« on: June 23, 2008, 04:25:47 AM »
James Watson: Yes, and that's bad. Black kids have got to get different aspirations.
Cut black dropout rate to 15%, schools told
Jun 18, 2008 04:30 AM
Canada's largest school board is poised to set tough targets to chop the alarming 40 per cent dropout rate among black students to 15 per cent within five years. Through mentors, teacher training and close tracking of the most needy students, the Toronto District School Board's sweeping new Urban Diversity Strategy to be voted on tomorrow by a board committee and by all trustees next week would aim to make all intermediate and high schools across the city more sensitive to the demographic roadblocks often facing students of differing backgrounds.
The action plan would also target the 25 most racially diverse, low-performing schools for extra youth workers, outreach staff to work with parents, summer programs for Grade 8 students who fail any of the 3 Rs, and a network of teachers who feel passionate about working in such challenging schools.
"We know this is not going to be an easy task, but with the data we now know about our students, and with what we see is working already at some schools plus a little bit of pressure we know it can be done," said Gerry Connelly, the board's director of education, in an interview yesterday.
The report is one of the ways the board is responding to new data showing children from poor or turbulent backgrounds or marginalized communities often lag behind.
While trustees voted to open an Africentric alternative school in September 2009 as a sort of test lab for a more global curriculum and more black teachers as role models, the board also charged staff to come up with ways to help children at risk in all schools.
But instead of recommending special programs tailored for children of various high-risk groups Portuguese children, for example, or those from Somalia or Afghanistan the staff suggests helping all teachers be more sensitive to the challenges diversity can bring.
"This approach won't ignore the role of race, or gender, or poverty, or disability; these are all part of students' reality," said Lloyd McKell, the board's executive officer of student and community equity, who consulted with many community groups while helping draft the plan.
"But our training will help teachers recognize the effect racial diversity has on students' lives." Among other recommendations:
Chop the overall dropout rate by 5 per cent in each of the next five years.
Every child not meeting the standard between Grades 7 and 10 would be assigned a staff mentor or "learning coach" someone the report calls "a caring adult in the school" to act as an advocate, someone who follows up when they stumble and offers help. "This is always at the top of the wish list of every student we talk to," said McKell;Principals would ensure experienced teachers are assigned to work with students with the greatest need, rather than automatically assigning veteran educators to the university-bound "academic" stream;
Expand free Grade 7 and 8 summer literacy and numeracy camps to all of the 25 high-need schools for students below standard in reading, writing or arithmetic, and have parents come to at least one session to learn about standards;
Boost after-school homework clubs, free tutoring, and expand access to library and computer labs. George Harvey Collegiate Institute, near Keele St. and Eglinton Ave. W., extended library hours and added popular "graphic novels" to the shelves, for example. Library borrowing jumped 245 per cent and scores in the Grade 10 literacy test have jumped 6 per cent in one year.
While Connelly would not put a price tag on the extra support, she said much can be covered by using existing funding in a more strategic way, and noted the board will also seek some funding from Queen's Park. Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, past-president of the Jamaican-Canadian Association, called the plan "a good start" but warned it is crucial to choose staff mentors that truly care about children, not just track their attendance.
"Not all staff is that attentive to the barriers many students face, so how will you choose `an adult who cares?' The community should have some input," she said. Education Professor Patrick Solomon, who founded the Urban Diversity program at York University, hailed the plan to train teachers to be more sensitive to the community, a process he said is best done by having teachers design community projects in the neighbourhoods where they work.
Marcie Ponte of the Working Women's Community Centre, which runs a successful tutoring program for Portuguese children, said the board's plan is a sign it is "taking at-risk students seriously and mentoring is a key piece.
"But Toronto is so diverse, schools need to let teachers think outside the box and be creative. No one solution will work for all kids."