Saturday, November 24, 2012

'Savage Inequalities' Resolved

While my students read, I read as well.  You can get a surprising amount of reading done in just 20 minutes a day...

Currently I am reading Savage Inequalities by Jonothan Kozol, borrowed from a co-worker when I spotted it on his "favorites" shelf.  He models reading and talking about books with his students every day. (A simple move with big results: students choose from his favorites and then a chat around books begins...)

I feel like I should have read this book 20 years ago, but didn't.  But I also feel that I have read this all before since the situations Kozol outlines in this groundbreaking book have been an acknowledged part of my education reading for years now.  Kozol unabashedly reveals the failure of our nation to provide equal opportunity in education for our nation's children.  The descriptions I've read make me want to cry in frustration. (Horrible buildings, no textbooks, no supplies, a poorly trained and transient teaching force...but only for the poorest of the poor.) And this book is from 1991.  In some ways things are worse now.

As I read, I sit in a school with close to 50% free and reduced lunch, a growing second-language population (close to 20% now, I believe), a stable faculty that includes many highly experienced teachers, and a building dating from the 1920's that was recently totally renovated and fitted with smart boards, energy saving lighting and other gorgeous amenities (fully stocked library, updated auditorium, public space for kids to gather....).

The new building is a source of pride for the students and the community as well.

How do the students exhibit that pride?  The new building has been occupied for four years now.  There is no graffitti anywhere.  One hallway features reproductions of art that go unmolested.  Student work has hung outside my room for over two months and has been admired but untouched. (Though its time to get it down since the crowds tend to turn up the edges....)  Kids voluntarily pick up trash.

The setting makes a difference.  Whether the students are aware of it or not, they are getting a visual message from their community every day: No matter who's child you are, we care about you.

Not so everywhere else.  But it could be possible. (Ugh. East St. Louis, Southside Chicago, the neighborhoods of New York....)

Here's my "pumpkin pie in the sky" wish for a new year, under a newly freed Obama administration:

  • Stop spending money on Race to the Top initiatives that are squandering funds with little result.
  • Use the money to bring every school building in the nation into the 21st Century.  If the feds really want to do something that makes a difference, turn every school building into a federal building and keep them all wired, updated, and havens for research, development, and community centers. How I'd love to live in a nation that tells it's children everyday: We care about You.  The current message is: Some are more Equal than Others.
  • Force colleges of education to meet guidelines of effective practice--and partner with surrounding districts by training to fulfill needs, rather than turning out a glut of graduates without prospects--by providing full scholarships to top students who want to become educators.
  • Shift the competitive drive of RttT from pitting schools and states against each other into making teaching both lucrative and competitive.  Scholarships would only be offered through identified regional schools that meet the needs of the pre-service teacher.  Several accreditation programs have already stipulated what is needed in an effective program. Endorse these and drive the best and brightest towards them.
  • Include a long clinical phase in the teacher prep program.  Expect universities which receive scholarships to partner with surrounding districts.  Teaching interns would work alongside professionals in a "teaching" school.  (This is the kind of school where Arne Duncan and Barack Obama sent their own children.  The advantage is low teacher-student ratio and an exciting and progressive workplace for the adults resulting in the kinds of gains in learning and experimentation the current RttT reforms are trying to 'inspire' in a ham-handed way.)
  • Use the leveraging proven to be effective in currently building the misguided Teacher Evaluation programs into forcing states to drive education dollars into teaching as a career to be sought after.  (Funds freed from the "hardware" of education--buildings, laptops, textbooks--could funnel into the "software": paying teachers, providing release time to collaborate, extended professional development programs.)  The new profession would include a career ladder that makes it possible for teachers to ascend quickly into competitive wages. The title Teacher would trump all others as masterful teachers take on the facilitation of buildings, instruction, teacher training, community outreach and other roles that are best fulfilled by practicing educators.
Oh, and dump the standardized testing--and all those who profit from them.  I'm pretty tired of doing the scut work for the testing industry.  Hold teachers and schools accountable by having neighboring districts evaluate each other against standards.  This is the Finnish setup and it is a win-win.  As teachers evaluate other programs, both teams are learning from each other.

An exit test might be useful to graduates, but that would be my criteria for testing: how does it serve the student?

Looking forward to a holiday season that gives some real gifts....