Putting Dayton's back-to-school season in context

Education is and always has been profoundly shaped by demographics and economics. Ever since James Coleman's celebrated 1966 study showed that student achievement is strongly affected by nonschool factors, Americans have understood the manifold tribulations facing anyone bent on improving student achievement among our poorest children.

In Dayton, Fordham's hometown, there is no doubt that education reform efforts are entangled with brutal Rust Belt economics, poverty, job loss, fractured families, and the constant churning of children between schools. Recent news out of Dayton has not been good for children and families here.

First, the community has been on edge over the recent death of a young African-American male who died while in police custody. In speaking with community leaders who work closely with Dayton's families and neighborhoods it is clear that they have been working very hard to keep the tensions bubbling under the surface from blowing up in ways akin to what's been happening in London. There is much anger and misunderstanding in Dayton, and it is stoked by high unemployment, extreme poverty, and despair. A drive around town or a walk in some of the city's more beaten down neighborhoods make this all too clear.

Recent statistics reaffirm how needy the community is. The Columbus Dispatch reported this morning that 28 percent of Dayton families with children say they did not have enough money to buy food in the past year. The Dayton Business Journal reported yesterday that the ???Dayton-area ranked as the 5th-worst metro out of 100 cities across the country for percentage of manufacturing jobs lost during the past five years.???

And in looking at education data (from the 2009-10 school year), at least 18,000 of Dayton's roughly 20,000 K-12 students are enrolled in a very high-poverty school (those with 75 percent or more students labeled as ???economically disadvantaged). This includes charter schools and district schools alike. Nearly all Dayton students are enrolled in a school with a very high concentration of poverty, and have few options to attend a school that isn't overwhelmingly poor.

It is in this context that Dayton's children are returning to classroom across the city. There is no doubt that great schools can make a difference in the lives of these children and others like them across the country, but in recent years the job is getting harder for educators in Dayton and other struggling communities. This is a humbling reality facing teachers and school administrators in Dayton as they return to work this month.??????????

-????Terry Ryan

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