Mar 12, 2009

Inequality in K-12 Public Education

This one's for Chris L. @ A.U.

I think that
The Frustrated Teacher said it best on the subject of inequality in education: "There is no quick fix because the problem, whatever the problem is, is not the fault of public education; it's the fault of society to adequately take care of those in need. I think its pretty clear that the "haves" have been having at the expense of the "have-nots" for so long that we are where we are now; a rich/poor society; very little in the middle.The "poor" don't need better schools and teachers, they need better lives !"

On a similar note Public Education Defender made a number of key points about Obama's recent speech on education policy. Public Ed. Defender argues that Obama's plan like that of other well intended politicians will do little to significantly improve education in America. Here's what this teacher blogger said: "... President Obama gave a major speech on education policy. So far, I like him a lot. Who knows whether or not he will have a successful presidency, but he seems to have the potential for greatness. His plan to improve education in America, however, does not inspire me. It's not that I'm disappointed by the things Obama is proposing; it's exactly what I would expect from a good politician who does not really understand what happens in a classroom. It's not that I think the things he is proposing are necessarily bad things. "

"President Obama is endorsing merit pay, that's not a bad thing, but I think it is greatly overrated by its proponents. It might help a little, and I am all for doing whatever it takes to make sure we keep our best teachers, regardless of seniority, and get rid of our worst ones. "

"...America's teachers are often portrayed by our media and elites as being incompetent. This is unfair. There are some lousy teachers out there--no one can deny that--and we should get rid of them. But much of the so-called "bad teaching" is being done by teachers who have been put into impossible classroom situations. Once in a blue moon you might find an incredible teacher who can go into one of those classrooms and turn things around. Those teachers, however, are very rare. If anyone thinks that enough of them can be found to turn around those impossible classroom situations in large cities throughout the nation, they are dreaming. Something has to be done about those classroom situations, and Obama's policies don't. "

I can't help but agree with both of these education bloggers. Somehow I feel that many out there, although well-intended I am sure try to offer simplistic solutions to a very complex problem without considering the research. It seems to me that almost everyone is an 'expert' when it comes to education reform. Many argue that if we just get rid of teacher tenure, fire all of the incompetent teachers, offer merit pay, and get all parents to make their challenging students behave then all of our problems will be solved. All of these solutions seem to be rooted in a "schools only" approach to fixing the problem which is part of the problem.

A look at a Bolder Approach to Education website is quite insightful and is a deliberate effort by leaders from various fields in education, social welfare, housing, and civil rights. Their position statement reveals that ".. research has documented a powerful association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement." They argue that our national education policy has been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of socio-economic status on learning. As an example they cite the No Child Left Behind Law. They support that schools can ameliorate some of the impact of social and economic disadvantage on achievement but not all.

Many including our DC schools chancellor denies that socio-economic status has a significant impact despite what the research states. According to bolder approach : "evidence demonstrates that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. What is crucial for all of us is to not get caught into the trap that many of our politicians have which as bolder approach states is a "failure to act on the evidence — in tandem with a schools-only approach — which is a major reason why the association between disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong. " Check out a bolder approach to education for solutions.

On Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of a dinner meeting with 17 American University students and their professor from the DC Education Project on the subject of systemic inequities in K-12 education in the District and the nation. Chris L. , sophomore student leader of this group contacted me through my blog to arrange this very delightful evening. Our meeting took place in a Adams- Morgan hostel where several college students prepared all of us an informal dinner of burritos while we dialogued on this very interesting subject. This took me back to my ole' college days which for me offer many fond memories.

What I learned is that these 17 students are part of an alternative spring break project which included visiting DC schools (Janney ES and Hart middle school), meeting with non-profits, a community activist parent - Maria Jones, and Chancellor Rhee and WTU President George Parker, etc. As a public education advocate, I did my best to answer their many well- thought out questions from my vantage point on the subject of systemic inequities. I think that a good starting point for our discussion was their recent visit to a school west of the park and another school east of the river. What a dichotomy ! As I shared with Chris, I look forward to seeing the final outcome of their project. At a time when college students could be enjoying all of the simple pleasures of their spring break- they decided to become a part of an interesting alternative educational experience. I applaud their efforts. I am sure it will provide many life-long academic and personal memories . I believe that we ALL can learn a lot from their project- even President Obama. (Posted by The Washington Teacher).


Unknown said...

It's nice to be called "the best"! Thanks for all your work!

Anonymous said...

Obama and Biden say they will reform NCLB and it starts with funding. We get the stimulus money to build our crumbling school buildings and the Gov. of SC says he's not using the stimulus money to fix one school ? It's not just one school and it's the future of this county and the direction outlined needed Americans supported. The NC uses educational lottery money to balance the state budget ! Get your hands out of the children's American Apple Pie ! California teacher's protest and salute them. Pink slip Friday was a great idea and they all dressed up in pink. Support transparancy and school system audits !