IS GREAT TEACHING ENOUGH?

IS GREAT TEACHING ENOUGH? The Impact of School-Community Connections on the Achievement Gap

Today I attended the second in a three part series: 10th Anniversary Schools Policy Luncheon Series. The event is co-sponsored by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI) and Catalyst Chicago. The theme of this year’s series is “Is Great Teaching Enough?” This theme is inspired by thought-provoking new research reported by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which ties the health of communities, as well as the degree of parent and community involvement in schools, to student achievement.

We were treated to a great presentation by students from the recently reorganized (or “turn-around”) Orr High School on Chicago’s west side. The school, which is located in an economically depressed neighborhood (Austin), has been reorganized four times! This most recent structure change brought three separate schools (all housed at the Orr Campus) together to create one institution – Orr High School.

In doing so, the existing administration, principals, teachers and staff from all three schools were fired and replaced by new, better-qualified leaders. The luncheon provided front line insights from two students and a facilitator for the school transition, as well as detailed research from Dr. Michael Woolley of the University of Chicago.

The synopsis? It takes a village to raise a child. There is a direct correlation between home, school , and community relationships and the impact on academic achievement. Want your children to be successful in both their academic and personal lives? Provide them with a loving, supportive environment that is choked full of successful role models, goal-based motivation, and positive surroundings. The experts refer to this as social capital.

The findings by the Consortium on Chicago School Research shines a light on stark racial and economic patterns. For instance, all of the 46 elementary schools that remain stuck at the bottom of the Chicago Public School achievement list are in overwhelmingly African-American communities where social capital and trust in schools are very low.

Do these data suggest that we are missing a bigger picture – especially in our very lowest capital communities? Are we investing too much in advances in instructional “technical core” at the expense of “softer” relationships, social capital and the organizations and strategies that promote their development? How can communities and parents become powerful assets? (See “Making Connections” in Catalyst’s September 2008 issue for more on this important issue.)

Even with a “can do” attitude, teaching expertise, more social services, strong management, and more money, will new or turn-around schools fare any differently without dealing with the community social capital issues? What are the implications for community leaders, intermediary institutions, and Chicago Public Schools?

Interested in joining the discussion? All three luncheons will be held at the Union League Club of Chicago. Registration is at 11:30 with lunch and program from 12:00 to 1:30. Click here to download a registration form.

Consider joining the next luncheon – Wednesday, January 21st – as the group considers this important research and its implications for Chicago community and civic leaders, intermediary institutions, businesses and the Chicago Public School system.

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