At Last, Help Instead of Blame for Failing Schools | Teachers College Columbia University

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At Last, Help Instead of Blame for Failing Schools

By Charles Basch

The time is long overdue that we pay attention to persistently low-performing schools. The schools that Mayor de Blasio’s administration is trying to help are not ones that have been failing for just a year or two—they have been failing for many years.  The problems they are grappling with are community-wide in nature and can’t be addressed by schools without help. It’s not a coincidence that these schools serve students who have many health barriers to learning.  I can tell you, from my firsthand experience, the principals I’ve met work seven days a week, often around the clock. The teachers and support staff (nurses, counselors, etc.) are incredibly dedicated. But the problems they're dealing with are bigger than schools can handle on their own.

This initiative is trying to provide the resources to help schools meet these challenges and fulfill their educational and social mission. I have particular confidence in Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, who has been a driving force in developing the initiative and will be a leader in implementing it. He previously served as Executive Director of the Children's Aid Society, and has had years of experience in conceptualizing and implementing community schools. He knows what poverty looks like on the ground. He has devoted his career to improving the lives of children and families. His personal and programmatic experience will help bridge the gap between policies and practice that so often occurs when policies are created by people who have never worked in communities with high levels of poverty. 

While there is no single answer to solving the problem of persistently low-performing schools and some efforts will be more successful than others, it's essential that we try new ideas. Mayor de Blasio's Community Schools initiative addresses the many barriers to learning perpetuated by poverty, including powerful and often overlooked health barriers to learning, and that is a worthwhile idea that warrants investment.

Published Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014