It's time I speak out about the notion that a educator working in a low socioeconomic district should be judged on their effectiveness to teach by the same criteria as an educator working with students from a middle class or wealthy community. The education "reformers" are playing into the hands of those looking for profits. This is about money, not student growth and achievement.
More than half the students from our district ride a bus to school, some more than an hour each way and part of the route is on a dirt road. Many walk or ride a mile and up to 10+ miles to get to the bus stop on poorly maintained roads not accessible after rain or snow storms. Their "school day" is 5am - 5pm, some longer if they have to stay after school. How is this the teacher's issue to overcome?
Some of these homes have neither electricity, nor running water. How many of the people writing the current education policies use an outhouse and can't take a shower or bath every day?
Most of our students are on Free and Reduced Lunch, which is code for below the poverty line. These students get a breakfast and lunch every day at school, but many return to a home with little to no food to eat or food that is of low nutritional value because that's all they can afford. Is food insecurity and poor nutrition not a barrier to brain development and learning?
We have children who miss school because their parents can't afford to wash their clothing or don't have fuel to drive to a laundry mat, can't afford medicine or to drive to a clinic.
Poverty, depression and the resulting substance use make for more domestic violence, sexual abuse and addiction than I care to write about here - it's high, you'd be sad. I stopped counting the number of students in our district with a family member in jail. I also stopped counting the number of children from single parent homes, but it's in the hundreds. Even those with two parents often don't have one or both greeting them when they get home because there are no jobs here, so the parents take work in other places and leave another relative or older sibling in charge. We have two and three families living in the same trailer or apartment to make ends meet and deal with childcare issues. Will their homework experience be the same as the 2.2 children-white-suburban-upper- middle class evening?
We have high ELL numbers and although I'm glad these children know their language, it's not a language that is easily translated to English - it's Navajo ... you know, the language that's so difficult it was used by our military because it couldn't be decoded by the enemy! (Thank you Navajo Code Talkers) It's a proud culture and a descriptive, visual language, but tough for the brain to switch back and forth. It takes time, but we don't get one more minute to educate this child than the one who's parents have graduate degrees and walls full of books.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that these students are not bright, talented and teachable - they are, but for people sitting in board rooms in Phoenix or Washington to assume that a teacher here will be able to move a student through a rote, standardized, heavy on the testing curriculum in the same manner and time frame as a student in Scottsdale, Arizona or Loudoun County, Virgina, is incomprehensible.
We're still working through bitter generational memories of forced boarding schools and broken promises. The Navajo unemployment rate is 42% and the medium household income is $20k. The graduation rate is 56% so we are feeling pretty good, but hardly complacent about a 70% graduation rate in our district. If we can't get it higher this year, we're failures? We don't need to be threatened by sanctions and labels to work hard to graduate everyone. We're educators; that's what we do. If we were looking for an easy way out, we would have pursed a better paying profession in the first place and we certainly would not have chosen to work in a community with so many challenges.
What is the motivation for veteran teachers to stay when they hear day in and day out that if they don't jump through 12 more hoops they're not worthy of a pay raise, perhaps even a job at all? How will communities dealing with the challenges of student poverty attract young talented educators? Why would anyone trying to make their living and define their worth in the world take the chance of working in our district when rubrics and data crunchers hundreds and thousands of miles away will judge their effectiveness?
If our teachers were afforded the time to spend building crucial relationships and offering additional support programs to our students instead of filling out endless paperwork and teaching to the mind numbing barrage of tests, we might be able to make more progress, but teachers are now told by politicians that they can't make their own decisions regarding the students that are sitting right in front of them. Others outside of the education profession are now making these decisions, thus making the actual teachers less effective, leading to stress and personal despair, burnout and droves of educators leaving the classroom for good.
I'm not prone to believing conspiracy theories, but on this one, the trend looks clear: less public educators (and more shaming of public educators) means more Charter Schools and more money for businesses that are invested in the "business" of education. Who's making a ton of money on education right now? The four companies that are creating the tests, the prep material for the tests and those running Charter School and school chains. (Over half the Charter Schools investigated by Reuters created "significant barriers" to enrollment for low income students.)
I'm committed to Support Services for our students. If we had more "wrap around" services and less judgmental legislators pushing bubble tests, we might have a shot at making a real educational difference to those from our surrounding communities. This gets controversial in America, because we prefer to say you're not trying hard enough, but if you've made it this far on my blog post, keep an open mind and read this.
It's one thing to try harder, but at what? Is it really the truth that our students don't try hard enough, nor do their teachers? Do we really believe that only teachers of poor children don't work hard enough? I'm a fan of effectiveness and what is being forced on educators and proposed as the Yellow Brick Road to prosperity is so disconnected from the reality of our classrooms that it's like reading fiction - except they're serious! Look underneath the finger pointing and you'll find profiteers making money by blaming teachers.
Education will not be fixed without taking a long hard look at inequity in America and dealing with our children growing up poor.