Inside City Schools
Improving School Climate, Improving Achievement
Climate and Culture
Urban school leaders who want to reform low-performing schools usually embark on a series of obvious strategies: strengthening the curriculum, promoting sound instructional practices, providing more staff training, and tutoring students who need help. But in this swirl of activity, an important piece of the puzzle is often overlooked: the attitudes and beliefs of students, teachers, and administrators.
The Loss of Diversity
In 1923, the Baltimore City School District’s board of commissioners renamed a high school after Frederick Douglass, the great orator and abolitionist. Until then, the building was called the Colored High School and provided most of the city’s African-American students with a secondary education. Today, the school boasts a long list of distinguished alumni, including Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice. But 82 years after it was renamed and 51 years after Marshall’s legal victory in Brown v. Board of Education, the enrollment of Frederick Douglass High School still reflects the school’s original name.
In education, victories sometimes come in small doses. Few victories are more important, however, than raising expectations. If school boards, administrators, teachers, parents, and community leaders don’t believe that poor and minority children can learn as well as those who have more advantages, it can be difficult—if not impossible—to convince students that education offers their best opportunity for a better life.
Adults Who Care
Over the past decade, programs such as Talent Development have helped a growing number of urban districts implement comprehensive approaches to school reform. The programs target students with the benefits more commonly associated with more affluent suburban schools, such as scholarships and summertime exposure to college life. All of the programs have a common component: the belief that if adults show students they care, then success stories won’t be the exception.