On Monday, February 10th, the Bank Street College Alumni Association hosted a roundtable discussion called “Still Separate, Still Unequal, Challenges Facing Public Education 60 Years after Brown v. Board of Education.“
The participants were Martha Andrews, Margaret Blachly, Barbara Graves-Poller, Monte Joffee, and Verta Maloney. Moderating (and occasionally contributing) were Steven Evangelista and Margaret Ryan, both of whom are Bank Street alumns from the class of 2001. Together, they founded Harlem-Link Charter School in 2005.
The central topic, as you might have guessed from the name of the event, was about the achievement gap, how our schools are failing minority students, and what we can and should do to fix this. “Why do some kids get a world class education and others do not?” was the frame of mind set by Ryan in her introduction.
While the panel of speakers agreed that they would not be finding one correct answer that night, the ensuing discussion was fascinating and at times frustrating. Much of the achievement gap, I think all the panelists agreed, has to do with issues surrounding poverty. To the dismay of Bank Street minded educators, low SES children have less access to schools where whole-child thinking is embraced. Maloney pointed out that another thing keeping low SES children away from good schools is that underserved communities look to schools with good discipline and rote learning styles because they are viewed as “safe” or “rigorous.”
Moderator Evangelista echoed that sentiment, offering that low SES children do not experience certain kinds of classroom environments that higher SES students do. Low SES families also seem to have an “over-exposure” to city agencies. Joffee pointed out that “not everyone is an antagonist” when it comes to education and related services. Joffee later gave his thoughts on the Common Core as a hurdle for the achievement gap, due to its “too crazy” language and unfair assessment. I liked his thoughts on promoting programs like “reach out and read” where, along with medicine for her baby, a doctor gives a new mother books, as well. He also thought that a great way to change the common core standards would be to consider something more broad (“By 4th grade, students will read and appreciate Newbury award winning literature.”). This, in his view, would be a way to simplify and broaden goals, and also make it easier for families to become involved and interested.
Maloney seemed to take issue with the language surrounding the debate, not just among the panel members but in the media, as well. “What is the opposite of ‘at-risk’ anyway?” she asked. “At-risk of what? Even the term “‘underserved’ is just a value-statement. She also said that the institution of American slavery is something that still affects the African-American community today.
Graves-Poller noted that way to change things are to address the three Ps – Poverty, Politics, and Publishers.
The discussion was respectful and informative, even when it seemed opinions were clashing. Afterwards, there was a reception where many continued the discussion over some refreshments. I personally left there with more questions than answers, especially related to how the city funds schools and the mentality of the majority towards the minority.
I am so grateful to BSCAA for providing opportunities like this for students and guests at Bank Street. I think it shows how willing Bank Street is to allow discussion about what is working in education and what is not, and invite voices of dissent not as enemies but critical friends.
[updated March 7, 2014: The original blog posted incorrectly attributed the “three Ps” quote to Maloney, and we’ve edited the post to reflect that it was Barbara Graves-Poller’s contribution]