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June 1, 2015
Vol. 72
No. 9

Perspectives / Not Someone Else's Job

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If you get yourself sandwiched into the conversation about resources being too low and standards being too high, you will never move. Resources will remain low; standards will remain high. And standards should be high.Tiffany Anderson
Speaking at a recent ASCD symposium on poverty and learning in Washington, D.C., the superintendent of the Jennings (Missouri) School District, clad in her signature suit and tennis shoes (the latter to be ever ready for crossing guard duty), shared with colleagues reasons why it's necessary to stop waiting for others to fix the policies that affect schools and take action oneself.
Tiffany Anderson ticked off the actions that she believes will bridge the learning gap for students in poverty, all within the power of educators: carefully choosing the kind of teachers who, for example, make home visits to families to learn about the lives of the children they will be teaching; adopting a standards-based curriculum—not teaching to a test, not teaching to a textbook, but teaching to the standard; and, most important, building good relationships because "kids will work hard for you if they trust you; they won't if they don't. Guess what? Adults are the same way."
Her district has also forged relationships with the community. For example, a partnership with the St. Louis Food Bank stocks a school pantry that feeds 400 families a month. Two local universities help by employing two of the six guidance counselors the district has decided are a priority. A third initiative was installing a washer and dryer at every school to make it easier for family members to both volunteer and do a load of laundry. As a result of such efforts, Jennings School District, a district with one of the highest poverty rates and highest minority percentages, as well as one of the best attendance rates, in St. Louis, is on the move.
No doubt, as the symposium and the dozens of stories in this issue of Educational Leadership demonstrate, many schools are improving one at a time. Such internal improvement, however, takes creativity. It takes a willingness to look inside as well as learn from one another, instead of thinking it's someone else's job to move schools forward. And, as our lead author Bryan Goodwin notes, it takes steering away from solutionitis—"the propensity to jump quickly on a solution before fully understanding the problem to be solved.".
Urgency is needed. As a new report reveals, 51 percent of schoolchildren in U.S. public schools now live in a poverty that crosses all schools, from suburbs to cities to rural areas. Steve Suitts, author of the study, notes,
It's a defining moment because we've reached the juncture in our public schools where the education of low-income students is not simply a matter of equity and fairness. It's a matter of our national future. When one group becomes the majority of our students, they define what that future is going to be in education more than any other group. … Quality of life and a well-informed democracy are at stake.
No longer can good schools be outliers; no longer can those who spend their lives educating children be the silent partners. It's time for educators—those from affluent schools included—to tell the world what they know and advocate publicly for students and schools.
At the local level, educators need to do what they know how to do best—improve schools from within. Let these stories shared by educators for educators provoke both conversation and action.

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End Notes

1 Southern Education Foundation. (2015). A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low-Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation's Public Schools. Atlanta, GA: Author.

Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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