Appearing in the Democrat & Chronicle
Hank Rubin, Guest Essayist
“It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass
I’ve been a parent for 29 years and have learned that, in the final analysis, I’m really the only one I can count on to make sure my kids get the best education possible. And because, all told, I’ve lived in Rochester and its suburbs for 20 years, I’m declaring some responsibility for all our children … and, frankly, you should, too.
Our children deserve world-class education and, all too often, we know they’re not getting it in Rochester’s public schools. Period. The responsibility to act requires no more justification than that.
We can point to individual examples of excellence and incremental evidence of improvement, but our data persist in placing RCSD among the lowest performing districts in the nation.
That’s why none of the distinguished educator’s dozens of findings caught any of us by surprise; and why his report sparked Roc the Future’s letter to the New York state education commissioner declaring that the system is broken. “Its cumulative failures have evolved over decades. They are systemic failures; certainly not failures of our children, nor of any one leader, teacher or board. They are failures that combine to perpetuate inequality based on race and income in our city and region.”
We’ve spent decades rolling through competent superintendents, electing passionate and committed school board members, pointing fingers, arguing about which comes first — failed education or poverty — when the answer is “both” and “neither” as we allow both to persist in the context of structural racism. This is a systemic and structural problem that 84 independent strategies will not solve. District and community stakeholders must work together for transformational change.
I am a big supporter of Roc the Future’s letter because it doesn’t presume to know the answers, doesn’t point fingers of blame, doesn’t sell our children short, doesn’t wait, and proposes action:
Roc the Future’s letter has gone to the commissioner. I hope every one of you will join me in signing on to its message: We embrace change; we want to be part of essential decisions going forward; we envision, if not ultimately demand, world-class education for our children and are ready to work to make that happen; and we need help ensuring immediate repairs to improve teaching and learning in many of our classrooms right now. This time, let’s stand united for our children!
Hank Rubin, Ph.D., is with Frederick Douglass Family initiatives, a board member of The Children’s Agenda, retired vice president of Rochester Area Community Foundation, former School Council member (Chicago) and associate state superintendent of public education (Ohio).