Does what happens in the classroom have anything to do with education?
I attended the public forum presented by the Asheville City Schools on Aug. 29. I have also tried to keep up with the discussion of the issues, as reported by the Xpress, in previous ACS forums this year.
The school system is searching for a new superintendent in the face of the reality that about 80 percent of white elementary students test proficiently in reading, math and science, while only 30 percent of black students do so.
The specific topic for citizen input at the Aug. 29 forum was a list of the desired qualifications for a new school superintendent for Asheville. But the list, which included “racial equity training,” “cultural awareness training” and experience with “poverty,” made no mention of the classroom or the curriculum. And this emphasis on race and society was true for previous forums.
There seems to be a consensus among education professionals that what goes on outside the classroom — family, race, history, society, politics — determines educational proficiency and that schooling should be about that. And such a view is not peculiar to Asheville public schools. Per recent articles in The Charlotte Observer, the same consensus prevails in Charlotte.
However, the Asheville school system has already tried that approach. With great fanfare and with much hope in 2017, Asheville public schools imported a program by two University of Wisconsin professors called Integrative Comprehensive Strategies for Equity. According to the reporting of the Xpress in May of this year, “after two years and many meetings, little progress appears to have been made.” [avl.mx/pru5]
Can we try another approach? Are there educators who think that kids can learn despite their backgrounds and the effects of outside-the-school influences? If so, let’s hire them, starting at the superintendent level.
Reading is obviously and by far the most important subject in the elementary curriculum. It is the basis for all the other subjects and for advancement to the next grades. Kids who are deficient in reading need extra instruction, not extra excuse-making and blaming of society. “I am a good reader” is the best overcoming of social disadvantage that I can think of.
What about a “qualified” new superintendent who would have it as a goal to completely revise the elementary school (3-8) curriculum to concentrate on reading? And who would make radical changes to achieve that goal, including de-emphasizing all other subjects (except for mathematics) — social studies, science, art, music, sports — in favor of this most important and necessary subject. Double or triple the time spent on reading and associated language skills. Bring in extra tutors. Here’s a suggestion: WNC is home to hundreds (thousands?) of educated retired people. What about them volunteering to come in for an hour or two every day or twice a week to help kids one-on-one or one-on-two?
This is Asheville. Let’s challenge the education establishment, including professors of education.
— Tom Ascik