Why We Should Care About School Shootings

shootingWhile observing a Political Science class whose topic this morning was the role of media in politics, I thought about the role of media in education. During the election I wrote a post about what was not talked about in the election but I did not address why issues of education were overlooked.

In light of this morning’s terrible elementary school shooting in Connecticut, I can’t help but point out how the media continually dips in and out of educational issues with no real framework for the large problems with our school system. In other words, the media’s coverage of education in this country is largely episodic instead of thematic.

The school shooting coverage is the perfect example. For the next 2 or 3 days, news stations, online papers, and radios will express their outrage that 18 children are dead because of an unhinged adult who must have had psychological issues. As intended, these stories will evoke outrage, anger, and passion among parents, teachers, and the general public. But after a week, feelings will fade and those personally unaffected by this tragedy will go on with their lives with no more thought to the grieving families and devastated community. And certainly with no thought to the larger issue of school safety.

Like most other topics popular in education discourse, the media prefers to cover isolated incidents and tout them as ‘problems’ or ‘successes’. On the success side, there has been a lot of coverage on the recent performance of the United States on an international assessment of math and science performance. Apparently, the US has improved their scores, but still lags behind many Asian countries, especially in math. While this is a small step forward, I am troubled that this mini success is masking the larger issue of what constitutes academic achievement. Test scores across the board are not very impressive given the scoring range. The international average score is 500 on a 1000 point scale. Why is 50% an acceptable average? Why are we proud that on a single test we scored a 556? What’s more, why do we need to compare ourselves to other countries (whose education systems are vastly different than ours) to assess our progress? Are we incapable of setting our own educational goals and measuring our success by internal standards? It would appear we are.

A few weeks ago, I posted about race based education goals and was surprised that so few people commented on it. Like most seemingly drastic reform efforts in education, this one was largely ignored by media outlets beyond the affected state. No one is aware that Florida and Virginia have established achievement goals based on students’ race. This awful step backwards, and our recent self-congratulatory behavior is indicative of a larger issue in education of reliance on standardized tests as a measure of student learning.

But discussing such big picture issues is unpopular because who wants to hear about our failing education system day after day? No one. And the media corporations know that. For them, news is a profit-driven industry wherein their goal is to increase viewership. You don’t do that by telling the public things they don’t want to hear.

The public chooses to ignore recurring themes of inequality and school failure because frankly, these problems seem too large to fix. The intersectional nature of educational issues points to the complexity of truly reforming education, because to do that, we’d have to reform societal values. And to reform societal values, individual people would have to evaluate and reform themselves. It is human nature to not want to view yourself negatively or to want to feel connected to saddening, angering, or frustrating events. So we divorce ourselves from the issues. And in doing so, we divorce ourselves from the consequences. Hey, no one shot up my child’s school, so I don’t have to be concerned about school safety. I don’t know how to interpret standardized test scores so their meaning is irrelevant to me. My child is doing well in school, so why should I care about the achievement gap?

Because despite what the media may suggest by their determination to ignore—or even suppress—education discourse, these issues are real. Just ask the parents of 18 dead children in Newton, Connecticut.


A Bar Exam for Teachers?

bar examThe latest piece of news on the teacher preparation front is talks of a bar exam for new teachers. As a part of the movement to professionalize teaching, the American Federation of Teachers (a teachers’ union organization) has proposed the use of a new teacher entry exam. Here is why:

With the exception of a handful of states with more rigorous custom-designed exams, most examinations required for initial licensure have been widely considered to be insufficiently rigorous, limited in scope and unconnected to practice—usually covering basic skills and subject-matter knowledge—and measuring different knowledge and skills depending on grade level and content area (pp. 12).

Frankly, I think this is necessary. Once again, we are living the consequences of allowing states to decide their own teaching licensure requirements. We have some states that require the Praxis I and II in addition to a state-developed exam, some states that require neither Praxis and just a state exam, some that require one Praxis and a state exam, others that only require one Praxis. Essentially, teachers in Nevada are assessed three times prior to gaining licensure, whereas teachers in Texas and Missouri are assessed only once.

Now, the number of times you are assessed bears little relation to how effective a teacher you will be. I could test you 8 times, but if the tests all tested the same thing or did not test certain things, I would have no indication of your future performance as a teacher.

So the issue for me is not about testing teachers more. Teachers are tested enough. I would like to see us test teachers better. In other words, I want an assessment that has a good level of predictive validity. I want an assessment that measures content knowledge AND pedagogical knowledge. I want all teachers to have at least 800 hours of teaching experience before they can get a license. I also would like to see teachers participate in a mentoring program during their first year. In other words, I’d like to see teachers given the depth and breadth of training we require of our medical doctors, college professors, and attorneys.

I think a universal entrance exam is a good first step. But for this to work, we’d have to first ensure it is useful in assessing what we think teachers should know and do at multiple grade levels for diverse students (damn near impossible in a single assessment). We’d then have to do away with the dozens of tests we already have. Lastly, and perhaps most of all, we would have to PREPARE our teachers to take this test.

This means actually requiring teachers to learn how to teach, not to just know their content. This alone would do away with alternative licensure programs that bypass student teaching hours and formal learning in favor of getting a warm body in a classroom as quickly as possible. Instead, we would have to require teachers to get a Master’s degree in teaching, in addition to a Bachelor’s degree in their content area (if they are a secondary teacher). Our teacher candidates would have to take rigorous courses covering issues of child development, assessment, statistics, educational psychology, and education policy. Like in law schools, we perhaps need to design teacher preparation courses to be so tough, many people fail. Maybe we should raise the bar on admission requirements instead of taking whoever can pay for a teacher preparation program. Perhaps only those who score in the top 20th percentile on this new exam should be hired as teachers. Maybe we should pay teachers accordingly for the time and effort they put into training for their career and improving their practice. This might possibly yield teacher candidates who actually want to teach, who believe all students can achieve, who are committed to their own professional growth as a teacher, and who see value in educating the next generation.

Maybe, just maybe, we should invest in our teachers if we are to demand so much of them.


Race-Based Education Goals

Race-based Education Goals in VA

Yep, it’s happened. Virginia (who like 32 other states opted out of NCLB) has done it. They are the second state to institute race-based testing goals (Florida did it too, but their bar wasn’t quite so low). In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, let me summarize: Asian students outperform White students who outperform Latino students who (sometimes) outperform African American students.  Using that very consistent data, Virginia has instituted passing rates that are different for each demographic. Asians must reach the 82nd percentile, Whites the 68th, Latinos the 52nd and African Americans the 45th.

Their justification for this: We must meet students where they start and develop realistic expectations for their academic achievement.

Now, I bet some of you are waiting for me to be outraged. To declare like many others that this stinks of racism, segregation, and Jim Crow. It does. But what is marginally different here is the reasoning. This decision has not been made off the basis of skin color; it has been made off the basis of data. Now, here is where I get upset (you knew it was coming).

The ‘data’ they are using to determine new student standards is not what I call ‘clean’ data. It is derivative of standardized tests which we all know lack reliability in ethnic minority groups. In other words, we decided decades ago that most of these tests are culturally biased, so they have been, and are, an inaccurate measure of Latino and Black students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities. Problem one.

Problem two. Not EVERY Asian child performs well and not every Black child performs poorly. By altering these expectations we will see a plethora of floor and ceiling effects in which some Asian children will perpetually be failing and some Black children will perpetually appear to be ‘gifted’. We already have an awful ‘special needs’ diagnostic system wherein children are tracked from second grade through twelfth with no hopes of ever losing whatever poorly measured label has been placed upon them. This will make it worse.

Problem two point five. Fast forward 10 years and imagine the other 32 NCLB-rejecting states do this. What we see now are racially segregated colleges. Because Latino and Black students had lower expectations, they were given less rigorous and fewer learning opportunities, and are therefore less prepared for college than are Asian and White students (see The Miseducation of Generations for a discussion on educational opportunities).

Problem three. This is an emotional problem. The developmental psychologist in me is SCREAMING. How dare we tell our children we don’t believe they can perform as well as their friends? How dare we tell other children they are just better students than their friends? Anyone familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on motivation knows that when we praise students for being ‘smart’ instead of praising them for effort, they lose intrinsic motivation to learn and don’t challenge themselves for fear of finding out they really aren’t ‘smart’.

Problem four. This policy exacerbates present cultural biases. We already have very little understanding of the ways in which cultural variables (most notably language, behavioral expectations, and gender norms) affect students’ academic behaviors, and this policy is giving us a written and legal excuse NOT to care.

Problem five. Students perform well when they are given the tools and environment to do so. With lower expectations, we are giving Latino and Black students lesser tools and weaker environments. I predict that these students’ test scores across the board will dip to even lower than the new expectations. Data shows that raising expectations raises performance (though it often removes the mediating variables that actually improve student performance). Less popular data shows that when you lower the bar, you lower students’ performance.

I could go on, but I am out of steam. I get that administrators want to set realistic goals for students. But this is not the way. Why not set more realistic incremental goals and scaffold their learning opportunities so they can achieve them?

This is a short cut. Laziness. An admission of defeat. Hopelessness. Divisive.

My heart hurts for the children who will unknowingly be given less before they’ve had the opportunity to ask for more.

Education in the Presidential Election: What They Skipped Over

A couple of months ago I posted outlines of Obama’s and Romney’s education plans. I promised then that I would update the posts closer to the election. So here we are. Both candidates have added a bit about education to their websites (though none of this was mentioned during any of the debates). To avoid repetition, please look at the prior posts in addition to this one. Let’s begin with President Obama. He has added two dimensions to his education plan:

President Obama

1)      Emphasize career-training by investing in community colleges.  This is kind of a big deal. I am torn on how I feel about this because our country has a tendency to be so black and white about things. A shift to vocational training means a shift away from liberal arts and interdisciplinary education. On the one hand, I firmly believe that too many students are graduating from college with no applicable skills. These students have majored in History with a minor in Studio Art and have no idea what they want to do with their lives. That’s because they were too busy exploring and didn’t dedicate enough time trying their hand at different fields. There was a time in our history when the sole purpose of education was to prepare students for the workforce. With the advent of liberal arts schooling and the introduction of 21st century skills, we are now focusing more on students’ thinking skills instead of their working skills. As a result, we have some deep thinkers who are ill qualified to actually be productive members of the workforce. On the other hand, I am afraid we may lose out on the wonder that comes with deep thinking. We have a generation of students who understand the intricacies of social, economic, and political functioning nationally and globally. They get the ‘big picture’ and are passionate to effect change in their communities. They are excited to travel the world and learn more so they can figure out how to solve the world’s problems. There is value in such community-centric thinking. I don’t want to lose that.

2)      Expanded the G.I. bill for Veterans. Living in a very military city, I’ve seen the direct results of this. I’ve personally met and communicated with members of the Air Force and Army who are presently taking advantage of the expanded bill. Some Officers are thrilled at the ability to transfer the bill to their children or spouses. Others are glad that the statute of limitations has been expanded so they have more time to go back to school. Some see it as a statement of faith in our country’s serviceman as more than protectors of our country, but also contributors to our country. I am always a fan of increasing access to education for segments of the population we have traditionally ignored or considered disinterested in education.

Governor Romney

1)      Require public schools to publish report cards of their yearly standardized test scores. Schools that are ‘failing’ will be shut down. Teachers that are ‘failing’ will be fired. I’ve commented multiple times on my feelings about so much emphasis placed on standardized tests (why the achievement gap has little to do with students, the miseducation of generations) instead of being placed on the teaching and learning process. The Governor says that by publishing school report cards, parents will have more information with which to make decisions about education for their kids. Now, like most of his rhetoric, this sounds good in theory. But how many of you can define a standard deviation? Or nominal and ordinal scales? Or p-value? Or standard error? Even more simply, how many of you know the scale score ranges of standardized tests? I am not sure who Governor Romney thinks will be able to interpret this data besides statisticians and those who use stats on a regular basis. The general public has no idea how to read test scores. Hell, most K-12 teachers don’t. Another façade of ‘access’ and ‘opportunity’ offered by Romney.

2)      Give teachers salary boosts and grant money when they have good test scores. Governor Romney and President Obama agree here. Both of them are foolish to believe that financial incentives will increase teacher quality. All you are doing is forcing teachers to teach to the test. I mean, if you offered me money if all of my students got As, I would make damn sure they got As. Even if that meant lowering my standards, cheating (see my post on cheating), or doing nothing but test preparation all year. Which is exactly what happens.

3)      Eliminate ‘unnecessary’ teacher certification requirements. Uhmmm, who decides what is necessary and unnecessary for a teacher to know and be able to do? I pray to God it is not YOU Governor. You who have never been a teacher at any level. You whose children went to private school. You who are a business man with very little understanding of the teaching and learning that happens in schools. I find it riotous that the Governor is firing teachers whose test scores are low, but is simultaneously advocating for lower teacher entry standards. He must really enjoy firing people. Perhaps that’s why he and Donald Trump get along so well.

4)      Decrease regulations on public colleges. Currently, public college funding comes in part from state funds (see my post on why college costs so much). When any entity receives government funds, you also receive government rules. Romney would like to continue to give them government money, but decrease the rules they have to follow. Specifically, he wants colleges to be able to accept private money from businesses because in the long run, he thinks if their money comes from private businesses, then it won’t have to come from the government. This is true. But what he fails to mention (because of true ignorance or political deviance I don’t know), is that with private money comes private rules. These companies are not philanthropists; they want something in return. Colleges may become marketing vehicles, students may become guinea pigs/beta testers, teachers may become pawns used to disseminate a business’ latest curriculum designed to increase the quality of their prospective employment pool. The outcomes are endless; like Romney’s belief that privatization will magically improve education.

In essence, neither of these candidates is focused on improving teaching and learning. Both are more concerned with improving educational outcomes. President Obama wants more people to go to college (not necessarily graduate college) and have marketable skills. Governor Romney wants higher test scores on paper. At least President Obama’s plan will positively affect traditionally marginalized groups (most notably, students from low and middle class income families). Governor Romney’s plan will only benefit those already in the ‘know’, those with investments in the private sector, those who already have—the 53% of the country he deems deserving.

Privilege and Power in Education Reform

For it is true, at least in my experience, that whites, having been largely convinced of our ability, indeed entitlement, to affect the world around us and mold it to our liking, are very much like children when we discover that at least for some things—like fundamentally altering the system of privilege and domination that first invest us with such optimism—it will take more than good intentions, determined will, and that old stand-by we euphemistically call ‘elbow grease’.

–Tim Wise, White Like Me

I pulled this quote from a reading my students did for today’s session on Race, Whiteness, and Allyhood in my Youth Empowerment course. The course itself is a community-based learning course wherein students work for a semester in a community organization serving youth. Given that I work at a largely white, wealthy, private school it seemed pertinent to include a day on race and allyhood.

Any scholarly discussion on race is rarely productive without the accompanying discourse on privilege and power. My student leaders in this course (it’s actually a student led course which is very awesome) were a bit nervous about facilitating a discussion on race and privilege but they did a great job. I was especially pleased when they highlighted this quote from Tim Wise because I think it is applicable to more than societal racism; it is also true when speaking about education reform.

In an election year, issues of educational reform are often danced around but never dissected (see previous posts on Romney and President Obama for summaries of their plans for education reform). Candidates espouse overused ideas that will allegedly close the achievement gap and equalize learning outcomes across racial and income groups. I call ‘bull’ on that (see Why the Achievement Gap Has Little to do with Students for why I disagree with current reform efforts). Their ideas are nothing but injections aimed at reducing symptoms instead of addressing causes of what we educators know to be genetic educational disorders (i.e., our education system has evolved to continuously produce the same illnesses generation after generation).

But today in class, I began to view their ideas in a new light. Instead of criticizing their ill-researched and discriminatory suggestions for reform, I should think about why they truly believe these plans will be effective. And the answer lies in Tim Wise’s quote: having been largely convinced of our ability, indeed entitlement, to affect the world around us and mold it to our liking…

In other words, our privileged belief that as educated and determined people we can solve the problem of the achievement gap with ingenuity and hard work is in effect one of the perpetrators of the continued achievement gap. Are our assumptions that we can fix anything rooted in our privileged positions within the social context of that issue?

If you ask any college educated person why there is an achievement gap, they will quickly give you a myriad of responses including: lack of parental involvement, unequal funding, unqualified teachers, lack of educational values. And these variables may indeed be (and in fact they are) contributors to the achievement gap. But they are not causes of the achievement gap. To say they are is too naive a view.

Having privilege in this situation means that you have the benefit of not being an ‘insider’in the struggle to close the gap. You are not the one whose children attend these schools, but you are the one who votes on policies affecting these schools. You are not the one whose test scores are in the bottom quartile, but instead you are the one who knows how to interpret test scores. You are not the teacher instructing students whose reading levels span 5 grades, but instead you are the one who always read above grade level. You therefore have the ability to simplify the problem to 4 or 5 influential variables that if fixed, would solve the problem of differential learning outcomes. Well isn’t that jolly?

The people who are on the ground, in the classrooms, in the neighborhoods, and in the homes live with the achievement gap on a daily basis—not just when it hits the news during an election year. They are privy to the complex intersection of social, cultural, and political variables perpetuating the inequities in our school system. If asked, these people do not point to parents, teachers, or money as the problem. They point to an infrastructure that facilitates unequal access to learning opportunities. These people—our teachers, students, parents, researchers—who struggle to close the gap on a daily basis do not have the privilege of treating reform like a ‘one stop shop’, ‘one size fits all’ enterprise. They are forced to dissect the cyclical factors affecting students’ achievement if they are to even begin to talk about ‘reform’. In fact, for the disadvantaged/other/marginalized/oppressed people who do not have situational privilege in this context, reform is an empty word. The issue is really restructuring.

Restructuring our educational goals, our pedagogical tools, our language surrounding diverse students, and our responsibilities to the children of our country. In essence, we, the privileged must acknowledge our role in maintaining a status quo that pushes others to the margins while we enjoy the benefits our privilege affords us. Like proposing one-dimensional solutions to dynamic problems.

Why are More Students Cheating? The Answer is Simple

Reading educational news is always depressing because most of the issues plaguing our schools are systemic and any resolution will require massive overhauls of not only our K-12 public schooling, but also a house cleaning of educational and social policies. But sometimes I read about problems for which there is a simple (albeit not easily implemented) solution. The solution is so simple, that when I asked young children (8 and 9 years old) what they would do about it, they gave a quick and confident response. And what’s more, their response was the same response thousands of degree-carrying educators, politicians, and researchers give: Get rid of the emphasis placed on standardized testing.

In the past 21 days alone, there have been three news-making stories about student cheating:

1)      Stuyvesant High School in NYC—more than 50 students allegedly cheated on the end of year exams in June  I’d Cheat Too if My High School was Named That

2)      Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO—78 cadets are suspected of cheating on an online calculus exam.  Don’t Worry about War; Calculus Can be the Death of You

3)      Harvard in Cambridge, MA—the co-captains of the basketball are implicated in a cheating scandal that could involve dozens of athletes.   I am so NOT surprised. Everyone knows REAL Ivy is GREEN!

(so the titles I gave these links are admittedly all me, but still click them for the stories)

What’s notable is that these are elite institutions of learning. The cost of attendance is high (not just financial cost, but emotional as well), but completely worth the prestige and notoriety these names carry on a transcript, resume, or curriculum vitae. The professional connections made at any of these schools are enough to land you summer internships, letters of reference, and to rush your name to the top of the interview pile.

But why are presumably bright students cheating? The admittance requirements for AFA and Harvard are very stringent, and graduates of Stuyvesant often attend top 10 colleges. These students don’t resemble what the general public believes cheaters to look like. These kids generally (note: generally) are from financially sound families, are active in their community, are leaders in school organizations, are enrolled in rigorous courses, have sound friend groups…wait. Go back one. These kids are enrolled in rigorous courses. Hmmm…

Are the classes too rigorous? Are the students unable to master the material in the allotted time so they resort to cheating? No. I don’t think so. Cheating is nothing new. I would be shocked to meet an adult who never cheated (and yes, copying a friend’s homework counts) on a school assignment. So why the big hoopla?

Because now, cheating in school is like the mob: organized crime. Read the stories. This isn’t a ruckus about one or two kids cheating. This is about dozens of kids cheating together. Our nation’s brightest are putting their genius to work. They are developing and executing complex strategies to maintain their high GPA. This takes a level of hypothetical reasoning and problem-solving that adults often underestimate in children. But as a developmental psychologist, I know better. Actually, I am not surprised, but rather impressed. We worry so much about teaching our students to ‘think critically’ and ‘think before they act’. Well they are doing just that. Happy now? *glares*

As an educational psychologist, I also know why student cheating is more common and more mob-like.

It’s really not that difficult to follow the cheating train of logic. I’d bet money there is a high correlation between college admittance/job attainment requirements and level of cheating. In other words, we’ve created a school-to-work infrastructure that requires too much to be the best. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should lower our standards. I am saying that we should tell our children to do their best, not be the best.

Because to be the best you have to be perfect at everything. You have to have great grades received in the most rigorous courses, high standardized test scores, a stellar record of community engagement, a long list of extracurriculars, letters of recommendation from the most notable professors and community leaders, and to top it off, you better have a winning personality!  You have to give everything 1000%

And no brain can handle that. So what do we do? We do what our brains have evolved to do: cheat. Cognitive psychologists call these heuristics—cognitive shortcuts. Stereotypes, mnemonics, assumptions, bias are all examples of heuristics. We use these when we don’t have time to fully process through new information and/or when we don’t have the cognitive capacity (i.e., the mental energy) to attend, select, store, and retrieve relevant information. Our brains have a finite amount of resources and we use them up quickly. It’s why after a long day of work, or a difficult meeting, or during periods of high stress you are mentally drained. Your brain needs a break. Time to reboot. Time to solidify neural connections and make sense of everything. But when we don’t give your brains time to rest and reboot, and we cognitively push ourselves too far, we leave our brain no choice but to cheat.

Our students are being pushed too far. We require too much with too heavily weighted outcomes. We hang over them the threat of not being accepted into the college of their choice. Or being kicked off the softball team. Or not being able to spend time with their friends (the only time the frontal lobe gets a real break from its executive functioning duties). We tell them they better work hard and be great at everything or they will have wasted all of our hard work to provide them opportunities.

No wonder they cheat.

With the emphasis on standardized testing in schools, our students know they must do well because if not, they could be held back a grade. And wouldn’t that be an arrow through the heart after spending all academic year busting your butt to be the best? It all comes down to one thing: test scores. From a policy perspective, that single digit is an indicator of how much you learned and your potential to learn more.

For teachers, their students’ average scores are an indicator of their ability to effective do their jobs. And if that score is too low, they may be fired. Cue teachers cheating:

1)      Atlanta in 2011:  One of Their Own Told on Them

2)      Virginia in 2012:  These Teachers Just Gave the Answers

3)      DC in 2012:  They Used Statistics to Detect Cheating

(Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and California have also undergone state wide investigations of teachers cheating on end of year tests)

The stringency created by our heavy reliance on standardized tests is putting too much stress on our students and teachers. We are literally squeezing the education system so tight, people are buckling under pressure. So what do we do?

Implement assessment measures with more validity and less rigidity.

Being Invisible is Not a Super Power. Just Ask our Children

For some reason, people cannot pronounce my name. Though it is an uncommon name outside of Jewish culture, it is not a difficult name. It has 5 letters and no crazy punctuation. It is, for the most part, phonetic. It rhymes with a common American name so I use that comparison to explain the pronunciation. But still, people refuse to learn how to say my name. As if my name doesn’t matter. As if my name isn’t important enough to commit to memory. As if I am invisible.

“I don’t like it when they don’t say my name right”

This is the title of a chapter in a book I read yesterday entitled “Multiplication is for White People” Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit. While I was not impressed with the book overall (I read it to see if I wanted to use it for my Diversity and Equity in Education course. I do not), some sentences really stood out to me. That was one of them.

Four chapters later, she talks about the invisibility and disidentification many African American students (her area of expertise) face on college campuses. She quotes Ralph Ellison’s (1953) text Invisible Man:

I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone…I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me….They see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination.

This excerpt is powerful. It embodies what many students—many people—feel on a daily basis. I do not limit this experience to African Americans, but believe it is applicable to any person who has ever been the [ethnic, religious, sexual, gender, linguistic, intellectual] minority. The feeling of being invisible may be one of the most hurtful and devaluing emotions one could feel.

And this is what many of our students feel on a daily basis in our schools.

Many teachers, though well intentioned, ignore the students in the middle. The ones whose test scores are proficient, but not advanced or below proficiency. The ones whose IQ is average, not gifted or developmentally delayed. The ones who don’t raise their hands to answer every question, but will respond if prompted. The ones who don’t get straight As, but consistently earn Bs. They are the ones who ‘don’t need special attention’ because ‘they are doing fine’.

But are they?

Is it ‘fine’ to never have your teacher look your way? To never be chosen as the group leader because you are simply overlooked? To speak up and not have your statement affirmed or even acknowledged? To feel like people refuse to see you no matter what you do?

It is not fine. It is even less fine to know that what is visible about you is your background. Where you live, your parents’ education level and employment status, your older sibling’s performance in this teacher’s class three years ago, your assumed ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and aptitude derived from your skin color, style of dress, and speech patterns.

This is what our education system encourage us to see in our students, although these aspects are what surround our students. The way we aggregate and disaggregate data promotes the analysis of students as test scores representative of a segment of the population. Our policies, our instructional practices, and our assessment methods render our children invisible.

And in rendering them invisible, we veil their educational and emotional needs. Districts do not alter their curriculum to help those performing at mid-level proficiency to achieve high-level proficiency.  The government does not dedicate billions of dollars to programs aimed at turning C students into B students. Teachers do not invite the mediocre students to after-school tutoring sessions or to the student government informational meeting. Parents who hear no news from the school interpret that as good news. So what do we do for them?


We don’t even learn their names.

But we can do something. I am reminded of an Albert Camus quote:

It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.”

Just because you don’t have children or your child is in a private school does not mean you are excused from participating in public education discourse. You are not. It is your duty as a thinking person to inform yourself about the experiences of your fellow community members; to understand their perspective not as an ‘other’ or a ‘deviation’ from what you perceive to be the norm, but as a valid point of view worthy of consideration. You have the right to vote in this country, but you cannot solely vote on issues pertinent to you. The marking of that ballot affects those not in your income bracket, your neighborhood, your church, your school, your life. So even if you don’t have student loan debt, chronic healthcare needs, concerns about job procurement, a desire to marry the love of your life whose sex happens to be the same as yours, a need for social assistance, aging parents who rely on social security, or children for whose future you need to plan. Even if you are not included in that infamous 47%, you still have a responsibility to not be on the side of the executioners; to not be blind to the existence of visible needs.