Enduring Issues in Urban Education

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1






Enduring
Issues
in Urban Education









Paper
submitted to Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis

July
, 200
7






Ben Levin, Ph.D.

Ontario Institute for Studies in
Education

Toronto

252 Bloor St West

Toronto, Ontario

M5S 1V6


Blevin@oise.utoronto.ca







This research has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research


Council of Canada



Bio: Ben Levin is Professor and Canada Research Chair in
educational leadership and policy
at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. In addition to a
distinguished academic career, he has held senior public service positions including deputy
minister (chief civil servant) for edu
cation in the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. His
latest book, How to Change 5000 Schools, will be published in 2009.

2




Enduring Issues

in Urban Education



Abstract

T
his paper
raises
three

enduring areas of debate around inner
-
city education:

-

The
extent to which schools
are the best places to intervene to
improve outcomes for poor
children
. The policy question is whether that is enough to expect given the very
substantial resources devoted to schools, or whether a larger share of overall resources

would be better used to support initiatives around early childhood, employment, housing,
or better income support programs.

-

The best strategies
for urban schools to use
to improve
student outcomes
. Many school
strategies have been about supplementary

programs for high need communities but more
recently focus has shifted to improving teaching and learning practices in high poverty
schools.

-

The
challenges of building and sustaining
political support in ad
dressing urban education
issues.

Not only are
the politics of urban areas highly fractious, but it is difficult to create
sufficient support in the larger polity to sustain improvements in urban education


Contemporary approaches to poverty and education replicate many ideas and initiatives
that were
actually in place decades ago, raising
the question of how to use and learn from
the experience of the last several decades so that the same choices and mistakes are not
repeated.


2



Enduring

Issues in

Urban Education
1



Introduction


For
the last 40
years
, educators, community advocates and policy analysts have
been drawing attention to the
fact that student achievement is significantly lower

in urban
schools with high levels of poverty.
Poverty, which is often concentrated in urban areas,
continues to be

a powerful predictor of educational outcomes. This is an international
phenomenon. Although the strength of the relationship between socio
-
economic status and
school outcomes varies substantially across countries (OECD,
2004)

it is significant in
every
country.

Many people, in schools and outside of them, have worked very hard to try to bring
about improvement

in poor urban schools
.
The list of programs mounted and policies
announced is long.

A large body of research describes the challenges of educa
tion in poor
urban communities (e.g.
Thomson, 2002; Stoll & Meyers, 1998;
Hatton, Muns & Dent,
1996;
Harris, 2006
; Simmons, 2006
).
Successes are regularly proclaimed (
e.g. Carter,
2000; Maden, 2001
,
Henchey et al., 2001).
Yet the problems do not seem to
be any
smaller

today than they were in 1970
, and the gaps in achievement between poor urban
schools and provincial or national averages remain large

just about everywhere
.

Moreover,
the policy ideas being advanced today around inner
-
city education are rem
arkably similar
to the ideas


and in many cases programs and practices


of three decades ago, raising the
question of what, if anything, has been learned and accomplished over that period of time.


This paper is a reflection on
three

enduring
policy
is
sues or dilemmas around
education and poverty in urban areas.
The
analysis grows out of a research project that has
been
looking at the development of inner
-
city education over the last 35 years in two
Canadian cities


Winnipeg and Toronto
, and connectin
g those instances to the larger



1. Th
is

research was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada.
I tha
nk
Jane Gaskell
, my
co
-
investigator
. Our work has

benefited from
the assistance of Fred
Harris, Jennifer Lawson
,

Karen Boyd
, Laura
-
Lee Kearns, and Katina Pollock. Our thinking has also been
influenced by many

other colleagues
around the world

with whom w
e have discussed these ideas
.


3


international literature on urban education

and poverty
.
Our starting point is the late
1960s, when the first discussions of inner
-
city education and poverty began in Canada (and
in other countries).
Using documents and in
terviews with key participants,
the research
team is
constructing in
-
depth historical pictures of the development of inner
-
city education
policy and practice in the two cities while also placing these
events
in their larger social
context.
Some 50 intervi
ews have been conducted, and thousands of pages of board
minutes, policy statements, media files and other documents have been reviewed. (For a
fuller account of the study methodology, see
Gaskell & Levin, 2006
).


Conceptual framework

The issues of
urban
education
are best understood as being shaped by
larger
educational and social issues, as well as rooted in and shaped by specific contexts; the
y

are
both highly local and national or international in nature.
E
ducational policy
and practice
occur
in a
bro
ad social context influeneced
both by dominant ideas that travel
internationally and by political
struggles

that
are often
local.


Our research team reviewed a large amount of research on urban education and
poverty. This review has encompassed
four

bod
ies of scholarship: work that looks at
poverty generally in terms of its causes and potential policy options (e.g.

Katz, 1999;
Micklewright, 2003);
scholarship on public policy generally
(e.g. Stone, 1997; Edelman,
1988; Lindblom, 1990);
literature lookin
g specifically at poverty and education (e.g. Silver
& Silver, 1991; Cox, 2000; Levin, 1995); and work focused on urban education, including
some of the excellent historical, political, sociological, economic and policy analyses of
education improvement ef
forts in cities, primarily in the United States (e.g. Anyon, 1997;
Mirel, 1999; Portz, Stein & Jones, 1999; Stone et al., 2001) but also in the UK (Maclure,
1990
)

and Australia (Thomson, 2002).

Ideas about poverty and education are created and reflected
in the social science
literature and also in the political world. Conceptions of what causes poverty, what its
effects are, and how education can make a difference have been examined by researchers
in many disciplines, and have an impact indirectly on edu
cation, as they are taken up by
4


policy entrepreneurs, educators, community groups and political parties. In education
these debates have been going on for at least forty years, involving competing ideas such
as the relative unimportance of schools (e.g.
Coleman et al., 1968; Jencks, 1972), the
effective schools movement (e.g. Rutter et al., 1979; Edmonds, 1979), critical theory
approaches (e.g. Ball, 1997), and, more recently, ideas of social justice in education
(
Connell, 1993;
Clark, 2006
). These ideas

shape public discourse
and the understandings
of parents and educators.

At the same time, the translation of
ideas into policies and practices in schools

occurs through political processes that can be highly contested and controversial.
P
olitically,
it

does matter
who holds office and who votes in elections. The senior officials
in school districts and related organizations are important. Each setting has its own
history, institutional structures and political culture, all of which affect what happens

and
what can happen. Local schools, as the creatures of higher levels of government, can also
be deeply affected by broader political events.
Even in decentralized education system
such as
Canada
and the United States, local
education
can be deeply aff
ected by policy
decisions at higher levels of the political system.

Just as important, but often given less attention in education policy analyses, are
events in the larger community, such as changes in employment patterns, migration, urban
housing, and
social policies.
These social forces affect both ideas and politics.
Indeed,
changing patterns of housing and employment in urban areas, including changing ethnic
demographics, have been among the most important influences on the situation of urban
schoo
ls

since they affect student demographics, resource availability and political support
(Anyon, 1997; Mirel,
1999; Stone, 1998
)
.


Enduring issues in urban education




This paper addresses three policy
themes

or problems that arise
repeatedly

in work
around

urban education and poverty.


-

The extent to which schools are the best places to intervene to improve outcomes for poor
children;

5


-

The best strategies for urban schools to use to improve student outcomes;

-

The challenges of building and sustaining po
litical support in addressing urban education
issues.

The paper concludes with a discussion of whether we can learn from experience
so
as to build on both successes and
mistakes of the past.



Are
schools
the best place to intervene to help children
in poo
r urban communities?

T
he challenges of urban education are rooted in larger and long
-
lasting social
inequalities built around class, ethnicity, language and gender. All societies have
significant inequities based on these or similar
factors
, though the na
ture and degree of
inequality can vary greatly

from one society to another
.


Education is one specific arena in which these larger issues around the constitution
of society and the distribution of power and resources get played out.

I
nequities
in
urban
education are mirrors of larger inequalities in society.
The PISA studies have
demonstrated that some countries (e.g. Germany, New Zealand) have education
achievement gaps that are much bigger than others (e.g. Finland, Korea, Canada). It also
appears th
at some countries are able to maintain both high levels of attainment and
comparatively smaller levels of inequality, so that there does not seem to be a trade
-
off
between equity and excellence.
It could indeed be argued that school systems are
generally
less unequal than the societies they serve

(Levin,
2003
)
.


A debate about
the role of schools in addressing larger issues of inequality has been
central to much of the literature on urban education for the last forty years

(Levin, 2006
SESI)
. The story of

the landmark Coleman Report and the huge debate it spawned,
including the effective schools movement, has been told many times
;
t
his debate has
continued and remains very contentious today. On the side
are

those who argue that
schools cannot, and should
not be expected to compensate for the inequalities of society
(e.g. Thrupp, 1999; M
o
rtimore
& Whitty, 2000
).

These authors, it should be noted, are not
suggesting schools have no role to play,
but object to the argument that schools can and
should play a
decisive role in remedying inequalities that, in their view, are deeply rooted
6


in society generally
. Others (e.g. Fullan,
2006
; Barbe
r & Dann, 1996
) argue that schools
could
, even under current social conditions,

make a much more significant contribution,

even if they cannot do it all.
Examples of schools that have ‘succeeded against the odds’
are often trotted out to support this view (e.g.
Carter, 2000; Maden, 2001, Henchey et al.,
2001
), although some critics maintain that these examples are misleading

(e.g.
Thrupp,
1999;
Bracey
2004
).



This debate is important because it has much to say to governments about where
they should invest scarce resources. If schools are a prime agency for addressing
inequalities, then that is where additional energy and m
oney should go. If, however,
schools are less important than other areas of social policy such as housing or employment
or early childhood, then it follows that resources should be allocated to these other areas,
possibly even being reallocated away from
schools. Thus the question is highly
consequential.


The discussion has been sharpened in the last decade by new large
-
scale and
longitudinal research
on
the factors shaping positive outcomes for young people

(e.g.
Willms, 200
2
; Werner
and Smith,1992
, UK
National Child Development Study
-

www.esds.ac.uk/longitudinal/access/ncds/l33004.asp
)
. In particular, increasing evidence
supports the importance of development in very early childhood


prenatal to age 2 or 3


as having powerful life
-
long impacts on ou
tcomes (
Barnett, 1996; Dunst & Trivette, 1997;
McCain & Mustard,
1999
; OECD, 2001
). In addition, early childhood development has
been linked to effective adult education that helps parents and communities provide better
support for children.
The literatu
re on resilience
(
Masten,
2001
; Howard, Dryden &
Johnson,
199
9
)
is also indicating the importance of out
-
of
-
school factors even for school
age children.
Other research on health determinants (e.g. Rothstein,
2004;

Mustard,
Tompa & Etches, 2007
)
shows how
factors such as
adequate housing and nutrition have
important effects on educational outcomes.
All of this is giving governments interesting


but al
so challenging


policy choices as to where to focus their efforts.
A number of
countries have made new i
nvestments in early childhood education,

although this area still
7


remains underdeveloped compared with schools and post
-
secondary education

(OECD,
20
06
)
.


E
ven urban education activists
a
re ambivalent on th
e

question

of the relative
importance of schools

in the fight against poverty
. Of course
those working hard on inner
-

city issues must think their work
has
value or they could not sustain the often
-
extraordinary effort they
ma
ke.
Our
case studies
of Canadian cities
found significant
commitment to the
larger role of schools in challenging urban poverty
; many of our
respondents spoke about the work they had done to connect schools to the larger
community.
Yet our respondents
, like many other educators in urban areas (e.g. Maynes,
1993; Harris
, 2006
; Thr
upp, 1999)

were also ambivalent.
T
hey recognize the constraints
and limitations that urban schools face from larger social forces
, and see the need for
school change to be accompanied by changes in other policy areas
.


How much can schools do given huge c
hallenges in the larger community and society
.

A
school can’t make a dysfunctional family whole again. It can’t provide employment or
supplement family income to any substantial degree. You can bog down if you focus
endlessly on those larger issues, imp
ortant as they are. What you can do is to provide a
safe, pleasant, interesting place for kids to be, to make their learning worthwhile and
affirming, and to make them feel welcome in the school no matter what may be going on
elsewhere.


The policy ques
tion is whether that is enough

to expect given the very substantial
resources devoted to schools
, or whether a larger share of
overall
resources would be better
used to support initiatives around employment, housing, or better income support
programs. A U
NICEF report recently concluded that “
Variation in government policy
appears to account for most of the variation in child poverty levels between OECD
countries
.


No OECD country devoting 10% or more of GDP to social transfers has a child
poverty rate high
er than 10%.

No country devoting less than 5% of GDP to social
transfers has a child poverty rate of less than 15%.”

(UNICEF, 2007)
. So far governments
in most countries have continued to provide more support to public education than to most
other social

programs for children, but the question remains.



8


What
are the best strategies for urban

schools to use to improve student outcomes
?

L
et us assume
, despite the previous discussion,

that schools can
and should
play an
important role in alleviating the imp
act of poverty. Even from that starting point,
educators,
researchers and activi
s
t
s

have not agreed on
the
steps schools should actually
take.

Levin and Riffel (2000) described the varied understandings of educators in several
school
districts about the

ways in which schools should respond to poverty. In many
schools and districts, even some with quite high poverty levels, the problems of poverty
continued to be seen as issues for individual students rather than systemic problems
requiring systemic resp
onse. In fact, many educators are unhappy that schools have to
spend so much energy on a problem that is not of their making and which they feel they
lack the resources to address properly. Thus
a
common response in many schools
i
s
to
take steps to ensur
e that children could participate in school activities regardless of family
ability to pay. Another common strategy
is

to provide supplementary services such as
meal programs or warm clothing in winter.

Levin and Riffel (1997) also surveyed chairs of sc
hool boards and chief
superintendents of districts in Manitoba on their perceptions of the issue of poverty. The
respondents identified smaller gaps between what they were currently doing and what they
thought would be effective in regard to poverty than
they did for other issues such as the
use of technology or connections between schools and work. Maynes (1993) found that
educators saw the problems of poverty as so all
-
encompassing that they did not have the
feeling they could make a positive impact.

Th
e history of efforts to improve education in high poverty urban communities is
instructive (Silver & Silver, 1991). In many settings poverty issues in cities are highly
conflated with various ethnic tensions, making the political issues much more difficul
t. In
the United States from even before the 1960s, questions of racism, of desegregation, of
access to jobs in the school system for minorities have been important parts of the debate
over urban education policy

(Stone, 1998). In Canadian cities, immigr
ants and Aboriginal
9


people are often significant segments of the low
-
income population. In Europe problems
of urban under
-
achievement are also strongly linked to immigration patterns.


D
uring the 1960s and 1970s much effort in inner
-
city education was dev
oted to
supplementary services, such as nutrition programs or providing health and social services
in schools (Volpe, 2000), and to mobilizing parent engagement, and linking the schools to
the broader community. In terms of the education program itself, t
he greatest attention was
given to improving curriculum by reducing stereotypes and increasing local relevance, and
to alternative programs that would serve students who were not succeeding in the
mainstream

(Gaskell & Pollock, this journal)
.

More recent
ly
in
cities

with very high levels of poverty across many schools, there
is
at least the beginning of a more systematic response involv
ing

efforts to work more
closely with other social services, to provide additional resources to high need schools, to
eng
age the community more actively and
, above all,

to provide different kinds of
instruction and programs that were thought to be more appropriate for students.

These
changes have

arisen in part from the growing recognition that the most challenged students
were often receiving the least challenging instruction (Knapp, Shields & Turnbull, 1995)
and often from less qualified teachers (Quartz et al., 2005; Bracey, 2002).

T
he
inner
-
city education
discussion h
as shifted somewhat
to a stronger focus on
improvin
g mainstream teaching and learning practices.
The earlier priorities have not
vanished


most advocates around urban education would continue to see these as
important


but they are now complemented by an
increased
emphasis on changing
educational practi
ces

in most classrooms
(Howard, Dryden & Johnson, 1999)
.
Studies
examining inner
-
city education efforts (referred to in some places as ‘schools in
challenging circumstances’) point to a variety of strategies that appear to be important.
A
mong the most co
mmon ideas for instructional improvement currently being advanced
are improving the initial and ongoing training of teachers (
Darling
-
Hammond, 2006
),
changing student assessment practices (Earl
, 2003
),
building learning communities
and
connections to famil
ies
(Harris
, 2006
), and
developing new approaches to literacy
(
Allington & McGill
-
Franzen, 2003; Campbell & Fullan, 2006
).

10


Doing all of these things simultaneously is a lot for any school or school system to
handle
, especially in the midst of the challeng
e of daily operation in demanding
circumstances (Thrupp, 1999). Inner
-
city education leaders therefore face the difficult task
of making priority decisions about where to put limited time, energy and money
.

Should
schools
give highest priority to
improv
i
ng

everyday
literacy instruction,
for example,
or is
it more important to devote resources to outreach to parents?


The research evidence is not yet sufficient to allow a co
nfident answer to th
e
question of in
-
school strategy
, but it is an important issu
e for further research. It does
seem feasible to compare efforts using different strategies and priorities to learn more
about where to invest time and energy, as well as money.


Building and sustaining political support.


In the1960s ideas such as the ‘w
ar on poverty’ were widely endorsed by elites and
the general population, so it was not difficult to mobilize funds and support for new
initiatives. Beginning in the 1970s that mood began to change. The reasons for the change
are debated, but among the f
actors appear to be some combination of changing economic
circumstances, political pressure on taxation levels, disappointing results from the reforms
of the 1960s
and mobilization by those whose economic and political interests were
threatened (Levin, 200
1).

New ideas and proposals gained prominence drawing from
conservative
and

neo
-
liberal trains of thought. Funds and support for large
-
scale public
programs fell significantly in the English
-
speaking world and, to varying degrees, in other
industrialized

countries as well.
Even the Scandinavian countries elected centre
-
right
governments.
Governments were accused of ‘throwing money at problems’.
Thus the
1980s and 1990s saw reductions in social programs, most of which deeply affected the
poor, as well a
s less generous funding for areas such as public education. And this
although even at its zenith spending on anti
-
poverty efforts was relatively modest.

The fact is that there is virtually no evidence of the consequences of colossal
increases in the edu
cational resources to which disadvantaged children are exposed,
because this strategy has never been systematically adopted. (Natriello. McDill &
Pallas, 1990, p.192)

11




A main challenge for urban education
advocates
everywhere, then, has been
determining t
he appropriate political strategy for
garnering support for improvement
efforts.
Ideas on this point have been quite varied, related primarily to the appropriate
locus of power around improvement.

Many educators have an active dislike of politics,
seeing

it as an unhelpful interference with their work. Many urban activists, on the other
hand, see themselves primarily as political actors, seeking to use political means to
improve inner
-
city schools.


In the early days of poverty activism there was a wides
pread sense that
one

answer
lay in mobilizing parents to confront an unresponsive if not outright racist political and
bureaucratic establishment.
Many activists felt that it was important to wrest control away
from ‘the bureaucracy’ and give it to parent
s and community members.
Many efforts in
the 1960s in North American cities focused on greater community engagement to shake up
the system and redirect attention to the plight of poor children and communities. Even in
the1980s, Chicago’s reforms gave a c
entral role to elected local school councils that
would, among other responsibilities, hire and fire school principals as well as determine
each school’s improvement plan

(although not everyone sees this as a truly democratic
reform


see Shipps, 1998).


T
he struggles around what used to be called ‘community control’ have been well
documented (
Schutz, 2006
). It became clear fairly quickly that it was very hard to
mobilize local communities, and that
the outcomes of such mobilization where it did occur
were

unpredictable. L
ocal communities did not necessarily agree internally on what
should be done to improve their schools.
Although outsiders may speak of the ‘Caribbean
community’ or the Latino community or the ‘immigrant community’, in reality these
group
s are themselves diverse and often deeply divided in their political views. The views
of urban activists, typically liberal, were not always shared by the communities they were
trying to mobilize.
Sometimes, as noted by Metz (
1991
), parents in poor commu
nities
could be very conservative about change.
Huge political effort did not necessarily produce
12


much result in terms of real educational change (
Hess,
1995
; Cuban & Usdan,
2003
, Stone
et al.,
2001
, Fullan, 2007
).

Community engagement strategies
also
ran

the risk of provoking tremendous
power struggles with other interest
s
, particularly teacher organizations

(Danielson &
Hochschild, 1998)
.
Many educators, even with the best of intentions for children, were
and remain suspicious of parents (Corbett, Wilso
n, & Williams, 2002
; Stone,
1998
).
If the
existing school
system is seen and described as the problem or the enemy, then one cannot
reasonably expect those within it to climb on board the change agenda in large numbers.
At the same time, students of educ
ation reform were learning
,

often
painfully
,

how
hard it
was to make any significant change
in schools
unless teachers were onside (
Fullan, 2007;
Hargreaves & Fink, 2006
).

Yet another complication is that m
any prominent reformers
were
also
educators with

strong commitments to their profession, so ha
ve

had
to struggle
to balance
their support for community engagement with their belief in a strong teaching
profession
.

Significant differences remain today around the best forms of politics in support of
urb
an education. Some remain strong proponents of local democracy, particularly at the
level of the school or neighbourhood
,
despite the frustration of previous efforts in this area

(Schutz, 2006)
.
Others remain supporters of locally elected school boards


whether for
individual schools or for districts
-

as a central means to mobilize effective action in urban
areas through electoral politics.
Locally elected
boards have

been
, at least in some
communities, a vehicle for minority groups to gain a political

voice

that they believe they
need to receive fair treatment in the schools
. On the other hand, urban school boards
in
North America
have

for a century now
also
been seen as vehicles for a paralyzing localism
and for highly fractious politics

(
Stone, 1998
)
. In
many cases urban
boards have been
deeply divided politically, with vital decisions
,

such as retaining a superintendent
,

sometimes hinging on a single vote.
Meanwhile senior levels of government have wrestled
with how best to organize urban school g
overnance, with a whole range of models being
used at various times and places, such as elected city
-
wide boards, ward
-
based boards,
appointed boards, mandatory representation from some minority communities, and so on.

13


The contentious nature of urban edu
cation politics has led a

number of large U
S
cities
to
replace elected school boards with boards appointed by mayors as a way of trying
to manage the politics

(Cuban & Usdan, 2003)
.
I
n Canada several urban boards


Halifax,
Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Tor
onto, Hamilton


have at one point or another been put
under some form of supervision or control by a provincial government that felt they were
not able to manage their affairs.

Some English authorities


Tower Hamlets in London,
Bristol, Nottingham


have

also had external supervisors put in place, though in th
ose

case
s

less because of political dispute than because of very poor levels of student
achievement.
The challenge remains of finding a governance model that empowers local
communities, supports min
ority involvement, yet also is able to maintain some sense of
long
-
term and big
-
picture strategy.

In Canada, as provincial governments have taken on steadily more power over
education policy, provinces have become critical players in shaping urban educatio
n,
drawing political attention to that level. Some of the same trend has occurred in the United
States where states, too, have exercised more policy muscle in education


though rarely to
the extent of Canadian provinces, which now in most of Canada provi
de nearly all the
funds for public schools.
Indeed, the number of school districts in Canada has been
reduced substantially in ever
y province in the last 15 years
.

In England the
Thatcher Conservative government abolished the
central authority
for inner
-
London (the Inner London Education Authority) and
gave local authority over
education back to local boroughs. The Conservatives in England took a great deal of
control over education away from local authorities

all across the country, moving more
control

to individual schools and the national government
. They,
like
governments of
several different political stripes in Australia and a Labour government in New Zealand
were all involved with substantial devolution of power to local schools. When Labour was

elected in England in 1997 they continued to direct policy nationally with very little role
for local authorities until the last few years, when the potential value of an intermediate
level
was again recognized
in creating policy coherence in more than 20
,
000 schools.

14


A further difficult political issue concerns the role of unions. Teacher and support
staff unions
have, of course, a first duty to advance the welfare of their members.
They are
often vilified by reformers for their opposition to change,
y
et
unions
have
also often
been
powerful advocates for
greater equity in education policy and practice (
Bascia, 2005
;
Connell,
White & Johnston,
199
1
).

One of the worst results of education policy in the
1980s and 1990s in many countries
was
to push teac
her and other education unions into a
defensive and reactive mode, creating divisions and suspicions that are not easy to
overcome even when conditions improve.

There is also the
question of the
appropriate role of the community beyond the
schools in edu
cation policy. Based on a study of 11 US cities, Stone et al (
2001
) conclude
that it is impossible to have lasting change in urban education without engagement of the
city government and of business leaders


presumably because of the political force and
legitimacy the latter provide. They use the term ‘civic capacity’ to refer to the need for
combined efforts of many parties to do what is needed to improve outcomes for children in
poor urban areas. Stone et al. are not naïve about how difficult it is to

create and sustain
this kind of effort, but they do see it as essential. On the other hand, many education
activists are suspicious of the
motives for
involvement of business elites (
Borman,
Cast
e
nell & Gallagher, 1993
)
, whose record of involvement is of
ten inconsistent (Stone,
1998)
.

Business has been a particularly important player in the United States, although the
British government has also made some efforts to draw the private sector in, especially for
secondary education
.

Business groups play a
n important role in many countries, though, in
shaping the rhetoric and public understanding of education issues.


Politics arises from difference and conflict. It should be no surprise that various
interests involved with urban education have quite diffe
rent ideas about what should be
done. Yet progress in addressing the difficult issues of urban poverty and education is
clearly easier when there is substantial consensus on strategies. How best to build
community support remains a vital question.


15


L
ear
n from experience


One of the most striking features
emerging from this
research
is the degree to
which the solutions of the 1960s are still being proposed 40 years later.
O
ur case studies
and literature review
show
how much
that
is being proposed today f
or inner
-
city education
was
already
in place three
or four
decades ago
, such as

more integrated service delivery
between schools and social agencies, better nutrition for students, increas
ing

the relevance
of curriculum by connecting it to students’ actual

experience, and mobiliz
ing

parents,
especially minority parents, to support their children’s education.

Here are inner
-
city activists in Winnipeg talking about the work they did in the
early 1970s.

We worked with members of the community and certain o
rganizations to lobby the Board


so that we could use it

[the school]

as the centre for many of the social services (child
welfare, economic services, health services, safety (police) services) needed by the
children. We already knew that the closer at ha
nd the services needed by the children and
the school were the better. The idea was excellent, and schools today are still struggling
with the same issue.

Or:

I got involved in inner issues city because I lived there when I was a


student at the
Universit
y

.. The inner city thus became a focus of undergraduate student activity. In the
early 1970s a group of us were interested in community development. We got involved in
doing a variety of things in the inner city, such as food co
-
ops, buyers’ clubs, tenan
ts’
advocacy and other self
-
help projects


At one stage, we actually had parents involved in
hiring principals and teachers, which was a very radical initiative at the time. We also had
an adult education component, an inter
-
agency coordination component a
nd a strong
community development component.



These accounts make one wonder if any progress has been made

in the last th
i
rty
years
.


One wonders why it seems so difficult to learn from our past and to build on it
rather than starting over every decade or

so.

I feel that in many ways we are not much further ahead

if at all

now than in the 1970s,
partly because we do not sustain our commitments. If we had parent
-
child centres in every
school in the 1980s, for example, and kept them in operation, that woul
d have made a
profound difference. We are always reinventing the wheel. Although quality of services is
important, the sustaining of these services for a sufficiently long period of time to change
intergenerational welfare and eliminate poverty is going to

cost money.

[Winnipeg community activist]


16


Many potential answers to this question immediately present themselves.
In part
,

repetition reflects the cyclical nature of political attention. Poverty was an important
public issue in the late 1960s and early

1970s. It then largely disappeared from the priority
list for 15 or 20 years only to make a reappearance in the late 1980s

and 1990s. The
rationale for attention to poverty changed over that time. The appeal to human rights and
altruism of the 1960s (k
eeping in mind that these sorts of generalizations about decades
have to be taken cautiously)
was replaced

by a
rationale based on
human capital and
contribution
s

to economic competitiveness. Still, in 1989 the Parliament of Canada passed
unanimously a re
solution to end child poverty by 2000 (although in the event, the child
poverty rate in Canada was higher in 2000 than it had been in 1989).


It is also the case that

each city and each historical moment is different from the
others.
As Stone et al (200
1) note in their study of 11 US cities, the particularities of each
city


its political history, institutional structure, demographics and even geography and
climate make a difference. They point out the impact of strong mayors, or of large school
boards

organized by ward, or of relations between cities and suburbs
, of the extent of
ethnic tensions and the existence of city
-
wide civic organizations
. Our two Canadian cases
also highlighted the important contextual differences between Winnipeg and Toronto
(Gaskell

& Levin
, 2006). Moreover, these circumstances shift over time as well.
Every
case study of urban education and poverty shows the impact of changes in demographics


the decline of industries, suburban growth, influx of minorities and immigrants,
changes in
housing.

All of this makes learning across places and times more difficult.


Another barrier
to learning from experience
has been the lack of infrastructure to
support mutual learning about inner
-
city education.
E
ducation policy generally
h
as

not
been
much shaped by research
although this is now beginning to change
(Levin, 200
4b
).
Research
in education almost everywhere
has been sporadic and small scale

(
OECD,
2002
)
. The systems and linkages necessary to share knowledge have not been put in
place.
This is especially so in regard to education and poverty for at least a couple of reasons.
P
oor communities
generally
lack the resources to do the documentation and related
17


research

(Oak
e
s
, Rogers

& Lipton,
2006
)
.
E
ducation policy links across bo
undaries are
quite weak, so large city school districts are not well connected to each other.


Yet it would be excessively pessimistic to say there has been no learning or
development over the last three
or four
decades. In some areas ideas have shifted

significantly, and substantially in line with emerging bodies of evidence. A few examples
will illustrate. Growing attention to effective instruction as a key part of improvement
,
discussed earlier,

has been one positive development. We have learned th
at while
changing classroom practice is difficult, and by itself will not be enough, significant
improvement in outcomes for poor children cannot occur unless there is change in teaching
and learning practices (Elmore, 2004).


In a similar vein, the exten
sive use of alternative classes and programs has been
subjected to serious questioning. While some alternative programs may have a role, their
widespread use as a central strategy for poor children is now largely considered
unacceptable.


A third exampl
e would be growing understanding of both the importance and
challenges of involving diverse communities in urban schools.
The commitment to parent
and community engagement in urban education remains fundamental to those actively
engaged in this area, but
we have also learned that there is no quick route to build trust and
shared effort; this can only emerge from steady work. This mood of recognition both of
learning and frustration is captured in this comment from a senior Winnipeg School
Division adminis
trator.


All in all, we have better working relationships with the community now. The
schools have changed. There is more opportunity for people to become involved. Political
pressure is still there, but there has been more opportunity for the Aboriginal c
ommunity to
take its own leadership role in other forums…


What has happened is that people are now focusing more on the real education
issues that we can address. The efforts are now focused on solutions to the ongoing
question of how to create a classr
oom environment that best meets the needs of students.
There is always more that can be done.


[Winnipeg School Division administrator]


There is every indication that the challenge of providing high quality education in
poor urban settings will remain at
least as important as it is today. The choices societies
18


make around the fundamental dilemmas posed in this paper will be fundamental to
determining any level of success in meeting this challenge.




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