By Mary Alice Miller
Reading and math scores for 2012-13 in District #23 (covering large swaths of Brownsville) were abysmally low. In one school, of 101 students who took the tests, 7 passed the English Language Arts (ELA) test and 9 passed math. In another, 40 out of 416 students passed ELA and math. And in yet another, of 293 who took the tests, 33 passed ELA and 32 passed math.
Of all the schools in District #23 one – IS 323 – had 57/58% at Levels 3 and 4 (at grade level or above) in ELA and math. Another middle school generated the lowest percent of Level 3 and 4 students, 3.3% for ELA and 1.3% for math. Of 53 schools in the district, only 32 schools had more than 23% of students at Level 3 and 4.
Scores were not available for charter schools serving elementary and middle school students and high schools.
In response, a group of principals, teachers, parent coordinators, parents, child wellness specialists and clergy came together at New Life Cathedral on Tuesday to brainstorm reasons for the low educational outcomes in Brownsville and how to improve them. Assemblyman William Boyland, Jr. (currently going to trial for federal corruption charges) convened the meeting to provide resources for the educational professionals to assist local children and their families.
Though none wanted to be quoted due to the NYS Department of Education’s (DOE) stringent rules, almost all offered their assessments of the issues and solutions.
One professional said aggressive parenting during ages 0-5 is an issue because when in the classroom, children often don’t respond to verbal commands but respond to physical aggression, a technique that teachers cannot use.
Another said that schools are dealing with children who did not have support at home and didn’t come in with basic skills because they didn’t attend a pre-K program. They become overage kids and sadly for some of our young girls, by 8th grade or freshman in high school, they become our next mothers.
It was suggested that special education needs to be demystified for African-American and Caribbean parents who may believe extra support is a stigma, but in other communities parents beg to get their children extra support with some going so far as taking the city to court to obtain services for their children. The professionals noted that a lot of times it is familial; you will see the same behaviors among 5, 6, 7 kids in the same family. Parents need to take advantage of services when available.
They said there is a need to educate parents on the importance of early intervention services and where they are available, especially parents who are getting younger. Family assessments were suggested for family units that may consist of parent and three children with one entering kindergarten.
In addition, providers of 0-5 child services, including day care centers, need to make their curriculum Common Core-ready even though there is currently no Common Core curriculum available for pre-K.
A major bone of contention was the charter school issue where kids who are performing close to grade level leave to go to a charter school leaving underperforming students in public schools. Then those who cannot perform in charter school come back to public school.
A big problem is the holdovers of students. In one school about 125 of more than 500 kids had been held over at least once. Of those, 48 had been held over multiple times. If a kid has been held over more than once it is predictive that they will drop out of high school and end up incarcerated. During the past couple of years, the DOE has been quietly reducing the numbers of overage students who have been held over multiple times by not requiring that they actually passed the tests but show that they made progress during that school year.
If a child has been held over once and is at risk of being held over a second time, some educational professionals suggest having the child evaluated to see if there is an undiagnosed disability. School personnel tell parents that if the child does have a disability and is not diagnosed, the child’s chances are harmed.
It was agreed that what is needed is more community support and parental involvement. Local schools lack support for extracurricular activities like music, dance and art that keep on-the-fence students engaged in school. Some schools are asking for community mentors to come into schools perhaps one day a week to help 4-8th-grade students who have been held over period at the end of this.