We can point to the evidence of this shared responsibility in communities like Pilsen and Little Village, with the work Dr. Carlos Azcoita, Ed.D., distinguished professor of practice at National Louis and an alumnus, has done with John Spry Community School. He served as the founding principal of the school, a pre-kindergarten through high school program in the Little Village area that serves students, families and the community. In this case, school and parents came together, with a shared-vision of supporting children in their learning destinations, and both school and community helped each other to help children succeed.
Schools naturally operate under a “spoke and wheel” framework, where children are central and the community is fundamentally a dynamic network of complex, dependent systems functioning within the beliefs and values of its members. When we successfully use an interdisciplinary lens along with a comprehensive understanding of the complex issues facing our communities, driven by leadership as diverse as the families accessing our schools, transformation is possible.
Without a doubt, we are seeing an increase in performance gaps in educational gains among students of different socio-economic status. As economist and Harvard professor Richard Murnane has found, “…the gaps between the average reading skills and mathematical skills of children from relatively affluent families and those from relatively low-income families have increased by one-third over the last three decades.”1 He attributes the increase in family-income related gaps in educational outcomes to “growing differences in parental resources devoted to children” and growing differences in the quality of schools attended, based upon socio-economic status.
Although the United States has relatively high education expenditures, they have not helped us remain globally competitive in educational achievement. According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)2, only Luxembourg spends more per student on education than the United States. But how resources are used is important.
On average, pupil/teacher ratios in the U.S. have fallen by more than 30% since 1970, from 22.3 in 1970 to 15.4 in 2009 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012)3. But not all students benefit from this investment. A Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report points out that the United States is one of only three OECD countries where socio-economically disadvantaged schools have less favorable student-teacher ratios than more advantaged schools4. Further, according to PISA analyses (OECD, 2011), the U.S. spends a far lower proportion on high school teachers’ salaries than the OECD average, but spends near the top on capital outlays for schools (11.6% versus the OECD average of 7.6%)5.
Teacher turnover is another factor that significantly impacts how education dollars are spent. The introduction to a 2007 policy brief from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF, 2007)6 on the effects of teacher turnover estimates that the national cost of public school teacher turnover could be as much as $7.3 billion per year, with teacher attrition “spiraling out of control,” having grown by fifty percent over the past fifteen years and reaching a rate of over 20% in urban schools.