The education achievement gap between whites/asians and african-american/latinos; between the rich and the poor; between urban and suburban students needs to be addressed properly in this country. Whichever way one labels the gap one thing is undeniable – it exists. Seemingly, the current policies being pushed throughout the U.S. all revolve around fixing teachers, as if we are somehow to blame for this “broken system”. Reformists call both democrats and republicans to arms: “Let’s get the U.S. back to #1 in education!”
Unfortunately, the US was never even a contender for the world’s “top spot” in education ratings. In fact, we have never ranked higher than we currently do. Secondly, teachers are NOT to blame for any educational shortcomings our nation endures. So, to blame and focus on teachers as the root “problem” and “fixable” solution just will not work. In fact, eroding experience protections and due process as we ever increasingly rely on faulty testing metrics will indeed have a negative effect, but not on the pocketbooks of education publishing companies (i.e. Pearson) or charter operators.
Experienced teachers advocate for real solutions to the shortcomings our nation face, not for easy fixes to complex dilemmas or for unfair scapegoating . Our country’s foremost educational “problem” can be fixed with an attack on the epidemiological crises that creates our achievement gaps. Teachers fight gaps, attacking us while ignoring common sense solutions just doesn’t make common sense.
One such reform tackles the “glasses gap” in our country. The overwhelming majority of kids who need glasses in “underperforming” schools and classrooms are not wearing them to school. This alarming crises is a national epidemic. The Defense Department issues glasses to recruits in order that they might shoot straight. It’s high time a similar initiative be a priority in this country. If we truly are going to ensure that “no child be left behind” then tackling the glasses gap is one easy solution to an enormous problem that is left out of the conversation. We ensure soldiers have eyeglasses in order to hit their targets. Why can’t we ensure students in every public school have an on- sight comprehensive eye exam and school issued glasses that remain in school so they can hit their reading targets and see the board? If we are going to take closing the achievement gap seriously the playing field needs to be leveled, and this is one way.
Certainly, if we transferred all the teachers from Winchester and Newton Public schools into Boston public schools, improvement would not occur. In all likelihood gaps would become widen. Yet this is the rationale behind the teacher quality rhetoric. Let me reiterate, teachers are not the problem.
Last year I surveyed four regular education classes at my school, grades 4-5. Eighteen kids were identified as requiring eyeglasses in order to properly function in school. Six students had glasses in school, twelve did not. I then surveyed two honors classes. One-hundred percent of the glasses wearers had their glasses, all twelve. Certainly there is a correlation between “achievement” and eyesight. My anecdote is not the outlier but the mode in our country. See here for independent verification: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqR7rU-4KzU
Crushing the achievement gap takes real innovation, precision, and clarity. Current “bold” “trailblazing” reforms leave the voices of educators out. We need to be heard before the voices of “impatient” hedge fund managers and neo-liberals who mean well, but lack the experience and insight to get the job done correctly. We need to be supported.
Fortunately, I was able to get a partner, New England Eye Center, to help tackle the vision deficits at my school. However, participation is not a requirement and there are many other health disparities that need to be addressed. We need to buck the teacher centered “status quo” reform movement. We are not the problem any more than cops can be blamed for crime rates, or firefighters for firebugs. People who never worked a day in the classroom are leading our nation’s charge for education reform. Their only spokespeople are the likes of Michelle Rhee, whom all have minimal classroom experience and “retired” at age 25. Let’s get real. Let’s fix this. There is no excuse.
Boston Public School graduate (BLS 1997)
Boston Public School Teacher 2004-Present
Honors History Teacher grades 4-6 in Dorchester
Proud Boston Teachers Union member and representative