Dr. Howard Asserts Educational Equity Requires Understanding of Human Dynamics at Play in Schools

Dr. Tyrone Howard Professor of Education at Urban Division of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and the Director of Center X, told the delegates “You have the toughest job in the world.”

“When their our conversations about what’s wrong with public education, they point to your doorstep.” He called for mutual support among the profession in the face of such challenges.

Dr. Howard, a former teacher who hails from Compton, CA, is the Founder and Director of the Black Male Institute at UCLA. As a product of Compton, CA, he is often asked, “How do you make it out?”

“You make it out when people help you make it out,” he said.

Referring to the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, he spoke of a UCLA student whom he mentors. “Even if we were going to leave,” his student told him, “we had nowhere to go.” His student “woke up to a horror” when Katrina hit.

With the water already knee high, his student, Ravel, and his mother and aunt they climbed onto the roof of their house. A helicopter that arrived took him first; he was only age 12, and delivered him to the Superdome. He was removed to Houston, TX, with no word of where his mother was, and did not reconnect with her until three weeks later, only to learn that his aunt had died during their time apart

“Educators,” he said, “are called on to fix problems they did not create.” The challenges school leaders see every day are often beyond their ability to rectify.

“We need bold, we need courageous leaders,” he asserted.

Citing the fact that a third of the children in a class of 30 in today’s public schools are in poverty. “Poverty does mean you cannot learn. Gifted,” he said, “is a working mother who can get her children educated without going into poverty.”

He cited families of four living on incomes of only $10,000. If he basic needs of children are not being met, “everything else we are doing is just spinning our wheels.”

Howard asserted that a conversation on race and its relationship to learning has to be held, no matter how uncomfortable. He protested the loss of bilingual language use in Los Angeles, noting the absurdity of demanding that children take a second language when they go to college. “Why not let them keep the language they had in the first place?” he asked.

“Factors outside the schools have a profound impact on what is possible in the classroom,” noting the significant number of children in foster homes and in stressful home situations, including sexual abuse and violence.

“We have to do a better job of telling our legislators that our students need more help for deal with social and mental issues.”

He assailed No Child Left Behind as goals set by policymakers with no experience in schools.

He asserted three things needed for transformative leadership are “altering beliefs, attitudes, and values, a difficult challenge when school leaders take no credit for success and must accept all responsibility when things go bad.

Leadership requires a clear purpose, he said, unwavering passion, and a powerful purpose. “Our singular purpose should be to improve the lives of students, first, foremost and always.”

He rejected labeling situations without a clear understanding of circumstances “A single-parent home is not [necessarily] a ‘broken home.’ A single-parent home can have more love in it than some two-parent homes.”

An unwavering passion is essential for turning around a school, which requires reaching out into the community. He added that building and retaining a positive and constructive climate is also essential for successful leadership.

“You must preach every day that ‘we can do this better. We have to do this better.’” Relationships matter, he said. “if you can’t establish a meaningful relationship with students, you will never succeed.”

A powerful persistence means “being the lone wolf at times, an unyielding belief that this place [your school] can be better. Understand that the beliefs you have permeate the entire building.”

He spoke of a 12-year-old who told him “I hate my life.” He was living in a motel where his mother was working as a prostitute. He had lost all semblance of hope. “Those things that you say in comforting and encouraging children – the human touch – I cannot tell you how much that can mean to a child like me, who grew up in Compton.”

“When you build hope in children, it takes them very far, because many children come into your school fractured.”

“We cannot get to the academic side of the job if we can’t reach the children personally. This is tireless work; never-ending work, because we have people who are pushing back and telling us ‘we’re not doing enough.’”

It is essential to identify the nature of the challenge. “We have to envision where we want our school to be tomorrow,” he said. “How do we sustain a culture of ongoing school improvement on a continuous basis, because at the end of the day, our challenge is helping children be as good as they can be.”

“Go back to why you chose to do this work in the first place,” Howard urged, asserting the need for maintaining “the spirit of hope.” He challenged the delegates to persist in asserting the rights of labor, because if they do not, the attempts to break unions “will spread like wildfire.”

He closed with a challenge. “I’m going to triple-dog dare you to keep doing what you are doing for the children of our country.”

Dr. Howard’s appearance at the convention was supported by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishing.