School Talk

Real Leaders Don’t Blame Poverty For Low Scores

We have a problem when the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Principals Association, Joseph H. Crowley, feels the need to pen an op-ed that essentially gives up on poor children and makes the claim that their low scores on PARCC are solely a result of poverty and that schools are powerless to do anything about it.   

Mr. Crowley is a frightening example of the power of the Belief Gap, the dangerous tendency to believe in and expect more from some kids than others. Instead of coming out swinging saying, “we know we can do better and we will do better,” he makes the accusation that schools are being “scapegoated.” Saying schools have a responsibility to do much better for kids and families isn’t scapegoating. It’s the truth.

Did he miss the memo that Cumberland High School’s math scores came in at 7%? If poverty is the reason for poor performance, to what does he attribute Cumberland’s results? Did he miss the memo that the city of Boston outperformed the entire state of Rhode Island on an identical test?  And why is he ignoring the RI schools that, despite high poverty rates, beat out some of their suburban counterparts and exceeded state averages by double digits?

Leadership is about setting ambitious goals and believing in people.  In his role as the director of the Rhode Island Association of of Principals, he should be shouting from the roof-tops that he believes in his members’ ability to create the environments that have been shown to mitigate the very real challenges that poverty presents in the school setting.

Is Mr. Crowley aware that according to Education Post’s recent national parent poll, 68% of parents believe that “Schools and teachers can overcome the obstacles faced by our nation’s most vulnerable children, so we should focus on improving schools serving students in poverty”?

Is Mr. Crowley aware that according to the same poll, 85% of parents believe that Schools should apply the same high standards to all students, not expect less of students due to their background, race, or income”?
Does Mr. Crowley support extra compensation for those who choose to teach in high poverty schools?

Has he called for a residency like program for aspiring teachers to better prepare them for the unique challenges teachers must confront in high poverty schools?

Has he pushed for an extended school day or year for the children that we know need the extra time?

Has he done whatever he can to ensure that every child has a top notch teacher in front of them every year?

Has he gone to bat for the needs of the rapidly growing population of English Language Learners in our urban core?

Is he working on improving student attendance, especially considering that 30% of public high school students in our state are chronically absent?

What has he done to combat our chronic teacher absenteeism crisis?

Has he played a role in tackling the overuse of out of school suspensions that we know disproportionately impact low income students of color?

One has to assume that Mr. Crowley is well aware of the countless schools across this country proving him wrong every single day and showing that yes, poor children can succeed on annual tests and even outperform their suburban peers. It often requires a longer school day, a longer school year, targeted interventions, intentional efforts to meaningfully engage parents, and more autonomy for school leaders about how to run their buildings. It requires an eradication of the belief gap.

I have spoken to countless students about the importance of the expectations of the adults around them. While some report having had teachers tell them “you’ll never pass NECAP,” others recall teachers saying day after year, “you’re gonna rock this test.” While some of our state’s influential education advocates are still haunted by teachers telling them, “you’re not college material,” others can still name the teachers who convinced them day after day, “you will go to college.” Adults’ belief in kids is crucial to their success.

Mr. Crowley unfortunately has decided to give himself and his colleagues a pass, essentially predetermining that children from low income families aren’t capable of succeeding on standardized tests.

Mr. Crowley is wrong and should get out of the way of those proving him wrong every day.

What do you think?

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