Award-winning author and education advocate Jonathan Kozol will speak Wednesday in Spokane about the ways civic leaders can collaborate with public schools.
“I always urge school officials and policy people to intervene as early as you can,” Kozol said. “The best dropout prevention is three full years of developmental preschool.”
Kozol is speaking at the 10th annual Our Kids: Our Business luncheon, which is hosted by a coalition of 35 community activists organized by SPO-CAN Council. The SPO-CAN Council focuses on preventing child abuse and neglect.
Rowena Pineda, a co-chair of the event, said they asked Kozol to be the keynote speaker because of his focus on inequality in education.
“Jonathan Kozol’s work over the years examines how every child has potential but not every child has the opportunity to fulfill his/her potential,” Pineda said in an email.
Kozol advocates a broad partnership between community organizations. He encourages local colleges and college students to get involved in their community, but he encourages long-term commitment.
“I always urge them (colleges) to set it up on more than a one-semester basis,” he said.
Kozol also will address testing in schools. One of his primary points, he said, is that it’s not equitable to compare children who had high-quality preschool against those who did not.
“To me it seems illegitimate to judge an 8-year-old girl on her scores on an exam if we robbed her of three years of developmental preschool,” Kozol said. “I happen to think there is too much testing.”
His recommendations align with efforts made by Spokane Public Schools, the city of Spokane and others to apply for a Housing and Urban Development designation, known as a Promise Zone, that provides incentives for collaboration.
“I think those agencies (that work outside the schools) could do a great service by using their facilities as a kind of a common ground where parents and teachers can interact in informal ways,” Kozol said.
This broad approach helps get at some of the persistent challenges low-income or otherwise disadvantaged students experience.
Kozol said he also will urge teachers to take the time to listen to children, even if that’s at the expense of test scores or metered academic performance.
“The best way to transform a school is by drawing on the strengths of the best teachers we can find and the most enlightened principals we can find,” he said. “In the long run, we also need them to be advocates for basic equity.”
Kozol has worked for 50 years as an educator and advocate. He’s written 14 books and received the National Book Award for “Death at an Early Age” and the Robert F. Kennedy Book award for “Rachel and Her Children.”
Two other speakers will be at the event. Robyn Nance, co-founder of Teen Closet, a Spokane nonprofit working with foster care youth, is scheduled to speak in the morning. Kent Hoffman, co-founder of Circle of Security International, an early-intervention program for parents and children, is scheduled to speak in the afternoon.
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