Andre Perry, Ph.D. | Why better test scores won’t fix society

When we have faith in community, we will begin to understand fully that we can’t fire our way to academic excellence. When we have faith in community, we can never believe in a theory of improvement by deletion. Community members don’t go away. They may be literally locked away in jail and prison, but people are still here.

Another student from Sophie B. Wright High School, Ricky Coston, draws instructive parallels between schools and prisons and suggests a productive strategy for reform:

We shouldn’t isolate people who have been to jail. Good schools create good communities; however, jails and prisons are also very productive in creating communities. We all know people who are being raised by the streets. Some of my peers are choosing crime communities over school communities. When students are alienated in schools, they look to people who will care for them. Sometimes parents, teachers and friends don’t show love for boys. Where do you think they go? People can’t live without community.

Everyone needs to belong to something. Kids turn to the streets because the streets teach them a skill. It may not be the skill society needs, but kids are practicing everyday how to be hustlers.  They are practicing how to hurt people. It’s hard to believe that students can find family in the streets, but when you’re alienated, a family will find you. 

That’s why eventually we have to give people who go to jail a different skill. They have to practice something that will make them a positive force. Jails just give negative people more practice being negative. 

I recommend that when people are in jail that they should receive counseling and job skills training. I recommend that we give prisoners vouchers to go to schools where they can get their degree or GED. Also, people who go to jail for drugs should be able to get their records erased so they can get a job. Former prisoners will also need bus tokens so they can get to work and school.

People will probably be against giving former criminals scholarships and services. But what’s the alternative? Too many fathers and sons basically got their street diplomas. Just like we practice math, criminals practice crime. If learning is about becoming, then it is not enough to say no to crime.  We have to equip people to become something society needs. Fighting crime with police doesn’t change people positively. We have to fight crime with skills.

True learning is about becoming

Coston points out the interconnectedness of schools, prisons, and neighborhoods—community—for better or worse. Touting growth on achievement data from one arena that is disconnected from real social mobility in the larger community distracts us from actually helping the people in the scores.



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