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Message to a Germantown congregation: Educational inequity dishonors King

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 21, 2013 05:15 PM
Photo: Facebook
First United Methodist Church of Germantown

“How are the children?”

That is the traditional greeting of the Masai tribe in Africa, said Barbara Moore Williams in the annual Martin Luther King Day address at First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) on Sunday morning.

A longtime teacher and former Philadelphia School District official, Williams reminded the congregation that the answer for the Masai was, “All the children are well.”

She wondered how things might be different in Philadelphia if we asked ourselves that question every day.

Moore Williams, who once led professional development in the District, now runs a consulting company that works with districts and charter schools on diversity training for teachers and other school employees.

But her message at FUMCOG was about how inequity and inequality is tolerated in our region and our country -- something, she said, that dishonors Dr. King.

Moore Williams noted that only 60 percent of children in Philadelphia graduate from high school, and that one district where she works just outside the city limits spends $10,000 more annually per child -- $24,000, compared to $14,000 in Philadelphia.

In that district, the graduation rate is 99 percent, compared to 60 percent in Philadelphia, a number that is even lower in some high-poverty high schools. In that district, in addition to the higher per-pupil spending, she discovered that most of the children had outside tutors.

“To me, that’s a civil rights issue,” she said. “How dare it be that we don’t have enough money to educate all our children. … Education in America is not fairly distributed.”

Moore Williams urged the congregation to “go out and do something about” educational inequity. She recalled how the first African American candidate for Philadelphia mayor, Hardy Williams, knocked on as many doors as he could.

“We should be knocking on doors about children and educational inequity,” she said.

And, she said, although she “loves” President Obama, she disagrees with his statement that anyone who works hard can succeed in America. There are always exceptions who rise above difficult circumstances, she said, but too many children “are not getting the education they need.”

FUMCOG is a progressive congregation right across from Germantown High School, which is one of 44 schools that the District is planning to close or relocate. The church runs a tutoring program at the school.

The church's Committee on Race has issued a statement on access and equity in education. And although it endorses equity in resources, the statement goes a step beyond into analyzing the culture within schools.

It says that racial bias is infused in American schooling -- from the curriculum to practices that result in more White students being declared gifted and students of color being more often assigned to special education, to the quality of relationships that educators have with students’ families.

“Teachers and school systems need to affirm that race impacts each of us all the time,” the statement says. It calls for “color consciousness” and understanding of the consequences of low expectations. It calls for Whites to examine their own “racial privilege.”

“The goal is to intentionally transform classrooms and schools where children of color can access effective schooling,” the statement says, calling for “interracial dialogue, continuous learning, and the interconnected actions of those with and without racial privilege. This will strengthen our democracy and our ability to compete in the global economy."

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Comments (18)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 12:19 am
Obviously we need to learn from the success of Africa in achieving social justice. 14k is still more than the state and us averages. Yet few in the middle of the state constantly complain that they are shortchanged somehow by lower merion- one of the wealthiest and highest spending districts in the USA. Seriously, maybe she should look in the mirror to see how her grievance mongering and entitlement mentality is a big part of what drives people try to the suburbs.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 7:38 am
I think the truth is that if Lower Merion was funded at 14k per student and we were funded at 24k per student the graduation rates in both districts would shift but not by that much. It's not a function of funding it's a function of Lower Merion having predominantly children of educated, middle class parents and Philadelphia having children of poorly educated, poor parents. Overcoming poor parental education which puts students years behind their peers in richer districts is the biggest problem and so far we have no answer to how to do it.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 22, 2013 9:14 am
I couldn't agree more with your comment. I would like to add that we however, as a poor District, have Title I. If only the PSD would actually use it the way it was intended, as enrichment for the poor kids. It would be a move in the right direction. Right now, there is a huge huge amount of money that is coming from the Federal government, but, with a few exceptions, is not making it to the kids for the purpose it was designated for.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 5:52 am
there is no evidence that the quality of district schools improve with more money. the fact that it gets worse when money is taken away is purely a self-fulfilled prophecy. the fact that they compare the inner city with the wealthiest suburb in the state is ridiculous. they have nicer houses and cars too. will they make the same argument at pha or septa? there are both charter and district (non-selective admissions) schools that make substantial progress on the dollars at hand. stop whining and work harder. remember, this is a consultant with deep district roots. she has no ideal what it takes to do a job on budget. please, lady, leave africa out of it. we're in philly.
Submitted by Jack (not verified) on January 22, 2013 7:25 am
We'll never know if additional money spent on schools will make a difference since we have the state running our schools and they haven't been able to wisely allocate funds for some time ( see Ackerman, Arlene and Vallas, Paul). The current crop of SRC folks seem to have the same issues...like claiming they will save $28M from closures, a claim everyone knows is pure fiction. Also Dr Hite claims that smaller classrooms do not lead to better performance. Any educator with a centimeter of common sense knows that is not true either. It's a shame that it took the closure of schools to mobilize the parents in this city. They should have been doing this all along.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 22, 2013 8:15 am
Thank you Jack for your comment. Until the money that the PSD gets is wisely used, we can't say the solution is more money. The most obvious and real problem, is the oversight. Yes, this applies to charters too. The State moved to correct this with the SRC, but this has proved a "non" or worse (adding to the problem) solution. Unfortunately, Dr. Hite is somewhat correct when he says that smaller class size does not improve performance. As our neighborhood elementary school steadily lost enrollment, and had enviable small class sizes (less than 10 in several cases, 14 average), along with a per student spending around $12,000, there was absolutely no difference in achievement as measured on the standardized test (average and in the individual classes). The school made AYP because of a "loophole" called Safe Harbor, which said that if the population in any subgroup dropped by 10% (never mind why), that could be used to qualify making the standard. Their entire Title I was also used for a "Instructional Reform Facilitator". From direct observation however, I do agree that class size does matter. Repeat, the real problem is the oversight. It is a little sad that some of our prominent activists (and posters on this website) would enlist the emotional causes of racism and poverty while turning a blind eye to concrete facts. With 43,000 less children, you must downsize. The original abolitionists saw the face of evil. That face still seems to consistently ally itself with entrenched status quo and self gain, despite the moral cover (which would include the causes of racism and poverty) it would seek.
Submitted by tom-104 on January 22, 2013 10:59 am
I don't think that anyone who cites the inequality of funding as a major factor in urban schools problems is saying that corruption, poor management, and lack of oversight are not part of the problem. The inequitable funding and corruption are connected, and they are the status quo. As to class size, when the wealthier and private schools increase their class sizes to over 30 than I will believe that class size doesn't matter. Until then, increasing class sizes is just going to put more sacrifice and hardship on already struggling families.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 22, 2013 1:04 pm
Then I think that the corruption and poor management should be the focus of the activists/true reformers. This must be fixed before more funding is justified, because the greater funding will just go into the pockets of the corrupt. There's just no way around that. So far I have not heard ideas that address this directly. I have heard how changes that dismantle the PSD support corruption, but nothing about how to fix corruption in the PSD. In terms of inequity of funding, might you have a source that has the exact amount of funding (not spending) that the State is giving to all the counties? The U.S. Census site took some figuring out in how to use the filters in order to get relevant stats. What I have read is that the difference in spending in PA's various counties is due to the difference in real estate taxes. The fact that they spend more does not present a case for a need to spend more.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 8:50 am
This attitude that equality of funding makes no difference in low income districts comes from the middle class who would never conceive of putting their child in schools which are underfunded. It is simple class prejudice. Poverty is not a matter of "working harder", it is built into the structure of our economy. It is the "working harder" for many of the working poor that makes no difference!
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on January 22, 2013 11:56 am
you didn't read the posts above. if they will continue wasting money, more money is not the answer. it's just more to wasted. the efforts of the district to right the fiscal ship is the most important work they've undertaken in 50 years.
Submitted by tom-104 on January 22, 2013 12:44 pm
The School District has been under state management for ten years under the SRC. Vallas had a major capital building project, many of which, such as Audenried, became charters as soon as they were built. Ackerman poured money into Promise Academies, Renaissance Schools, and charters while starving the regular schools of resources. This is where the increased funding during the Rendell years and the federal stimulus money went. It was not seen in the classrooms. I had the same ten year old computers in my computer lab in 2010 that we received in 2001. This was done by Superintendents appointed by the state run SRC. School District personnel have no say in how money is spent.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 8:30 am
As a teacher in the Philadelphia School District, I do believe that there is an inadequacy in the money provided for students and how it relates to successes in the classroom. There is a lack of supplies, technology, and other resources in our school. In terms of teacher pay, I cannot complain but there is a gap between Philadelphia and surrounding suburban districts which does cause some good teachers to leave. In the end though, it has to do with parental involvement and culture in a school. As one person posted, there is a large amount of correlation between the success rates of students coming from educated, middle class parents compared to those from non-educated, poor families. Because of that, there needs to be more resources, more counselors, more support staff, and smaller class sizes to stress the importance of education and support kids in order to shift the current culture that exists. Many of these schools slated for closing provide the only support network, although inadequate, for many at-risk children and moving them around only makes their current situation worse.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 22, 2013 8:21 am
Yes, more Title I money needs to go to Early Childhood education and social services; which was its purpose to begin with. With a "level playing field", then teachers can teach.
Submitted by LeRoi (not verified) on January 22, 2013 12:18 pm
It seems that it is easier to assign blame then work together on solutions. Solutions are long term and very difficult, but we must work it out or we will loose another generation of children. We will all deal with these 200,000 children in the PSD. Either in the the schools, the streets, or our living rooms. We will pay for their education now, or pay for their lack of education later. I can't invest any more energy in knocking other's ideas and attempts to help the plight of our little people, but must press toward the mark set by the Master. We have set a community meeting for 5 February 2013 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM In Germantown High School to organize a community response to the proposed closing of the school. We will have all of the data to make informed responses and strategies. Come learn, share, get involved, or pray for us as we attempt to help our little ones. HOW ARE THE CHILDREN?
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 22, 2013 1:14 pm
I will pray for you. I suggest someone contact Philadelphia Community College to see if someone there can appraise what the cost would be to refurbish Germantown High so that it can offer quality Vocational/Technical instruction. Could you contract the instruction to them? How many "seats" could be accommodated by such? How might the City benefit in increased taxes from employees required for such a program? In young people who have not finished high school obtaining work training? How would this be far more cost effective than building a completely new facility for Vocational/Tech instruction? Good luck. I do not live in your community, and I am still picking up the pieces in my household from being too much of an activist, but I wish you the very best.
Submitted by LeRoi (not verified) on January 22, 2013 1:49 pm
Ms. Cheng Thank you for your very good ideas and especially the prayers. These are the sort of ideas that we want to include in the public record of community responses to the PSD Master Plan for Germantown.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 5:30 pm
I didnt know all philly kids are black and all suburb kids are white.
Submitted by Barbara K Revere (not verified) on January 23, 2013 5:03 am
Well, I was one of the folks in the congregation on Sunday and Dr. Williams did an amazing job! Interesting how negative comments are made by folks who did not even hear her speak. But I guess it emphasizes her main point as these are predominantly black/brown, hispanic children that we are talking about. How many of you who have made comments have children in the Philadelphia Public Schools. I do. Racial disparity is alive and well in the suburbs also. I was also trained and educated to be a teacher, with good Title I supports, and I saw the difference this made to the students. I am not black/brown or hispanic as I am white. I am embarrassed by the previous comments. We have not come very far over the last 40 years and this is SAD. And I do sign my name when I make comments.

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