Friday, March 5, 2010

You can't solve a problem at the same level of mind that created it - Einstein

Terry Edlin of the New Community Vision Cooperative quoted Einstein in her piece on Education in in The Chicago Examiner yesterday, arguing that "you can't solve a problem at the same level of mind that created it." In other words, we can't count on the government to fix our education crisis in America. After years and years of failed policy like "No Child Left Behind," they just seem to make things worse. We also shouldn't "expect schools to pick up the slack for parents who are stretched very thin." Pointing fingers at both of them, as so many like to do, has not been effective either. Terry proposes that we need to "begin to think of creative ways to support our communities."

Edlin cites education historian Diane Ravitch, who theorizes that "Poor children… simply face too many problems outside the classroom. If you don’t buttress whatever happens in school with social and economic changes that give kids a better chance in life and put their families on a more stable footing, then schools alone are not going to solve the problems of poor student performance. There has to be a range of social and economic strategies to support and enhance whatever happens in school."

(Expand Map To See Greater Detail)

Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) promotes tutoring/mentoring programs as one such "creative buttress," and Mapping For Justice makes maps that help identify where T/MC mentoring strategies might need to be further explored by community leaders... to build new and better Tutor/Mentor Programs, and help "give kids a better chance in life and put their families on a more stable footing."

Coincidentally, I've been working on some new maps, using newly-released "failing school" data from 2009, poverty data from the last census, and the known locations of currently-operating Tutor/Mentor Programs in Chicagoland (data that the T/MC hosts and offers to the public for free on its website).

Look at the map above to explore patterns between poverty and elementary schools where students are not making "adequate yearly progress" according to government testing policy.

Where is the high poverty? Where, in relation, are clusters of poorly performing schools? How many (or few) programs are available in the neighborhoods where these conditions exist?

We can easily assume that the total number of students attending the number of public elementary schools in this map far exceeds the capacity of the mentoring programs known to be currently pairing volunteer mentors with elementary school aged students.

If you are open to the possibility that mentoring might be a valuable component to any comprehensive plan of action to increase student learning... and that mentoring can help ease the cost of poverty to tax payers... and that the future of our city's economic and social health need creative and fresh solutions to these problems... then it should be a no-brainer! Head to the Tutor/Mentor Exchange website and learn how you can get involved or donate to this cause.


Ariane Perret said...

Sorry to annoy you at your work with a comment, it is interesting to read about education in the Usa. Well many things seem to be linked with poverty in your blog(and i do know it is a real problem as my husband and I have been teaching to very poor children, some were even sleeping in the streets in winter). But according to me there is still a huge problem linked to the parents. I don't want to blame poor or unemployed parents, actually the poorest are very often the greatest, above all new immigrants are just incredible, they escaped wars or terrible poverty, they have very few clothes and food for their children but they do believe in school as an answer to their problems and their kids are just so happy being in a classroom...
The real problem we have more and more these times are parents who are not so poor but who completely despise school, education and authority. According to them all the things you can learn at school is completely useless (even basics as reading fluently or spelling) , real life is somewhere else; if their kids don't respect and fight with other pupils or even the teacher they think that is great because they will have to do that in real life. They don't want their children to respect any order or any authority or they come to complain about the teacher(and sometimes that can be violent).
Of course if they sell drug may be school is just worthless ( but my husband is a math teacher, math could be usefull to count the money or to weigh the powder...), may be it is hard these times to have faith in our future, in our economic systems, so that's why they also don't have faith in schools...
I don't know.
And i think it is really great what you are doing with tutoring mentoring but what about these kind of students I was talking about: if their parents repeat everyday "School is bad for you" will they ever want to come and study in a tutoring program?
Sorry again to leave that comment i'm not sure it is appropriate but sometimes it is boring reading and not being able to talk.
Have a good day at work, even if we can't save all our pupils sometimes we can really change the life of one or two of them and it is so great when they come back at school to say hello so many years after and so taller...

Mike said...

Hi Ariane! Thanks for reading and replying!

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don't have a chance to meet these kids and their parents like you and I and your husband have.

I'm a teacher too and of course I agree that some kids have parents who detest what the education system represents... or, in some cases, are gangbangers themselves... or for whatever reason just don't care about school. And they will likely raise kids who will have the same values, and become a new generation of parents who don't care (and your and my problem in one way or another).

It's a frustrating thing. When you think about it, there is an entire culture that has evolved - an entire attitude in general, that needs to shift (on both sides of the poverty line). And that's a daunting challenge. Especially when everyone these days wants easy fixes and overnight solutions. It's going to take a lot of people working together in a lot of places over a lot of time... and probably more sacrifice than we're used to... to roll back some of the social and economic damage created by poverty in the USA - and probably the world.

I think all we can do is stay positive and solution-minded, and start now with what we can control.

Maybe by supporting programs that help the kids who want help. (Oh and this might surprise a lot of people: These kids are out there.)

It's frustrating when people generalize that ALL kids in high poverty are "that type of kid"... "with that type of parent" which is absurd of course.

More people need to volunteer and meet others who aren't like them. Only then will the stereotypes and bias disappear.

Tutor/Mentor programs introduce students to adults, and adults to students.

Many of the students haven't met a lot of "outsiders" who care.

Many of the adults are people who've never met a kid in a "rough neighborhood" (but instead form their opinion based on the news or what their neighbor told them). Many adults learn through volunteersing that, in addition to the kids who are "lost," there is hope for...

Young kids in these neighborhoods who have absent parents and need mentoring...

Because they'll get it, either from the streets or from volunteer mentor programs.

In 10 years, this "type of" kid, on the fence today, will either be costing taxpayers money (jail, social services, billions of dollars dumped into high schools in a futile effort to create a miracle out of a high school kid reading at a 3rd grade level, etc.) ...

Or he/she will have made decisions that led to a job... maybe college... maybe with some expendable money to reinvest in his/her community... maybe even advocacy skills to use as a leader him/herself.

Without parents equiped to guide/mentor "that kid," it's up to the rest of the village, like it or not.

We won't succeed with every kid... but the alternative guarantees another generation of more of the same crime/education/tax problems, which I think we all agree is unacceptable.

(I would also suggest, speaking of parents, that parents in affluent families who "teach" their kids that they are superior to others based on race or class, are equally a part of "the problem.")

Thanks again for replying to my blog. Drop me a line any time if you want to discuss education. I would like to hear how your home country addresses these issues. (France?)

Salut et a bientot.

TerryEdlin said...

I am heartened to learn about T/MC and to see so many people committed to this grass roots work. With so many ways to be part of the solution instead of the problem, no one should be bored - there is just too much to do!

Ariane said...

Hello Mike,

Sorry to be long to reply I'm far too busy sometimes.
As a teacher do you think education in the USA is improving or worsening, does Obama's policy help, can you see things changing ?
I can tell you about the situation in France, actually it is just frightning how fast it is worsening here. I think we'll soon need map as yours and tutoring... I 'll try to sum up: French national education main goal is now saving money, and by the way, more broadly, we are just destroying all our public services ( school, hospital, post office, etc...). It is funny as Obama is creating an health insurance in USA and our president Sarkozy is just destroying the one we had (many changes these last years, I have experienced now it just costs you an arm and a leg to go to the hospital, even if you pay for a private health insurance).
About education, we have less and less money for our pupils, it means for example I can't buy enough felt pens for the whole year ( may and june become no drawing months!).
Teachers are also less and less so there are more and more kids in each classroom, 30 to 35 in my case, it can reach 40 to 45 in high school. Everyday I have to choose who I'm going to help as I don't have 3 heads and ten hands, terrible choice...
Funny detail: when a teacher is missing (sick) in middle or high school another one must replace him, so my husband Patrick replaced several times the spanish teacher. Patrick is a maths teacher and as a child he studied english and german... you were wondering why french people were not good at speaking a foreign language now you know!
Our education minister closes as much school as possible, including IUFM (college for teachers) so that new teachers will arrive in a classroom knowing nothing about their job: normal way as I did was bachelor's degree then 3 years in any university, then 2 years in IUFM. Now it will be 5 years in any university even if there is absolutely no link between the studies and being a teacher (as studying agro food industry, true example!).
They are also now closing the RASED, actually RASED are special teachers who helps pupils trapped in difficulty, a kind of tutoring but inside school; they are all fired, there's one left in our school but she knows that next year that may be over.
They have already closed many special schools for disabled children ( blindness, physical or mental disability) and these kids just now go to our normal school (so cheaper!), welcoming a disabled personn can be a great experience, we had a little girl with down syndrom and even if she couldn't really learn she was happy to be among the others. But sometimes it is just crazy and such a failure welcoming a disabled, I had a terrible year with a deeply autistic girl it was a nightmare for her, me and all the other kids.
And to finish my list What school can we close today to save money, our minister wanted to close all the écoles maternelles, I think it is called pre-school or kindergarden in the USA... It is from 2 to 6 years old. Very negative reactions, french love their écoles maternelles so they cancelled (or just delayed?) it.

Ariane said...

(sorry I speak to much, the end is there...)
Actually our president clearly wants school to cost as few as possible, he wants public school to be awful places so that many families prefer private school (parents pay for private school, but many families can't afford it, even we find it expensive). And he succeded, more and more people run away from our public schools and the gap between people gets larger... Personnaly my son is now in CE1 (8 years old) in the public school where I work because I want him to be mixed and know real people, but I don't know how long it will last as my son is rather a minority there (he's white, non muslim and no divorced parents!). That would be a kind of failure sending him to private school but I can't be blind, problems are real.
Well you can see Sarkozy is just killing us; don't be wrong, when our president is abroad his foreign policy seems sometimes clever or even some people think is a socialist. But when he comes back home his policy is completely different, he's a right wing no doubt.
Sometimes we're just wondering why we are still teachers, we more and more become targets (just as policemen), our car is always damaged ( OK it is only an old Renault Kangoo but...), once his middle school kids burnt Patrick's classroom at night (to protest being punished), they even annoyed my father in law and Patrick's younger brothers ( so cool having a teacher in your family!).
Patrick sometimes think about quitting his job. For me it is different, my pupils are very young (4 to 6 years old) so they can be incredibly naughty (they are very creative!) but everyday I get kisses and hugs and drawings (only if there are some feltpens left of course!).
I have to end as time flies, I hope my english is not too bad to be read easily, actually I have been working on my italian these last months but it is really not helping to talk to you. By the way italian school is rather like french one and they have rather the same problems, south of France and north Italy have many things in common anyway...

Bye et bon courage pour ta journée de travail