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Education Reform = Engaged Parents + Committed Teachers + Caring Communities

by Employee ‎09-24-2010 03:11 PM - edited ‎09-24-2010 04:16 PM

Rose KirkThe education debate rages on, and in its midst, new views and old philosophies abound as to true reform.


More scrutiny than ever is occurring on turn-around programs, as the nation learns of the planned $100M donation for one of our most troubled school districts in Newark, New Jersey, and learns of high schools dubbed “drop out factories”.


These “factories”, identified by researchers at Johns Hopkins University represent 13 percent of American high schools and are those in which an average freshman class shrinks by 40 percent or more by the time the students become high school seniors. Overwhelmingly, these schools are located in minority and low-income areas, which usually means they have fewer resources and less-qualified teachers.  It is estimated that 38 percent of African-American students and 33 percent of Latino students attend dropout factories.  Astoundingly, these factories churn out 51 percent of the nation’s dropouts.


When I read this, I did a little bit of research to see if the school I graduated from almost 30 years ago is considered a drop-out factory, given its profile: located in a small town in the South, with a majority low-income and African-American population. It is not.


Learning of drop-out factories caused me to pause and think about my reality as an at-risk student, and give thought to what factors contributed to my academic and professional success.


I was born almost 50 years ago, a black female in the segregated South; 7 of 8 children, to a two-parent home with a mother with part-time housekeeping and cooking jobs, and a father who owned a barely successful barbershop.  


Like many of today’s students in drop-out factories, my parents had little options as to where we would live and where we would go to school. But, my mother expected nothing less than top academic performance from me and I was fortunate to be educated in a school system—poor though it was—where teachers cared about the communities and neighborhoods surrounding their schools and doled out wash cloths with soap alongside tests on fractions. These teachers were committed to helping their students find a way up and out. They were tough-minded, but tender-hearted, and in their dress, dialogue and engagement were role models and positive thought-leaders.  


My mother spent a mind-boggling 24 years—from the age of 26 when her first child entered first grade to the age of 50 when her eighth child graduated from high school—ensuring that her children were awake, fed, dressed and at school every day ready to perform.  Achieving a college degree, and doing so with good values, was from her point of view, the only way out of a low-income environment.  Her zeal to ensure her eight children were daily equipped to perform in school was matched only by my father’s intensity and commitment to hard work.  It was a simple equation in my house: respect plus hard work and focus plus good grades was the way up and out. It worked.


The views that suggest kids from our poorest and most underserved communities are not equipped to perform are inconceivable to me, given my history.  While a $100M cash infusion is good; and free resources for teachers through Verizon’s Thinkfinity technology program are excellent; and though Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the Washington DC schools is spot on when she says ineffective teachers must go, I continue to assert that the basics of engaged parents, committed teachers and caring communities is a three-pronged approach to education reform that is even more critical than Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.  Let’s hope the money, the debate and the solutions that are hitting the table these days don’t lose sight of this.


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About the Authors

Rose Kirk

V.P. of Global Corporate Citizenship and President of the Verizon Foundation

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Rose leads Verizon's global corporate responsibility initiatives and philanthropic strategy, which focuses on applying Verizon's technology to improve education, healthcare and energy management.

James Gowen

Chief Sustainability Officer/
V.P. of Services Operations

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James oversees Verizon’s supply chain, vehicle fleet, investment recovery, purchasing and materials management and sustainability initiatives.

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Director of Corporate and Community Responsibility

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Jack promotes digital wellness and online safety. He works with parents, educators, service providers, application developers and industry leaders to foster responsible use of Verizon's mobile and broadband networks.

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