As we come to the end of the painfully short Black History Month, I’m reminded how important it is for us to acknowledge the gains we make rather than focusing exclusively on the many disparities that hold us back.
In education that is especially important because bad news dominates.
A few days ago I tweeted this:
George Hall Elementary. 99% black. 98% student poverty. All proficient. You're not ready for this discussion until you believe in our kids.
— Citizen Stewart (@citizenstewart) February 24, 2015
I didn’t expect it to be controversial.
Gary Rubinstein, an internet-famous Teach For America alum turned anti-school reform sleuth, was first to respond. He asked if this was a charter school, if it had unions, or merit pay, or “last in, first out.”
When I told him it was a traditional public school that had been turned around, his response was, “I suppose I’ll have to investigate. Been a while since I’ve heard a miracle claim like this.”
A miracle claim? Is it that outlandish that a school might exist where poor black kids perform well?
Are we supposed to believe these children can’t learn barring supernatural intervention?
It’s unfortunate that Rubinstein dedicates himself to debunking school success stories, but even more unfortunate that he is not alone. Notable individuals like Diane Ravitch, and organizations that represent teachers, would also have us believe it is impossible for a high-poverty school to be high-performing.
Luckily, they don’t get the last word on the matter. The Education Trust reminds us we have many schools in the U.S. where children mired in poverty are doing well.
Among them: Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary in New Orleans, an impoverished, nearly all-black school that year after year performs above the state’s average; Charles R. Drew Charter School, in Georgia, where black students and those in poverty are nearly 100 percent proficient in math and reading; and Urban Prep Academies, in Chicago, a school celebrated for sending its entire graduating class to college.
For years I have made it my business to ask where children are doing well. I visited schools that answer the question. I’ve seen traditional district schools, charter schools, and private schools where black children in poverty are appreciated for their potential and are excelling. Nowhere have I seen a sole solution or a “miracle.” Indeed, in each case there has been a lot of hard work, strong leadership, and an affirming, “can do” culture.
More than anything else, there has been the belief that children are brilliant.
If only we can get the Rubinsteins, Ravitches, and their friends in unions representing millions of educators to see the possibilities rather than the deficits, that would be a miracle.