Changing urban educator's goals

When people think of “urban education” in its most favorable light, they think of dedicated education professionals working hard in difficult conditions to eliminate the achievement gap by raising the academic achievement levels of their low-income, disadvantaged students.

However, a more widely held perception is that we are treading water in a stifled and almost hopeless effort to help kids who probably do not have a chance to succeed.

What an outdated, energy-sapping, and inappropriate mode of thought for this point in the 21st century. If that is our sole focus, then we should turn in our uniforms and get out of the fight.

We need to change the paradigm and broadcast our goal of preparing the next generation of students to fill the known, and the as-of-yet-unimagined, workforce needs of tomorrow.

Let us stop looking back with our heads down and look up to the future with an intentional eye on the unequivocal target of excellent career-life preparedness for all students. Let us embark upon a new frontier of technology, science, and social development that fills a need that has for too long gone unfilled in America.

Our families, students, and the nation’s economy need us to modernize our effort.

Every year, thousands of companies line up to apply for the 85,000 H-1B visas available to bring in foreign professionals to take on largely high-tech jobs awaiting them in the U.S. Those visas were filled in just four days in April, and some 235,000-foreign-born workers applied for them.

Among other things, the importation of foreign talent tells us there are plenty of jobs in our country, but simply not enough young people prepared to take them; that is where we, as urban education leaders, come in. Rather than wringing our hands about whether political types will provide enough funding for closing the achievement gap, we should be pushing the notion our country loses ground to other nations by our fear of tapping into the resources that our urban schools represent.

We should point out, with help from both the private sector and government, that we can generate enough bright and capable young people to fill the critical technology, medicine, education, and science jobs that will energize our economy, raise the standard of living, and create even more jobs.

It is time we shift the paradigm away from either a perspective of urban education as an inevitable failure or a deficit that can only be addressed by benevolent outsiders on a missionary quest of salvation. It is time we lean into urban education as a place to jump-start the revitalization of an old-fashioned plodding system into a model for the 21st century.

We took the first step at the end of September with our 50th Annual CUBE Conference, where hundreds of champions and experts at the forefront of urban education came to share their experiences, lessons, and ideas for the future.

We must see the young people -- impacted by historical oppression, contemporary marginalization, and repeated hobbling by current circumstances -- as the potential leaders they are. And, we must get them to see their future not as a perennial game of catching up, but as leading the world.

The world, the economy, and our children await our leadership in this area. It is imperative we answer the call.

-written by Micah Ali (, a member of California’s Compton Unified School Board and the 2017-18 chair of the CUBE steering committee.

This article first appeared in the December 2017 issue of American School Board Journal (ASBJ).  Read more from ASBJ here.

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