Guest blogger John White is Louisiana superintendent of education. This post originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Baton Rouge Advocate.
The Advocate has recently published several letters to the editor on public education. I have to say as an educator, I'm disappointed with the prevailing tone and content of those letters opposing change.
Here are some passages that illustrate a common thread:
"We, the public school teachers of East Baton Rouge schools, can't educate children who don't want to be educated. We can't educate children whose parents don't care and are not involved."
"…the state is going to require that very poor students take the ACT… The weaker of these students are not college-bound students who have no intention to attend college, yet he has to be compared and compete."
And one writer simply stated, "Poverty is a significant factor affecting academic scores," leaving it at that—as if that absolves us of any responsibility to educate the child.
I'm so disappointed in these comments for two reasons. First, they betray a mindset that forsakes the American dream. They show a sad belief among some that poverty is destiny in America, defying our core value that any child, no matter race, class, or creed, can be the adult he or she dreams of being. Yes, poverty matters. Yes, it impacts learning. And that fact should only embolden us to do everything we can to break the cycle of poverty so another generation
The Times called it a “coveted endorsement”—and indeed it is, no matter how much fun Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich had at poor Eric Fehrnstrom’s expense. (For the record, that same day Fehrnstrom, a longtime Romney advisor, gave a televised interview in which he said “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign…. Everything changes [when he’s running against Obama]. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”)
Jeb Bush, who has been a tireless education reformer since the mid-nineties, is no Etch A Sketch.
Photo by Rex Sorgatz.
Jeb Bush, who has been a tireless education reformer since the mid-nineties, is no Etch A Sketch. And by coincidence I was lucky enough to spend some time with the popular two-term Florida governor (1999—2007) just last week as part Education Next’s “Conversation” series with important education reformers (see my conversations with John White, Whitney Tilson, and Chris Cerf). You can read a summary of what he accomplished in Florida here; examples include instituting an A—F school grading system,
The big news last week was the release of data by the U.S. Department of Education showing that, as the press release stated,
Minority students across America face harsher discipline, have less access to rigorous high school curricula, and are more often taught by lower-paid and less experienced teachers, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
The report, part of the annual Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey, included data from 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation’s students and found, among other things, that black male students “are far more likely to be suspended than their peers.” In fact, it reported, though black students make up 18 percent of the students in the sample, they accounted for 35 percent of the students suspended once and 39 percent of the students expelled.
When I read this, I yawned. It matches perfectly the statistics in my school district.
When I read this, I yawned. It matches perfectly the statistics in my school district. But just as my district pays little attention to the academic environment that these “bad” kids swim in, so too the ensuing national melee over OCR data didn’t mention curricula and teachers. Everyone wanted to talk about “discipline” practices, school “safety” and “racism.”
Wrote Jason Riley in the Wall Street Journal,
The Obama administration's sympathies are with the knuckleheads who are disrupting class, not with the kids who are trying to get an education. But is racial parity in disciplinary outcomes more important than school safety?
No mention of the knuckleheads inflicting
In another life, I was a crime writer. True crime. I’ve interviewed 14-year-old murderers and 15-year-old rapists, written books about college graduates who commit murder, about lowlife “woodchucks” who do the same. And anyone who has ever sat in a kitchen with a mother whose 12-year-old daughter was stabbed to death or sat alone in a room trying to recreate these gruesome scenes on paper—well, this is why I left the field and did not look back.
But my heart goes out to the parents, family, and friends of the victims of the Chardon, Ohio, shooting. And to school personnel at Chardon High School—this is when you earn your angel wings.
Everyone is asking themselves, How can we know?
I know that educators all over the country are now huddling with their school security officers and school counselors and social workers. They are reviewing their building entry and lock-down procedures and reviewing the student suspension files, to look again at the records of children who may have been kicked out of school for carrying a weapon or threatening to harm someone or—or what? Everyone is asking themselves, How can we know?
The answer is that we can’t. But what we might consider trying, as the next few sorrowful days unfold, is resolving to get to know our children, whether we are a parent, friend, or teacher. When we are able to look into the hearts of children, we will, of course, find their angels. But we will also find their demons and must help the child to banish them. That
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
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