I devoured the paper like a kid in a candy store and finally settled into the Sunday magazine. There was an amazing article written by Jonathan Mahler about a principal and his school in the Bronx. The deeper I got into it, the more and more I saw our school, our students, our teachers, and our community represented in each line of the article.
The most poignant passage was this:
"It’s hard to disagree with the reform movement’s insistence that poverty, like ignorant or apathetic parents, should not be accepted as an excuse for failing schools. But watching Saquan, it’s just as hard to ignore the reality that poverty is an immutable obstacle in the path of improving public education, one that can’t simply be swept aside by the rhetoric of raised expectations. Is it really a surprise that a child whose family had been forced to move into a homeless shelter where he was sharing a bedroom with his mother and three brothers was having trouble getting himself to school and was acting out in class? Is it realistic to think that demanding more of him and his teachers is all that is required?"
This sentiment is something I frequently think about and talk about. The research shows, as the article points out, "that children’s experiences inside the classroom are responsible for as little as 20 percent of their overall educational development." Given this information, why are teachers being held accountable for 100% of a child's academic success? What about the parents, the family, the neighborhood, the community, the state -- the entire whole of society?
Children's educational performance cannot improve without serious reforms focused on living in poverty, language barriers, access to real health care, early childhood education, and a focus on the family, primarily on the caregivers. Until then, "reformers" are simply missing the boat on the real problems and placing blame on the people who are actually trying to do what is best for the kids.
***There are also a lot of good points made by the author about why charter schools aren't a realistic comparison of public schools, but that issue could take up an entire other post.***