California teacher challenges educators

A high school teacher from Oakland, Calif., challenged Louisiana educators Friday to tackle racism, poverty and stress if they want to reach their students.

“The purpose of education is not to escape poverty,” Jeff Duncan-Adrade said. “The purpose of education is to end it.”

Duncan-Andrade was the keynote speaker for the Sixth annual meeting of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

Charter schools are public schools run by non-governmental boards.

They are supposed to offer innovative alternatives to traditional public schools.

The state has about 110 charter schools serving roughly 50,000 students.

About 80 percent are in New Orleans, and those schools are a key part of the city’s bid to upgrade its long-troubled public school system after it was largely toppled by Hurricane Katrina.

Duncan-Andrade said students in low-income areas in east Oakland and elsewhere are often plagued by what amounts to a form of post traumatic stress disorder, sparked by a wide range of social ills, including violence.

“If the school ain’t better than society then society ain’t going to get better,” he said during his 90-minute address.

Duncan-Andrade is also an associate professor at San Francisco State University.

He has lectured worldwide on the elements of effective teaching in schools with lots of students from poor and working class families.

Duncan-Andrade said Oakland, which has less than a half-million residents, has experienced 1,121 homicides in nine years, which is four years less than a student’s typical cycle through the school system.

He said one of his 16-year-old students was a recent murder victim but it was supposed to be business as usual at school the day after his funeral.

Yet counselors remained at Columbine High School 10 years after the 1999 shootings.

He said research shows that years of “body blow after body blow after body blow” from a wide range of social ills leads to a variety of physical ailments.

“As educators we are contributing to those toxic stressors if we are not deflecting them,” Duncan-Andrade said.

He said that, at times, educators have to meet students on their terms.

Duncan-Andrade said he could leave a crisp $100 bill in a Shakespeare book at his school “and it is pretty safe.”

But the words of slain rapper Tupac Shakur draw students 17 years after his death, he said, and Shakur was the first topic raised when he addressed high school students in New Zealand.

While teacher unions and charter school officials are often at odds Michael Walker-Jones, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, was seated in the second row for the speech.

Walker-Jones said Duncan-Andrade correctly emphasized the role that poverty plays in school problems.

Caroline Roemer Shirley, president of the association, told the group while charter schools have made huge gains in recent years, and have been praised for math and reading improvements, challenges remain.

“Not all charter schools are excelling,” she said. “Not all traditional public schools are excelling.”

The day-long gathering included workshops on problems faced by charter boards, the growth of unionized charter schools and how to improve parental involvement.