The news is in, and it is troubling. The Education Crisis Team Ñ a coalition at odds with Portland Public Schools over the low academic achievement of low-income and minority students Ñ is threatening to ask parents to pull their children out of public school next month if the district leaders refuse to adopt the report that came out of their mediation efforts. There is nothing legitimately wrong with such a protest, but I think the timing is ill-advised.
Crisis team leaders such as Ron Herndon, Tony Hopson, Halim Rashan and state Sen. Avel Gordly have put such a considerable amount of time into the issue of low academic achievement, specifically among African-American kids, that it is almost unconscionable to ask them for some restraints. There are plenty of valid reasons to throw around, but still, any boycott now is a harbinger of more schisms, shenanigans and mindless activism.
The mediator's report that the crisis team wants the school board to adopt does not have the support of the teachers union. It needs the union's backing to successfully abrogate restrictive personnel rules. The school board is preparing to negotiate this crucial issue with the union beginning in March.
More broadly, the crisis team needs teachers' support to implement some of the operational and procedural agreements it may reach with the school board in the future.
Also misplaced is the crisis team's avowed strategic operational emphasis on the recruitment of ethnic teachers. The assumption that a black student has a better chance at progress with black teachers, or that the achievement gap between whites and minority kids would evaporate if the system succumbed to race-based recruitment procedures, is simplistic nonsense.
To continue to impugn the integrity of white teachers with allegations of racism only destroys discipline, encourages contempt for 'crisis schools' and breeds timid teachers. Crisis team leaders need to emphasize recruitment of teachers with demonstrated capacity and competence in the instruction of reading and mathematics regardless of skin color.
I do not believe racism alone explains why minority students ÑÊespecially blacks Ñ lag behind in academic achievement. Part of the problem is the glorification of the ghetto culture by accepting mediocrity and passing off excellence as 'being white.' Not to mention the unmitigated emphasis on sports activities at the expense of rigorous academic exercises. I think we need to identify the real problems.
The challenge the team should confront immediately is the need to build strategic partnership alliances with progressive white organizations in order to confront the systemic deficiencies head-on.
One area that the crisis team needs to direct its energy toward is the core issue of equity. The district's minority students and others who come from the city's poorest families are taught by the districts' least experienced and lowest-paid teachers. Somebody ought to be asking why.
The lingering problem of low academic achievement among minority and poor students is not just a black or brown problem. It is also a white problem. Each school dropout costs us a lot of money in crime, welfare, health care and services. To be silence and impervious about it is unwise. Period.