A California professor has been learning the education landscape in Philadelphia through school visits and conversations with students and educators in the School District of Philadelphia.
Tyrone Howard, a professor of education at UCLA and president of the American Educational Researchers Association (AERA), will be using the information from those visits for the organization’s annual conference.
The conference will be held in Philadelphia April 11-14 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The theme for this year’s conference is “Dismantling Racial Injustice and Constructing Educational Possibilities: A Call to Action.”
“The American Educational Research Association is the nation’s largest education research organization,” Howard said. “Every year, we have our conference in a different city and this year it’s in Philadelphia.
“As we prepare to bring anywhere from 12,00 to 15,000 people here, all of whom have studied K-12 and higher education, we really want them to understand the city,” he said.
“Every city has its own unique challenges. Every city has its ways of how they operate. Part of my goal has been how do we learn. I’ve been coming to Philadelphia every month to learn more about the city itself and the education landscape,” he added.
Over the last few months, Howard has visited numerous School District of Philadelphia schools including Parkway West High School, Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, Moffett Elementary, Mastbaum High School and the Mary McLeod Bethune School.
The former K-12 classroom teacher also met with district leadership, listened virtually to the city’s City Wide Strategy for Diverse and High Quality Teachers and participated in the Black Male Educators’ Conference, which was hosted by The Center for Black Educator Development.
“During my visit at Bethune, principal [Aliya] Bradley helped us understand the community in which the school was located,” Howard said. “The challenges that it faces with issues around poverty and gentrification, but also trying to use the school as a mechanism to provide protection and support for those little scholars she has there.
“At Mastbaum, we had students show us their welding and carpentry classes,” he said. “The students in the culinary arts program fixed lunch. I don’t come in as an expert. I’m coming to observe, listen and learn. We heard things ranging from we need better support and our buildings need to be upgraded to our infrastructure can be improved in some ways.
“Some of the biggest takeaways from the visits have been how dedicated the employees and school leaders are,” he added. “The schools also have amazing scholars who bring so much promise and potential to what they do in their classrooms.”
Following the visits, Howard went back to AERA’s Council and Executive Board and told them what he learned about Philadelphia schools.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is that Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods,” Howard said. “At the conference, we will be looking at issues around racial injustice. When you look at these different neighborhoods, one cannot help to think how race plays a factor in what these neighborhoods look like and what the schools looks like.
“As you think about the research that you will talk about and share, we have to be mindful of this particular context,” he said. “There’s so much we can learn from a city like Philadelphia. We need to understand how issues of inequality manifests, how issues of racial inequality shapes learning opportunities and how gentrification and poverty and all these other factors are shaping the ways in which young people sort of engage in school.
“I want folks who are going to be here to not think about their work in the abstract, but what their work means in terms of improving outcomes for students across the country, the world and in Philadelphia,” he added. “If we can find solutions, interventions and strategies for our large cities that have these really vexing problems, we can figure it out anywhere.”
Howard said having teachers and young people at the table will help researchers find those solutions. He said he wants to hear from them at the conference.
“I want us to make a couple of visits to classrooms and schools while we’re here,” Howard said. “I want to bring some of the young people and the teachers to our conference to speak to us about what they think we should know.
“We also want anybody concerned with issues around education and educational research to come out and be a part of this,” he said. “I want this conference to be around strategies and solutions to address some of the most challenging problems when it comes to education, with Philadelphia being our spotlight.”