After getting a doctoral degree in urban education at Temple University and creating a career teaching and writing about urban schools, Camika Royal realized something: “The children are rarely the problem.”
Rather, institutions and leaders of institutions – including school boards and school board members – let our children down, Royal told attendees at a luncheon session of the National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education.
“Despite our best efforts, we know all is not well on the education front,” she said. She cited “school closings in Philadelphia, the murder rate in Chicago, the massacre in Newtown, the horror in Steubenville.”
“A 40 percent graduation rate is pedagogical violence,” she said. “It is criminal.”
Educational leaders need to look at themselves and ask how they bear some degree of responsibility for our schools’ and communities’ shortcomings, she said. When nearly one in five African-American students are suspended each year, “ We are all at least partially complicit.”
She quoted Pedro Noguera, a noted author on urban school issues who teaches at New York University: “Those who manage public institutions often respond differently to different constituencies.”
At the same time, “treating all people equally is not an equitable response,” she said. Often, what’s needed are policies that reflect values of patience, forgiveness and give students a way out, she said.
School boards need to care about all students, “not just those who score well or whose parents are involved or are good at sports or know how to behave.”
For leaders, improvement must start with self-examination, she said. “Challenge the assumptions and biases you bring to your work … We have to search ourselves about what we believe about young men of color.”
Too often, board members “fail to see how our own biases interview with the district’s success,” she said. “What must change most is you.”
— Eric Randall