Tom Bloch on the Challenges of Urban Education
In 1976, Tom Bloch joined H&R Block, the world's largest tax services provider, where his father was CEO. In 1981, after introducing automation to the company's office network, he was elected President of the Tax Operations. Later, he oversaw the company's innovative practice of filing tax returns electronically to the IRS, which revolutionized the industry. Bloch was promoted to President of the corporation in 1989 and CEO in 1992. His second career began in 1995 as a middle school math teacher at St. Francis Xavier, an inner city parochial school. Five years later, he co-founded the University Academy, a public charter school in Kansas City. Bloch continues to teach 7th and 8th grade math at the urban college prep school he helped design and launch. He is also President of the school's board. The Academy has grown from 200 students in grades seven through nine in its first year to over 1,000 students in kindergarten through grade twelve. The school moved into a new, $40 million facility in 2005, and it became the first school in Missouri to receive a ten-year extension of its charter. Over the last five years, all but two graduates of the Academy have gone on to attend college, an almost unheard-of success rate for an urban school. Bloch is the author of Stand for the Best, a memoir about his journey from CEO to inner city teacher and school founder. He graduated cum laude in 1976 from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
Tom Bloch: There are significant challenges in the urban core, and that’s been the case for many, many years particularly in the area of education. And what we have now in the United States, in my view, is really two different systems of education, one for the haves in this country and one for the have-nots. And that’s why we have such an enormous achievement gap between these two groups. This is not a sustainable situation in my view, and we’ve got to take some major steps in order to correct this, to reduce the gulf between these two groups. And so there are obviously a number of factors that extend beyond the control of a classroom teacher or even a school that affects the quality of education in the urban core. For example, parent involvement, and I can’t tell you over the last 13 years how many times I would call home to talk to a parent about a child’s failing grades, and never to get a phone call returned.
And one story I would tell you is when I did get a phone call returned from a parent, and she agreed to come to the school and meet with me. I appreciated that and I explained to her that her daughter never did her homework and she even refused to take tests in my class. And I sort of braced myself for the mother’s reaction and, very surprisingly, she began to laugh, and I thought, “What is funny about this?” And she was amused by it all and she explained to me that she, the mother, hated teachers and hated school when she was younger, and she thought it was ironic that her daughter was just like she was. So these are the struggles that we face in inner cities throughout our country, parent support and involvement in their kids’ education.
I believe there are lower standards in the urban core. I remember early on in my career I had a debate with a fellow teacher who had much more experience than I did, and this woman labeled me as a failure as a teacher, and that hurt me having very thin skin and I lost a whole night’s sleep about it. But her argument was that because I actually gave F’s in my classes if students didn’t do their work or fail to demonstrate academic proficiency, I would give F’s. And she told me that I was depriving my students of an opportunity to get a high school diploma on time. She also explained that getting that high school diploma is likely the high point in the life of an urban student, and I disagreed with her then and I continued to disagree with her today. But the point of the story is that I think, unfortunately, that too many educators in the urban core feel a sense of pity for the stereotypical poor, inner city kid who has no future. And I think this kind of attitude does a kid no good. It certainly doesn’t prepare them for the real world.
Recorded on: October 13, 2008
Tom Bloch sees a major achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots in the US.
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