much of their time toward school or neighborhood activities. They get awfully obsessive about very stupid issues in my book, and I wonder sometimes what people with this kind of energy and means could accomplish by devoting their time toward something more meaningful, like improving the community around them.

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Having toutered at two different inner-city schools, I can speak from experience having worked w/ kids and spoken with teachers. A lot of the kids are craving adult attention . .they don't get it at home. A lot of homes are broken, single parent, drug users, migrant workers moving around, etc. One little girl didn't have a dresser but kept her clothes on the floor. It is mind boggling . . .to say the least, parental involvment is extremely lacking. If you want to make a difference, volunteer your time!!!! A kind, encouraging word goes a long way with these kids. The cycle can be broken and they are not doomed to poverty!

I find it hard to believe, however, that you are going to get Forest Hills, EGR, Northview, or other suburban families moving into the City and enrolling their kids in these schools. It would be great if it happened but the bottom line is clear in that economics are a driving force to property values, education, quality of life, etc. Not many people are willing to lower that if they already have it.

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Same goes for more diverse neighborhoods. We all know that a vibrant and healthy neighborhoods tend to be diverse, (racially, socioeconomically and otherwise) but how do we achieve such diversity? How do we create access to better jobs?

Maybe quality transit options? People go where the jobs go, lets make it happen for folks who need the option to get to them.

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I find it hard to believe, however, that you are going to get Forest Hills, EGR, Northview, or other suburban families moving into the City and enrolling their kids in these schools. It would be great if it happened but the bottom line is clear in that economics are a driving force to property values, education, quality of life, etc. Not many people are willing to lower that if they already have it.

Maybe not on a large scale to start with sunlover, but as more people did it, the trend would possibly grow. ESPECIALLY if it is a good investment, as is being discussed in the GR Press today. There are many suburban areas around GR that you'll be lucky to get out of your house what you paid 2 - 3 years ago.

I'm intrigued by your thoughts on this Dave. Does Lighthouse have a name for this idea "the power of 15" or something? Middle and upper income families may be more apt to do it too if they became part of a group of 10 or 15 families doing the same thing. Somewhat like Steve's Newberry Place, but not necessarily communal if that is not what people wanted.

.

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Imagine, if you will what would happen if 15 families all with children moved into a neighborhood around, say Congress School. Then imagine what would happen if all 15 families decided to intentionally enroll their kids in Congress (I simply choose Congress because it is the first one that came to mind.). Imagine that these families made the issues of the school and the issues of the neighborhood their issues. Imagine if these families got involved in Congress School's PTA, its school events, became room parents, etc. What would this school look like in a few years.

I am sure you have all heard of the broken window theory. When broken windows in buildings become accepted conditions in neighborhoods, it allows many other things to become normal...trash, peeliing paint, junk cars in the yard etc.

The same is true of at risk urban schools, apathy breeds apathy. If a small group of families decided to get involved and raise the bar for that school, it would encourage others to do the same. Pumping money into schools will not work...pumping more resources into schools will not work, even putting the best teachers into an at risk school is not a guarantee that the school will turn around. However, infusing active families with resources into at risk schools will certainly make a difference in both the neighborhood and the school.

I think that Dave hits the nail on the head here. This is one of the most important solutions, maybe the only solution. This solution does not need any more expenditure by the district. It does not even need new buildings built. It simply needs those 15 families to commit and "raise the bar". Once the bar is raised, the school will become better and it should in theory perpetuate more positive improvements. It is great that Dave feels this way AND is a member of the board.

We need to get people to become citizens again.

The question is how do you get those 15 families to commit and become citizens? How do you get people to commit the future of their children into a system that has all the appearances (whether they are true or not) of failures?

I DO think that this phenomenon is happening in some places right now, but it has not got to the tipping point yet.

From personal experience, my wife has been trying to get a tour of the Montessori program, and it has been very difficult to get a call back from them or to schedule a time. It almost seems that they are not interested.

The Montessori program is one of the schools that has done well, probably because of parental involvement. This program, and other successful ones, need to be highlighted and marketed more so that the tipping point can be reached. We have three kids who could end up here, we are both college degree holders, we have a stable home life, I would think that there would be more desire to get us into this school.

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Dave Allen for Superintendent!! :yahoo::P

I can see it being a formal program. Identify 10 or so particular schools (probably Elementary), identify approximately 15 depressed properties within that school's immediate area, determine whether the homes can be saved or need to be replaced, get 10 - 15 families to sign up for the "program" for each area, etc. etc.. I'm not an expert, so I don't know what other factors would be involved. One thing nice about a lot of the properties around Grand Rapids is the amount of square footage you can get for the money, which is important for growing families. Suburban housing prices are reaching the $120 - $150/sq ft price range.

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I'm intrigued by your thoughts on this Dave. Does Lighthouse have a name for this idea "the power of 15" or something? Middle and upper income families may be more apt to do it too if they became part of a group of 10 or 15 families doing the same thing. Somewhat like Steve's Newberry Place, but not necessarily communal if that is not what people wanted.

.

Thanks for the Newberry Place plug :blush:

This was one of the ideas that brought the initial households around the idea of cohousing. The two big reasons families with kids leave the city is safety and schools. We think the cohousing idea addresses these issues because you build in relative safety through relationships and design and a have a support network to compliment school. It's still my hope that the families of Newberry Place will "adopt" Coit Elementary on some level. We have several households that have their kids through school or don't have kids that are also interested in volunteering. But probably the more exciting thing for me is that current neighbors around Coit Park are families with kids. We will soon have four new babies on our street. It's keeping those families as part of our neighborhood that will make Coit Elementary the best elementary school in the City.

However, I think there will be "cohousing-lite" options in our city in the future. I have already talked with several groups interested in forming more intentional community/neighborhoods without the intensity of a cohousing project. Stay tuned Grand Rapids!

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I DO think that this phenomenon is happening in some places right now, but it has not got to the tipping point yet.

This is very true. I believe I could actually come up with a decent list of schools that are experiencing this type of community and parental involvement. We need to find a way to replicate it, and I believe the movement needs to be linked between the schools and folks invovled in community development.

As far as the Montesorri issues, GRPS really needs to get it right with the Montesorri program and the community. Due to the recent facilities decision this school in particular will be under the microscope. Towards this end, I will make a couple of follow up calls today.

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