2008 Chicago Schools Policy Luncheon Series: Is Great Teaching Enough? What It Takes

January 21, 2009

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The last of three events: Paul Tough, New York Times Sunday magazine editor and author of "Whatever It Takes," talks about the Harlem Children's Zone, which is a model for a program proposed by President Barack Obama during his campaign. Nancy Aardema, executive director of Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), talks about parents as the engine for community development. Chris Brown, director of education programs for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation-Chicago (LISC), talks about a program that uses community organizing principles to improve five middle schools across the city.

Since the 1970s, fewer educators and policy makers believe that social and economic characteristics of students predetermine academic outcomes. Now there is widespread belief that all children can achieve at high levels, and that it is the responsibility of all schools and school districts to deliver on that reality!

Accordingly, government and philanthropy have focused on the “technical core” of instruction and principal/teacher quality as the key levers for change, and student gains have, indeed, been made. Parent and community involvement, while deemed good and right, are seen as “soft” and far less important to success than the central “business” of school. Now come several reports by the Consortium on Chicago School Research that establish the critical nature of community strength (or social capital) and school-community connections.

In Chicago, the correlation between school improvement and social capital has stark racial and economic patterns across the elementary schools. All of the 46 elementary schools that were stuck at the bottom of the CPS achievement list are in overwhelmingly African-American communities that have very low social capital and correspondingly weak school improvement fundamentals. With very few exceptions, nothing the District or the schools themselves have done has made much of a difference for decades.

Will a “can-do” attitude, teaching expertise, stronger social services, expert management and more money bring success to new or turn-around schools if they do not also deal with the community social capital issues? What are the implications for community leaders, intermediary institutions, and CPS?

Certainly many communities are cynical, distrustful, and angry after failed cycles of reform, seemingly precipitous school closings, and often hurried or superficial community engagement. In this its 10th anniversary year, the Chicago Schools Policy Luncheon Series will closely examine the Consortium's thought-provoking research, tackle the questions it raises and confront the troubling implications of doing school reform in the context of long-standing racial and economic inequities.

2008 Chicago Schools Policy Luncheon Series: Is Great Teaching Enough?  Aims to address the impact of school-community connections on the achievement gap.  In this its 10th anniversary year, the Chicago Schools Policy Luncheon Series will closely examine the Consortium's thought-provoking research, tackle the questions it raises and confront the troubling implications of doing school reform in the context of long-standing racial and economic inequities.

The Chicago Schools Policy Luncheon Series is organized by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest and Catalyst Chicago, the Community Renewal Society's education reform news magazine.

 

Recorded Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at Union League Club of Chicago.