Should the city school district be dissolved? That’s the question Erica Bryant of the Democrat & Chronicle raised in a columnrecently, though the topic comes up with some regularity. Bryant referred to the bold decision that school and city leaders in Memphis made to dissolve that city’s failing school district.
But there’s a bigger question lurking inside this discussion, and it seems like it needs to be answered first: How serious are we about providing urban students, most of whom are black or Hispanic, with a chance at a quality public education?
We know the challenges students in the Rochester school district face daily, but addressing them requires tremendous political will and courage. Yes, we’ve taken some important steps. The city has made great strides in reducing the potential for lead poisoning in children. The State Education Department has raised the bar on academic performance and taken a tougher stance than it has in years on teacher competency.
And Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas is expanding school days, clamping down on truancy, and increasing reading proficiency.
But these measures, important as they are, may not be enough to mitigate the influence of living in extreme poverty. Rochester’s child poverty rate — one of the worst in the country — has grown even worse in recent years. More than 50 percent of the city’s children are living at or below the poverty line.
Almost any seasoned educator knows from experience what research confirms: academic achievement reaches a tipping point when more than 50 percent of the school’s students are poor.
Even though breaking up concentrated poverty in Rochester’s schools may be one of the surest ways to improve student achievement, it remains the approach we’re most reluctant to try in earnest. How committed are we to providing urban students with a quality education? Maybe we’re not as serious as we think.