President’s Corner

The Lost Cities

by Randall H. Collins

As I was driving to a meeting in central Connecticut, as I often do, I was lost in the reverie of the state’s beauty after a recent snowfall. The snow clung to the branches of every tree and the hills and valleys were covered with a blanket of white. The morning sun illuminated the snow and ice, which sparkled like countless diamonds sprinkled across the land.

Suddenly the scene was interrupted by the sharp angles of concrete and dark glass that pierced the horizon. I thought, “Ah, one of the lost cities!”

Over the past decade at least, I have read the stories and seen the data that tell the tale of failing public schools in the urban centers of America, the nation’s lost cities. What is going on? Could it be that our cities are magnets for inferior administrators, untalented teachers, less intelligent students and uncaring parents?

That, of course, is ludicrous. Yet there are those who legislate education bills and create the punitive measures that take names like “adequate yearly progress” who must believe that, if punished, these administrators, teachers, students and parents will get serious and do better.

I know gifted administrators, creative and talented teachers, beautiful, bright children, and caring parents in many of our nation’s cities. They want success just as much as their suburban counterparts do. Yet there are many people in power who think they can legislate good education; who think veteran educators are self-serving; who think because they once attended school, they know best; who use our kids as a way to leave a legacy; and who want our schools to fail so they can resurrect them according to their own vision. It is a vision that’s neither equitable nor just and leaves many children behind.

The data from every state in this nation support the notion of two Americas. The “haves” generally perform well on high-stakes tests and the “have-nots” frequently do not. What do the haves possess that separates them from the have-nots? The answer, of course, is financial advantage. They do not suffer the effects of poverty.

So when do we target our efforts on eradicating poverty rather than raising the requirements for schools that are already struggling? When do we create preschools for all children rather than punish schools whose entire student population receives free or reduced-price lunch? When do we give children unfortunate to be born into poverty the enriching experiences that their financially secure counterparts enjoy?

The AASA legislative agenda, titled All Children Will Learn, holds the key to moving our cities forward. It calls for a return to the original intent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and for the money to address the integration of services to ensure that the needs of our most disadvantaged students are addressed.

As a community, we must begin to attend to all of the needs of our children and their families. We should be looking to the concept of community schools, a place where health needs and nutrition needs can be addressed along with academic needs. Let’s educate the total child. Then we will see our cities begin to flourish with adequate facilities, preschool education, health clinics and other means of support.

It has been said of Desmond Tutu that “his moral compass points to equality” — and so should ours. If our nation took on the plight of our urban centers and removed poverty from the equation for its youngest citizens, the mystery of the lost cities would finally be solved.

Randall Collins is AASA president for 2008-09. E-mail:

Pres_Collins.jpgRandall H. Collins