WASHINGTON — When prospective teachers interview for a job at Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, they are asked whether they believe all students can go to college and succeed.
“Believe it or not, people actually sit there in an interview and say ‘No, I don’t think they all can,’” said Tim King, founder, president and CEO of the all-male school network, which boasts a 100 percent college enrollment rate and an 80 percent college retention rate among its graduates.
“As soon as they make that response we say, ‘Thank for your time,’ and move on to the next interview,” King said.
King shared the story Monday while making a point about leadership during a panel discussion titled “Providing a Rigorous High-Quality Curriculum and Instruction for College and Career Readiness.”
The panel was part of the annual “Addressing Achievement Gaps” symposium jointly convened by ETS and the Children’s Defense Fund. The theme of this year’s symposium was “Black Male Teens: Moving to Success in the High School Years.”
King stressed the importance of leadership in creating a school climate that is conducive to academic success.
“The issue of leadership is critical,” King said. “You have to have fantastic leadership within schools and the key element, in my view, when it comes to having fantastic leadership is the leaders have to believe deeply in the possibility of the students’ success,” King said. “And they then have to make sure that the folks hired to teach and administer the practices and policies of the school are also deeply committed to that mission and the success of the student.”
King said schools should be judged based on growth among their students rather than raw test scores.
For instance, he said, Urban Prep Academies are judged negatively because the average ACT score within the school network is 17, significantly lower than the 2012 national average of 21.1.
However, he noted that most students at the school start out with an ACT score of about 12.
“We grew them five points, which is tremendous,” King said. “We have to convince colleges and universities to take our students because they look at test scores and not the growth.”
Other speakers tackled subjects that ranged from the need for more “cultural competence” among educators to the subtle racism within the catchphrase “achievement gap,” from the inadequacy of teacher prep programs to schools’ collective failure to engage parents and community members in the business of keeping students on track.
“One of the untapped treasures is the community,” said Ronald Walker, executive director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color.
“We have the in-school faculty that’s endowed with levels of expertise around curriculum and learning and assessment,” Walker said. “And then we have the community faculty,” he said, which range from barbers to crossing guards who may have a valuable rapport with the students in an out-of-school setting.
“People may not be degreed in policy but they are degreed in experience in the neighborhood,” Walker said.
In a separate panel, titled “Establishing Safe, Positive, Supportive and Welcoming School Environments,” speakers criticized “zero tolerance” policies that lead to disproportionate suspensions of Black male students for behavior deemed “disruptive,” as well as the implementation of police and metal detectors at schools that make them feel more like correctional facilities than educational settings.
Ivory Toldson, associate professor of counseling psychology at Howard University, lamented what he referred to as the “over-criminalizing of young Black males.”
Consequently, he said, society comes to believe that a “different strategy” — such as “gang abatement” or “violence prevention” — is needed in schools to successfully educate Black males, when in reality what would work is more honors courses and college prep classes.
“A lot of us believe young Black men need a correctional or military environment, but that leaves them vulnerable, feeling like their behaviors have to be restricted but no opportunity to be embraced by teachers who educate them,” Toldson said.
Although an earlier speaker touted the benefits of exposing Black male students to Black college graduates to inspire and demonstrate what is possible, Bakari Haynes, assistant principal at Eastern Middle School in Montgomery County, Md., said relationships trump credentials.
“Kids couldn’t care less about where you graduated from,” Haynes said. “But the bottom line is they need to know that you truly care about them and that you’re going to invest your time to make the experience worthwhile.”