I recently attended The Education Trust’s 2011 National Conference on closing gaps and raising achievement for ALL students. This was my first Ed Trust event and I walked away baffled by the data about the inequities in our education system, and the persistent gaps between the affluent and impoverished. First, low-income students attend schools that receive less funding:
“The poorest states receive fewer of the federal Title I dollars intended for low-income students than the most affluent states. For example, New York receives $2,160 in Title I funds for every student from a low-income family. In Oklahoma, the figure is $1,331, a difference of $829.”
Furthermore, data across states show that low-income and minority students are saddled with more inexperienced teachers that have taught for three or fewer years. The disproportionately low funding, inconsistent teacher quality and limited access to rigorous coursework present opportunity gaps that then result in very real achievement gaps.
While being immersed in Ed Trust’s success stories of some high poverty schools actually eliminating achievement gaps, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own childhood education where I somehow also beat the odds. I was raised by a single mother with three children. At times, we were on welfare and received food stamps. While mom worked hard at multiple jobs and showed a lot of love, she was not actively involved in our education. Her focus was on survival, putting food on the table, and keeping us happy and healthy. I was never asked about homework or projects to be completed. We were not forced to go to school and had extremely high tardy and absence rates. I remember having 35 absences in the 4th grade alone! If I needed to research anything, I would ride my bike to the library and scrounge for coins to make photocopies with my little sister in tow. Despite the barriers to academic success, I maintained a strong work ethic and aimed to please my teachers all the way through high school, paid my way through undergrad and graduate school, and became a teacher myself.
So if I fit the profile of a poor student with little family support who should “fail,” why did I end up on the top side of the achievement gap? What was the catalyst? It had to be teacher quality and I must sing praise to the teachers at Lake Anne Elementary School for instilling in me the drive to succeed. Ed Trust’s resident artist and playwright-activist, Brooke Haycock, performed Catalyst at the 2011 conference, which magnificently portrayed the power of educators to change students’ lives. If you have not seen her one-woman-plays, you must track one down! I remember having some similarly outstanding teachers at Langston Hughes Middle School and Herndon High School, all in Fairfax County, VA. With Thanksgiving approaching, what better time to express gratitude for the superb teachers who pushed me in all three of these schools! Ed Trust’s President Kati Haycock, honors her best teacher in this video.
Please add a comment below about the teacher or schooling experience you are most thankful for!
Students can just “feel it” when they have a high-quality teacher. After seven years in the classroom and becoming a National Board Certified Teacher, I now understand the deliberate nature of the work done in and outside of the classroom on a daily basis to help students overcome barriers to reach their maximum potential. My recent work at SAS has allowed me to dive into the world of advanced analytics to measure teacher quality, guide professional development, and reduce achievement gaps across the country. Ed Trust offered several relevant presentations:
- “First Steps in Tennessee: A New Pathway for Evaluating Teachers”, where education leaders from TN spoke about their use of the rich data received from SAS’ TVAAS for nearly 20 years. Value-added analysis serves as one objective measure in TN’s new statewide evaluation system that stemmed from their Race to the Top win.
- Another interesting presentation contrasted education reforms in two states: “Driving State-Level Reform: California and Michigan.”
- And a final conference highlight would be the session, “What We Say, What They Hear: Education Reformers and Conservatives”, which compared opinions about the public education system from the general public vs. Tea Party members. The common ground discovered was all about accountability- a focus on high expectations for all students, and a focus on teacher quality.
If we can get those two things right I think there will be many more kids willing to ride their bikes to the library and do whatever it takes to exceed the expectations set for them by outstanding teachers.