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Weingarten elected AFT prez: reactions from bloggers

This week and last, bloggers around the web reacted to Randi Weingarten’s AFT President acceptance speech, in which she proposed that schools serving low-income communities integrate medical care, tutoring and homework help, childcare, and recreational programs on-site:

D-ed Reckoning observed that Weingarten has no evidence that the community center approach makes any difference to student achievement, and criticized the idea of expanding the role of the public sector in providing these services. Lindsey at InsideSchools asked what Weingarten’s plan is for creating school-based community centers, and how she’s going to manage being president of both the national and New York City unions.

But perhaps the most interesting discussion of the speech happened at the Fordham Foundation’s Education Gadfly forum. Checker Finn started it all off with this analysis of Weingarten’s speech (and of the “Broader, Bolder” movement):

A growing number of America’s education leaders appear to be abandoning hope for schools that significantly boost student achievement and are instead coming to view schools as multi-service community centers that do everything but teach.

Diane Ravitch reacted to Checker Finn with this powerful statement:

I care as much about academic achievement as Checker or anyone else in the world, but I don’t see any contradiction between caring about academic achievement and caring about children’s health and well-being. Will it help or harm children’s academic achievement–most especially children who are living in poverty–if they have access to good pre-K programs? Will it help or harm children’s academic achievement–most especially the neediest children–if they have access to good medical care, with dental treatment, vision screening, and the like? Will it help or harm children’s academic achievement–the children whose lives are blighted by the burdens of poverty–to have access to high-quality after-school programs?”

To which Randi Weingarten added,

Teachers, by themselves, even without additional support from families or the community, can help kids immensely, especially if they can work one-on-one with students, are well-trained and have access to excellent curriculum materials. But teachers alone can’t get kids all the way to proficiency, when disadvantaged children typically enter school already three years and 30 million words behind.

But Finn still believes that “many of [the Broader, Bolder coalition] really are trying to change the subject, diverting attention away from U.S. schools’ mostly-woeful academic performance while letting schools and educators off the hook for academic results.”

Robert Pondiscio described this back-and-forth as representative of “the great schism.”

Maisie, at Edwize, shared her experience of community schools started by the Children’s Aid Society:

One I visited years ago was a joy to walk into. The dentist was there, with a line of giggling children waiting to see him. Moms who feared to go into most schools were coming in for English classes or to see their child’s teacher. There were fundraising projects going on involving whole families and an atmosphere of health and well-being that was rare for schools in this Dominican community in Washington Heights in the 1990s

It seems to me that, whether through school-based community centers or another approach, it’s past time for the United States to coordinate services for children and families. Address poverty so that children’s achievement improves, or address it because it’s the right thing to do, but address it, already. I’m pleased to see prominent education thinkers pushing for awareness and action on the myriad problems facing families in poverty in America.

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