Minority children, especially Black children, are caught in a “circus-like-quagmire” of dysfunctional educational environments: Home, Church and School. It’s time out “time”: family environments and single parent families present serious problems. We have some strange and contestable variables that have been operating in the Black community for decades. For those of you who are not familiar with the statistical concept of a variable: a variable is the property characteristic of a unit of analyses which takes on different values across different units of analyses. Strange wouldn’t you say! One educational “size” does not fit all. Home is the first while school is the last; thus, in too many Black families, educational values are not top priorities. We all know that too many Black children are growing-up in dysfunctional family environments where just physically surviving is the priority, not intellectual development. Furthermore, we need Black churches to “step-up and reach-out” where they spiritually begin to foster nuclear family “unifying” behavioral relationship patterns in whatever the community served. By the way, there are many churches in existence in ghettos/inner city neighborhoods, but they do not beacon love or service there. Consequently, too many Black children are “secularly” nurtured in family environments where they rarely, if ever, attend church primarily because their parents and relatives do not attend.
We know that children who frequently attend church are, in fact, more likely to be academically successful in school while children who do not attend are not. Also, children who frequently attend church are “spiritually-bent” toward internal-self-discipline, not just external environmental “authority” control (or policing). Moreover, children who frequently attend church are spiritually aware of God’s Word, Precepts, and Principles. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” (Revelation 4:1). But, more importantly, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17).
The Houston Independent School District (HISD), under the state’s new evaluation system controlled by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), recently received low grades on key educational domains. For example, 14 schools received “F’s” on all domains, and 78 schools received “D’s” and “F’s” on all domains. Overall, HISD earned a “C” for student achievement on the STAAR test. This is a report card that HISD did not want either parents or the general public to see. It is clear that it is petrified by TEA’s letter “evaluation” grading-system because school district officials fear that such a system will harm community-parental morale. Some educators argue that the new letter grading-system relies too heavily on standardized tests. Yet, most teachers teach the test, rather than teach children how to listen to learn and how to learn to think analytically. Many experienced minority educators believe that a return to the use of proven teaching strategies that have been highly successful in the past that may be augmented by modern technologies in their delivery would certainly be worth a try in teaching minority students in the inner city environments of today.
What public school educators are doing now is absolutely not working and is producing disastrous developmental consequences. New approaches and strategies must be tried with a newly inspired sense of urgency under competent leadership to manage them.
A good example of the urgency facing inner city schools is the historic Phillis Wheatley High School in the historic Fifth Ward of Houston that is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2017.
In the past that many remember, Wheatley was one of Houston’s most prestigious and highly competitive educational institutions. For example, the likes of Commissioner El Franco Lee, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Congressman Mickey Leland, and Bishop I. V. Hilliard are laureates of Wheatley. There are many, many others that I could name, but the list is too long to give honor to all who deserve such. Today, Wheatley is in academic decline and has fallen on difficult times for a mixture of leadership and academic performance reasons.
Recently, I met with a group of concerned Wheatley graduates, many of whom are professional educators and all of whom are concerned citizens and committed to making a difference at the school. They have started an initiative called “Restore the Wildcat Spirit at 90.”Their objectives are honorable: (1) assist in helping Wheatley improve its accountability rating;(2) help to create a more positive learning environment; (3) assist in improving post-secondary readiness; (3) help to incorporate a more diversified curriculum for both college preparedness and direct career entry; (4) assist in enhancing performance by helping to improve student reading levels, study skills, and library skills; and (5) assist the administration with creating a clear, realistic vision and mission to follow. Even though the ethnic make-up of the feeder community surrounding Wheatley has changed, it remains an inner city minority school with enhanced diversity. It is clear to both me and the concerned alumni referenced that Phillis Wheatley High School is crying out for a major change as it turns 90. I only hope that HISD both hears and heeds the call before it’s too late.
In the Black community, Houston has a number of unusually talented and gifted professional educators such as Dr. Rod Paige and the entire faculty at Texas Southern University (TSU). Since TSU has long promoted itself as “the urban university” in Houston, wouldn’t it be a feather in its cap for its College of Education under the leadership of Dr. Lillian Poats, Dean, and senior professors like Dr. James Cunningham to take the leadership role in solving the problem of performance in inner city public schools? These individuals already have access to Dr. Paige’s seminal publication on closing the “Black-White Achievement Gap” in which he concludes that student performance is directly linked to administrative leadership management. Moreover, TEA’s evaluation of HISD is proof positive why something like this needs to be done. HISD with a new Superintendent would be wise to take advantage. Selah!