Education and poverty add up to a social justice issue . That’s why I keep writing these posts and urging more teachers to speak up.
Increases in U.S. childhood poverty by 4.5 million over 11 years are unconscionable, as the numbers are showing. Can education help? Studies by the Chicago Consortium on School Research show that schools with strong internal conditions such as inclusive school leadership and strong professional community can make a difference in any community. They also found, though, that the challenges are much greater in neighborhoods and communities where social supports are weak and children face more day-to-day obstacles.
Can more rigorous standardized testing help? In another study the Consortium also found that the more time Chicago high schools spent on preparing students for standardized tests, the WORSE their scores.
But Here’s one teacher, Casie Jones, in Memphis, who asserts that she can and does make a difference for the struggling children she works with. And it’s great to learn that she and other strong teachers in that city are being recognized publicly for their work.
Of course it takes resources to make that difference, and it’s especially painful to have policy makers around the country demanding greater success for children at the same time that those resources are being cut.
So our challenge is how to tell three stories at once: 1) the successes that teachers achieve in their classrooms in spite of great obstacles; 2) the obstacles of poverty and weak social supports that absolutely must be addressed for children; and 3) critique of education policies that undermine great teaching and learning instead of helping it.
I don’t usually write more than one blog post per day. But I spent yesterday late afternoon with a wonderful group and I had better tell about it right now. After an intense day of teaching, a dozen teachers who research their classrooms to improve learning have gathered in a seminar sponsored by the Chicago Foundation for Education. A few of their topics:
- What happens when I teach my 3rd and 4th grade students how to generate, classify, and prioritize questions, and then research and present answers to these questions?
- What happens when readers are asked to take their reading lives online?
- What happens when I include the use of outside experts to teach students about inquiry?
How many citizens on the street are aware of teachers doing work like this to continue improving their teaching even when they are already accomplished educators? How do we let the public know these things so they can appreciate the hard — but rewarding — work we do? (Studies show teachers make over 2,000 separate decisions in their classrooms every day, in order to do their jobs well.) When will we and our school systems and the unions and the teachers themselves start explaining this in clear and effective ways to our elected officials and the wider world? When will we develop really meaningful measures that reflect and communicate the deep learning that these teachers lead students to experience?