The Code of Silence: Our School System Needs Our Voice

There is an unwritten rule of silence that is killing our kids and generations of leaders. Though this is not the code of silence resulting in the physical harm of our kids that I wrote about recently, but it is just as alarming. This code of silence is similar to the code that persist within law enforcement, when an officer fails to live up to the badge and no one wearing the badge calls out the failure. This code of silence, as pervasive as it is, exists in our public school system. This truth immediately creates a public trust issue. The public is fully aware that no human or system is perfect at all times. But if no one from the system will speak up about the failure nor ask for assistance to help "get it right," then the cycle will continue. 


I recently had the opportunity to review 40 essays of high school graduates who applied to the District 2 Legacy Scholarship. The application required students to tell about the legacy they wanted to leave in their community, as well as the people that have impacted their success thus far. Each student had an impressive story to tell about his or her legacy, but despite such inspiring stories, I was overwhelmed with a sinking feeling that as educators, we are failing our students.

Many of the students struggled to write grammatically correct sentences and persuasively communicate their points. These were also students that had been accepted into college. This gave me a reason to go back through the applications a little closer, and I discovered many of those same students had attainted an impressive grade point average (GPA) but below average ACT score.

Understanding the GPA and ACT Relationship

While GPA in many ways is a more comprehensive indicator for student success than ACT scores, it is still clear that an ACT score of 21 or better indicates college readiness.  GPA is calculated based on the grades that are earned by a student within the classroom. This grade calculation is subjective, meaning that an individual teacher grades assignments based on a set of standards set forth within the classroom and or school. For example, many of our open enrollment high school’s curriculums are not as difficult as our selective admission top tier high schools. Therefore, “A” work in one high school may be considered “C” work in another. GPA is used to compare students within one schoolhouse, whereas ACT is a national assessment tool that uses test scores to generate a statement about the predictive behavior that can be expected of a person, in this case, college readiness. Further, the ACT allows students to be compared to one another nationally. Therefore, while GPA is important, a broader view of the students college readiness relies on the combination of GPA, and ACT/SAT scores, as this will tell not only how well the student has done within the schoolhouse and state curriculum, but the retention and application of the schools curriculum on a national assessment, thus an evaluation of the rigor of the school curriculum. Understanding this, our youth are not prepared as showcased by our low college persistence rates as a school district.

These young people, to no fault of their own, were failed by our school system and adults throughout our community. We, collectively, can no longer stand in silence as these issues persist. We must come together, be bold enough to identify the problems and create innovative solutions. As a responsible party who represents 40,000 students, my writing today comes from a clear concern for our youth, who may come back after struggling to persist through college and claim that they were sold an unattainable dream because of their schooling, and our adults, supporting the learning needs of our youth, who need furthered help and support.

 Silence Within Our School System

There are schools at all levels (early childhood, elementary, and high school) that are not meeting the goal of educating our youth with the basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. While this is true, there are educators getting it right and not calling their fellow educators to task for their inability to educate students with the basic tools for success. This code of silence is a mindset, where adults are more comfortable protecting adults instead of speaking up for and protecting our kids. We need adults willing to identify the problems and work to build a culture of collaboration towards crafting solutions.

 A Need for Transparency

There is a need for greater transparency within our school system. Three primary reasons system leaders and schools need to be more transparent about student achievement and call each other to task:

1) To identify the schools in need and system gaps early in order to support them to meet student success goals;

2) Hold schools accountable for failing our students by taking corrective action; and

3) To garner community trust and buy-in by being honest about the pitfalls in order to work together for collective solutions.

 Working Together

We, myself included, cannot continue to stay silent while kids- who can barely read, write and do math- matriculate through our schools and into adulthood without the proper knowledge to be successful. I am committed to continuing our efforts to improve student achievement and it will take accountability by all parties, inside and outside of our system. It also takes leaders and educators being transparent about the problems and asking for help. The community at large will not trust this system until we call out our trouble areas and work in a collaborative way to create solutions. 

What I know for certain, once the issues are public then all industries and community can work together to craft a collective agenda to truly invest fully in our most precious resource- our children! 

So, I commit to working with our leadership to create a community of practice amongst Local Education Agencies in order to foster collaboration and share best-practices. Additionally, we can seek funding to support schools in need of corrective action with additional resources. Last, I am completely open to hearing ideas that I can take, as a policy maker, to make our system the best for our youth.

A Call to Action

So, here is my ask for help:

1) As an educator, speak up and seek help when you and your students aren’t being properly prepared and supported;

2) As a parent, demand that the schools and community resources provide a platform to learn how to assess your child’s progress to determine if he or she is receiving the instruction needed to be successful;

3) As a community leader, get involved with your local school system as a volunteer to offer extra assistance or to help fundraise for additional resources; and

4) As a student, continue to work hard, focus on your studies, and ask for help, if and when you need.

5) Last, encourage your peers to do the same!

We are starting the District 2 Community Council to get the dialogue started in OPSB District 2. I invite you to register to be a part of the conversation and the solution, to create a better education system for our children… and save our future generation of leaders.

Click here to join the Community Council.