Sunday, August 16, 2009
Radical Educational Reform Not Paying Students Will Get The Job Done by Akindele Akinyemi
I recently heard Professor Roland Fryer from Harvard University's Department of Economics speak at a forum held by State Senator Hansen Clark and moderated by Senior editor of the Michigan Chronicle Bankole Thompson. In January 2008, at age 30, Professor Fryer became the youngest African-American to ever receive tenure at Harvard.
The town hall meeting dealt with educational reform. I have been going to different town hall meetings on educational reform the past several months. Each meeting always comes back to saving Detroit Public Schools.
Some of the points Professor Fryer pointed out was key for an educational revolution. One such point was changing the psychology of the way we view education from a parental and community standpoint. I thought this was important because oftentimes parents use the educational system as a person babysitting service instead of being involved in their children's activities.
But the good professor lost me when he said we should utilize incentives to reward our children for good grades.
Let me perfectly honest with you. I am against paying children for good grades. Once we start down this slippery slope, you have to keep raising the stakes. And once kids get old enough to earn their own money, you lose leverage.
Not to mention that this kind of deal doesn't always work. For high-achieving students, money doesn't matter. And students who are underachievers fail because they're inconsistent. So if they slip and get a poor grade, they figure that they're not going to get the reward and give up. Even worse, parents sometimes end up paying them for half measures and the system backfires.
It's also a bad idea because it substitutes an external reward -- money -- for an internal sense of satisfaction and therefore interferes with developing a work ethic.
When I look at school districts such as West Bloomfield, Grosse Pointes and Birmingham they do not pay their students. Those academic work ethics come from home. Parents are involved in their school districts.
But in urban Michigan the biggest obstacles that will lead to educational reform is the parents in our community. There are lots of great students out there who can really do better but they comes from homes that do not encourage education. The parents do not follow up to make sure the children do their homework. They do not make it a priority to get the children to school on time. They do not make sure they are prepared for a day of school.
Paying students is not part of educational reform. It’s bribery.
Since when did we decide we were going to teach our children to hold out their hands and expect things? And believe me, if we start paying kids at underperforming schools for their grades, that’s exactly what will happen. For the rest of their lives, they will expect someone to come behind them and give them candy, or money, for everything they do (or don’t).
So I disagree with Professor's Fryer's assessment with paying students for good grades. Newt Gingrich has also pushed for this idea and I disagree with him as well on this issue. It is not the government's job to pay students for good grades.
Educational reform is not a pie in the sky effort to cater to special interest groups like the teacher unions. It is a radical and revolutionary approach to elevating our community both academically and economically. I find it interesting that I did not see anyone from the Detroit Regional Chamber and Detroit Renaissance at this forum or was even invited since Professor Fryer is an economist discussing educational reform.
If Detroit is serious about educational reform then let's stop this idea of getting better people on the Detroit School Board who are going to turn this ship around. I doubt it and it's time that we abolish the Detroit school board and allow Wayne RESA to take control of the Detroit Public Schools. If you look at other counties across the United States you will find that their Intermediate School Districts run the school system not the local boards. It is a forum of regionalization that is needed in Detroit.
The only other option I can see is allowing Mayor Dave Bing to run the school district. I will support this only if Mayor's Bing office would allow the authorization of charter schools in Detroit.
Attorney General Mike Cox gave an opinion recently on how Detroit Public Schools is no longer classified as a First Class School District but a general powers district. Therefore, Wayne County Community College need to step up and begin authorizing charter schools.
But the biggest reform effort in Detroit Public Schools that has not been discussed is changing the culture of our schools. I can care less about academic reform if our children are still coming into the classroom with a prison mentality, sagging their pants sporting white wife beaters (t-shirts), ladies wearing scarves and sporting 20 tattoos on their bodies and around their neck how are they going to learn. The prison culture has a vise grip around our community. Not only our children are not motivated but our parents are illiterate on many levels to the extent of where they cannot help our children.
I am tired of pouring millions of dollars into community centers, non-profits and the likes only to find out that parents and students are not utilizing these venues but allowing BET and MTV to raise them.
We make excuses on why Detroit Public Schools have not made the grade. We do not need professors from Harvard or Robert Bobb telling us why our schools have not made the grade. It's simple. As long as we have a prison culture running our schools no level of reform will work. As long as we have thieves, lesbian gangs, and the lack of basic skills running the front office, the classrooms and running the halls what makes you think anything will change. Breaking up the good ol-girl network in Detroit Public Schools will take innovation, skill and patience.
And we cannot allow this same network to come over to the charter school market. Most charter schools that are failing has an element of Detroit Public Schools in it. In other words, some of the educational leaders in some of these charter schools are from DPS with the same ghetto/prison mentality. This is not the case with all charter schools.
I also heard how we need more men to step up in the schools. Yes, that is true but FIRST we need to make sure the men are reformed, educated and understand the landscape of what they are getting themselves involved.
I CANNOT believe the number of black women in our community that have gone silent on the whole lesbian gang situation in the Detroit Public Schools high schools. Where are our women at on this? We have girls who are scared to go to school because of being jumped and initiated into these lesbian gangs. I have not read one newspaper article on this. Are we afraid of the Triangle Foundation? All these sisters in these churches in Detroit and I have not read, seen or even heard ONE movement of conscious black women addressing and CURING this situation in our schools. It's easy for a woman to invite me to church to hear the Word of God but it's hard for other women to create and execute a strategy to push for serious moral and academic values in our schools. Before you wonder about my relationship with God I wonder about your relationship with your daughters in the community. I cannot teach a girl to be a woman but YOU CAN. I can only give her the balance she needs.
We have to kill the spirit of prison culture if you want real educational reform. No one talks about this because most educational leaders are participating in the ghetto/prison culture themselves. As long as you have a civil rights/black power mentality running the Detroit Public Schools we will spin our wheels in the ground. I am not interested in saving Detroit Public Schools, in fact, at this point let's kill it and rebuild it from the ground up.
What I am interested is serious educational reform that will align our curriculum with other global models of education such as Great Britain, Hong Kong and Singapore. am not interested in government throwing money at education to solve the problems. I am interested in creating a global educational model that we can use in urban communities. No more excuses for our children and community. Teacher certification reform is critical if we are serious about educational reform. The current path to certification is outdated and needs to be amended.
One major problem in Michigan is that the current teacher compensation system has the wrong incentives. Currently, nearly all teachers are paid according to the single salary schedule. This compensation method rewards teachers for experience and level of degree. For example, if a teacher earns a masters degree, she gets a significant pay bump. If she stays in the job for another year, she gets yet another raise. Despite the research that shows that teacher seniority after the first five years does little to impact student achievement, individual teachers still get their raises year after year. As for extra degrees, no research definitively links increased credentials to higher student performance either.
Teacher unions have designed a system to protect the weakest teachers, not to promote student achievement. As long as a teacher does not do anything egregious, the checks keep coming and the teacher unions get their cut.
Measuring a teacher by his students’ academic performance is an accurate way to determine, to some degree, the quality of his work. Under the system defended by unions, an excellent teacher, whose students demonstrate significant learning gains, earns the same amount as the teacher who clocks in and then checks out. Therefore, there is little incentive for teachers to go that extra mile.
Finally, we need county and state lawmakers who are on the side of educational reform not just keeping the status quo. I have no interest in supporting anyone running for county commissioner, state representative or state senator who has no working knowledge of educational reform. As I have said to my urban conservative colleagues education is the #1 issue in our movement. Everything else will fall in place when we raise the bar on education.