Education: A State of Emergency
By Earnest O. Ward, Sr., Ed.D.
Education.com defines education as the act of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
I am a recently retired educator after working forty years in secondary education. My experiences range from teacher and administrator at a private boarding school, a rural school, to my final years at an inner city public school. In my dealings and experience with each school district, I found a tremendous difference in the academic achievement and the social development of the students in the private and rural settings when compared to the inner city students.
I think this difference can be attributed partially to the inherent differences in the culture and climate of each district. The Association of School and Curriculum Development (ASCD) defines school climate as the effect a school has on its students, including teaching practices; diversity; and the relationships among administrators, teachers, parents and students. School culture refers to the way teachers and other staff members work together and the set of beliefs, values, and assumptions they share. A positive school climate and culture promote students’ ability to learn.
It is important to understand that school climate and school culture are not the same thing. When the powers that be begin to understand the subtle differences between culture and climate, and act accordingly, public schools can begin the healing process. As a Principal in all three, I found that in the private and rural schools, there was a belief and value system, a culture in other words, a common ideal shared by all teachers and staff members, one developed and practiced over time – the strongest one being the fundamental belief any students can learn and developing the most effective means to create the most positive learning environment. I don’t see that happening in the inner city school academic environment. As a result, the opposite is occurring. Based on personal observation, experience and research, I think both the culture and climate in the inner city school in particular and the public education system as a whole has led to a severe state of crisis. Moreover, this lack of a positive school culture and climate in the inner school district leads to teacher and student apathy, higher dropout rates which are reflected in lower wages and higher unemployment rates.
Severe apathy also elevates the level of disciplinary problems, low academic achievement, low staff morale, high teacher turnover, slow student social development, while significantly decreasing the level of parental participation.
This miasma of indifference and all of the problems discussed is not limited just to the inner city school where I taught. Research indicates an inordinate amount of inner city schools experiencing a culture and climate not conducive to learning.
I am not suggesting that a poor culture and climate exists only in inner city schools. I am merely detailing my personal experiences in this inner city school. However, this condition is more prevalent in the inner city school as compared to private and rural schools.
The public education system in America is in a STATE OF EMERGENCY.
Where do we go from here?
I think change must begin with effective leadership in the school district beginning with the superintendent and flow down to and include teachers and others with direct interaction with students. This change must start with an assessment of the school climate. If the culture is ineffective, there are obviously climate issues that were missed before they became rooted in the culture. The culture determines the climate. The culture is the personality of the school, while the climate represents the school’s attitude. Therefore, it is easier to change the attitude (climate) of a school than it is to change its personality (culture). And ultimately effective climate change leads to an equally effective change in the culture of a school.
This is just the initial step in this process. All stakeholders, must become involved in order to create and maintain a positive school culture and climate by creating an environment that supports the tenet that all students can and will learn under the proper conditions.
In closing, I’d like to emphasize that my main objective in writing this article is to stimulate discussion on the emergency conditions of our schools. I realize that there are excellent in addition to the very poor school systems in this country. Overall, research suggests that, the United States school system is in a State of Emergency and need a complete overhaul, beginning with those school located in inner city school districts. The United States education system ranks thirteenth in the world according to (edudemic.com.) As the most powerful country in the world…this is unacceptable. Hopefully this article will initiate a dialogue among the various stakeholders (all of us) to help facilitate the vital, necessary changes to improve our public school systems.