Mayor Mike Rawlings stood before a crowd of Dallas and SMU leaders, hosted by the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, Thursday to address his goals for DFW. Fifty years prior—nearly to the day—then-mayor J. Erik Jonsson presented his iconic Goals for Dallas program, conceived shortly after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in what was then called the “City of Hate.”
Jonsson’s program was, by Rawlings’ evaluation, successful. Rawlings made clear that a short six years later Dallas won the All-America City award by the National Civic League.
Dallas’ problems of division in 1964 may have changed, selectively, but today, in 2014, many divisions still exist, though they may manifest in different ways.
Rawlings had a list of four goals, which he detailed during Thursday’s keynote address. The one that should be addressed the most vigilantly was his last given goal—improving Dallas’ public education system.
According to Rawlings, more than 90 percent of students in the DISD qualify for free or reduced lunch. Less than 10 percent of students are of Anglo race. The poverty rate is high, mostly concentrated in South Dallas, in the areas outside SMU’s home in Highland Park and the surrounding North Dallas region.
I work weekly in a West Dallas elementary school, first creating and now directing a student newspaper of 15 fourth and fifth grade students, each of whom pitch, research and write their own news articles.
I have seen first-hand the discrepancy between the education level of students there and students I have briefly worked with in schools with a greater resource base. My students are incredibly bright, driven and hard working—their first newspaper brought them the praise of not just their own school but their superintendent as well. They are fighting much harder than many 9- and 10-year-olds are (and should have to) to succeed.
But students across the district are too often reading at a grade level lower than they should be, and too often their writing and computer skills are not competitive enough with their peers in other schools.
This discrepancy is clearly not the fault of the student, but nor is it necessarily the fault of the teacher. In his address, Rawlings specifically cited hiring well-qualified teachers and providing incentives to attract the best administrators as the “fix” to the education system.
It has been my personal finding that the problem is not always the teachers themselves. The problem is the lack of teachers and the lack of resources. Hiring more teachers would allow for smaller class sizes—one student I mentor in a South Dallas early college intervention and preparation program gave an estimate of over 35 students in a class. But this should not mitigate the work of the teachers who are in the schools now doing the best job they can. If a teacher is not qualified and not performing to expectation, then they should be released; I don’t disagree with that.
But to insinuate that the problem is lack of qualified teachers, rather than the more accurate evaluation to be lack of necessary funding, diminishes the dedication the best of the DISD faculty are putting into their students’ education on a day-to-day basis.
Principals and teachers need the financial opportunity to buy new computer software and textbooks, to afford SAT and ACT workshops and tutoring, to give students of all ages access to robust, skill-building extra-curricular activities such as newspaper programs and robotics clubs.
A classroom cannot flourish in line with those in cities ranked highest in public education when forced to teach with the bare-minimum of resources, which are then still often outdated.
Rawlings point-blank stated that the private individuals population of Dallas has more money than it knows what to do with.
Education may have been the last pillar mentioned, but it should be the first acted upon. The money available needs to be parlayed into bettering the public school system, which is funded by the state but can be enriched significantly by the community through tutors, mentoring and private resource donations. The Dallas community can rally behind Rawlings’ call for elevating the public education of Dallas’ future leaders by pushing Texas legislature to pony up and provide more funds.
The Mayor has given Dallas four opportunities to which to apply this financial waterfall, and without question, the priority needs to go to the children of Dallas and this city’s broken education system.