KU professor of education John Rury among school board applicants
John Rury says he understands why some teachers and administrators might be resistant to the idea of university faculty members offering solutions to the challenges facing K-12 education today.
“People in public schools are not terribly excited often by university professors coming in and saying, ‘This is the way I think you should do it,'” says Rury, especially when those academic types parachute into schools for research, he adds, and promptly leave when their jobs are done.
Rury, a professor of education at the University of Kansas, says he has frequently heard this “common complaint” over his long career as a historian of American education, and he finds it “understandable.” But that’s not how he’s approaching his candidacy for the Lawrence school board seat vacated last month by Kristie Adair, he maintains.
“Being on the board does not mean being involved in day-to-day decisions or policies. That’s really the job of the administration and the teaching staff,” says Rury, 65. “So, I have ideas that certainly can be aired in terms of the board, but in terms of what the district actually decides to do, my role would be consultative, not trying to go in and quote unquote ‘make changes.'”
But Rury, who grew up in upstate New York and later sent his children to public schools in Chicago before moving to Lawrence in 2003, also feels he, “as one of those university professors,” could offer “a helpful perspective” to the challenges faced by the Lawrence district — particularly, he says, the ongoing equity issues that have often been at the forefront of school board meetings and community forums over the last several months.
Rury holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Fordham University, a master’s degree in education studies and history from the City University of New York, and a doctorate degree in education policy studies and history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As an academic, he studies inequality in education, recently co-authoring a book on the racial achievement gap, and, last month, Rury served as a panelist in a well-attended KU-sponsored forum meant to address those very issues.
“We all want kids to succeed, and frankly, the numbers who are not succeeding in Lawrence are shocking, especially since there’s such a relatively small group of students who are affected,” Rury says, referring to the achievement gap between white students and their peers of color. “For both African Americans and Native Americans, and to a lesser extent Hispanic students, those numbers really jump out.”
In 2016, about 5 percent of Lawrence’s American Indian and Alaskan Native high school students were considered “college-ready” by state assessment standards in math. Black students as a group scored slightly better, at more than 12 percent. About 36 percent of white students, comparatively, landed in this same category, and about 23 percent of Hispanic students were considered college-ready.
Educators like Rury have long acknowledged the social and economic factors behind these numbers, he says. Closing the racial achievement gap, he says, will not be accomplished quickly or without hurdles.
But he also says he’s encouraged by some measures being introduced in classrooms nationwide, such as culturally relevant instruction and what education scholars refer to as the “detracking movement.” He finds that kind of reform, in which students are placed intentionally in mixed-ability heterogeneous classes, “really interesting and promising.”
“Leadership is critically important. These questions and the attitudes and perspectives of the teaching staff are really, critically important,” Rury says. “You can’t snap your fingers and change this overnight. You’ve got to have a long, sustained commitment to change.”
John Rury is one of 19 official candidates to apply for the school board seat vacated by Kristie Adair. The school board will meet with candidates during its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.