"No excuses” policies and demands that students be tougher or grittier ring false to me. My students are already tremendously tough, unbelievably gritty. The problem is not that they need to be tougher or that I need to make fewer excuses. The problem is that they already have too many reasons to be tough — lack of food, relatives in prison, threats of eviction or deportation, parents sick or addicted, caring for younger siblings — and that adults at school rarely see the full picture. I spend fifty hours a week at school and I still don’t always see the full picture. It’s hard to imagine how policymakers, who are so distant from my students’ day-to-day realities, can claim to see them better than I can.
Making test scores too high a priority can ultimately limit students' real potential. A recent report about the success of Alice Deal Middle School in Washington DC, where low-income students enjoy a variety of enrichment options, and a charter school that rejects such enrichment, where they score a bit higher on reading and math tests, highlights that ironic reality. But it doesn't have to be that way. Just across the city line, Maryland's Montgomery County demonstrates that taking a broader perspective enhances not only test scores, but more important predictors of life success.
I consider myself a reform-minded teacher. I’m an advocate for using data to inform instruction and to monitor my students’ progress. But I have learned in my years of teaching — and running a club for young men at Dunbar High School — that our obsession with testable elements of the high-school experience has taken focus away from making that content meaningful, so that students might do well in school despite the hardships they face. I can thank the students in our club, the Gentlemen of Dunbar, for this lesson.
Today, newly-formed education advocacy group TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence) hosted a presentation by Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality. She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.
In contrast to education "reformers" such as Joel Klein who support increased spending on charter schools, testing, and performance-based rewards, the BBA calls for a redirection of funds towards early-childhood education, health care, and other social supports.
Data suggests that better schools do not address the problem of under achievement. Instead, resources should be directed towards a broader, bolder approach, incorporating childcare, parental support, and community involvement.
Join BBA, EPI, and AASA for a film screening event exploring the impact of child, family, and concentrated poverty on school and community well-being. The Sundance award-winning documentary Rich Hill tracks a year in the lives of three youth and their families in a small Missouri town. Their struggles illustrate the challenges of housing instability, food insecurity, and stresses related to living in poverty that students like them across the country bring to school every day. Click here to rsvp.
Ready for Kindergarten (February 27, 2014)
The New Public (November 7, 2013)
American Winter (March 14, 2013)
ECE Webinar: Domains of Brain Development and Early Childhood Brain Science with Todd Grindal
Part I | Part II
ECE Webinar: Economic Benefits of Early Childhood Investments, K-12 Impacts with Robert G. Lynch
ECE Webinar: Paid Early Childhood Caregivers and Educators with Robert C. Pianta