By Gary Earl Ross
It’s time we faced the truth. Embattled superintendent Pamela Brown will not save the Buffalo schools.
Nor will bombastic board member Carl Paladino. Nor will a new superintendent, the Board of Education, a parade of distinguished educators, reshuffling administrators, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, new PR specialists, full mayoral control, Common Core Standards, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and all the companies that profit from our fixation on testing.
There is no single cause for the failure of a school. In fact, there is no such thing as a failing school. Low graduation rates and tests scores indicate a failing school community.
Politicians and businesses demand schools perform better. Supervisors demand teachers perform better. Teachers tell students to perform better. Parents tell students to perform better. The students, having no one to tell anything, fail.
The truth is, we’re all in this together, and together we have created an environment that promotes but does not respect learning in an age that demands lifelong learners.
By shifting elementary education to test preparation, we have stripped learning of the magic and purity that spark curiosity. By de-emphasizing art and music and the creative side of English, we have deprived students of the inspiration and imagination necessary to thrive in mathematics and science.
We embrace the idea that secondary education should be measured by Regents exams that establish college readiness for all at a time when even colleges don’t respect college degrees enough to have more than half their courses taught by full-time faculty. By doing so, we have limited access to necessary vocations and trades that would provide livelihoods for many.
By demanding that immigrant students who come here with no formal education and no English be on grade level within a year, we succeed only in demonstrating our cultural myopia.
By leaving education entirely to public schools, we have abdicated our parental and social responsibility.
What can we do? We must step off the test merry-go-round long enough to retool curriculum and experiment with new approaches to learning. We must establish partnerships with libraries and cultural and social organizations, as well as suburban schools and regional businesses, to address cultural needs (expose a student to a play or concert), poverty (give a student an after-school job that demands staying in school), family literacy (put books in every home), immigrant resettlement (involve everyone in the schools), and other issues too numerous to mention here.
Nobody can save the Buffalo Public Schools but the people of Buffalo and Western New York, together.
Gary Earl Ross is professor emeritus at the University at Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center.