A Message from Mouse on the Heels of the Election: A Call to Interrogate the Fundamentals and Root Causes of our Fracturing Educational System
“Jill’s a mom — a military mom — and an educator. She has dedicated her life to education, but teaching isn’t just what she does — it’s who she is. For America’s educators, this is a great day: You’re going to have one of your own in the White House, and Jill is going to make a great first lady,” stated President-elect Biden. I was with my friends, some educators themselves, and we all cheered. Education these last eight months during Covid-19, this pandemic, these last four years, and arguably for several decades has faced many challenges.
We are hopeful that now that there is someone with direct classroom experience in office education can and will look different.
It is with this hope that we offer up thoughts that are central and long-standing within education that we’d like to see addressed during this administration:
- Valuing educators and the teaching profession
- Evaluate systemically racist infrastructures, practices, and policies within schools (overall & on a more local level) and then institute equitable structures, practices & policies
- Fairness in educating all learners: children with disabilities, multilingual learners
- Defining what education looks like in the Modern Age
- Restructuring our educational system for equitable access & cultivating a society that is truly career & college ready
The teaching profession has long been devalued. The pandemic has shown us this in the characterization of teachers as babysitters. And what has been highlighted most of all is how hard it is to be a teacher. Valued professions are spoken with reverence and they are paid accordingly. What does it say that we pay other professions, that are shaped by a K-12 experience, more than we pay those that lay the foundation in their education? Educators have been asked to do more with less. That is nothing new. Teachers are underpaid; a 2019 Pew Research study found that 1 in 6 teachers have a second job. The yearly educator expense deduction is $250, yet the average out-of-pocket cost that a teacher spends on school supplies is double at $500. I paid out-of-pocket for general classroom supplies and one year even supplies and trophies for a science fair, a total upwards of $3k+, yet our current sitting President paid $750 total in income tax in 2017!
Stats sources: Feisteitzer, 2011 & CNN
We will not delve into an explanation of the above image. We will talk about the school-to-prison pipeline. Vox has a 3-minute explanation here. In the 1980s and 1990s, the zero-tolerance policy became prevalent mainly in a response to school shootings; however, the impact of that “research shows that the implementation of zero-tolerance policies has led to significant increases in suspensions and expulsions...Once suspended or expelled, data show that students are less likely to complete high school, more than twice as likely to be arrested while on forced leave from school, and more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system during the year that follows the leave.” Which we know disproportionately affects Black and Brown students. We have seen this most recently with Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools a study, book, and documentary by Monique Morris. Thus, we have seen how systemically policies and practices were germinated and manifested into a structure that is systemically racist and upheld through policies and practices.
“You learn something new every day” is a phrase I’m sure we hear often. We see people of all ages learning a new skill, language, etc daily. We do not limit when a person can learn something, nor do we limit their capabilities in acquiring new knowledge. In fact, we often unconsciously believe learning to be a muscle. The more you work or practice the more you can learn. In education, we call this malleable intelligence. Yet somehow we place limitations on students when it comes to gifted and talented. The process of being deemed gifted is often decided at a very young age and the testing process oftentimes exclusionary. Thus, students who are multilingual learners or children with disabilities are often not considered gifted and subsequently, their education isn’t approached with as much zeal or attention. We are hopeful that as the soon-to-be first lady has experience teaching students with disabilities this will be a focus for her. We should all be Rethinking What Gifted Education Means, and Whom It Should Serve and who is being left behind.
Education within the U.S. has changed dramatically from whence it was shaped during the Industrial Revolution. Yet in many ways, our views of how education is delivered have shifted marginally compared to an abundant and varied set of studies from the way students learn to the viability of assessments/the way we assess. Covid-19 has also revealed that though we are in the Modern/Post-Modern period with a myriad of technologies, overall we are still educating from a non-technical, non-modern, lens. Teachers have risen to the challenge. They’ve taken learning outdoors (also here). We are all grappling and working to better understand and define what it means to engage our learners and with that redefining what we mean when we say assess. Are we assessing the ability to regurgitate skills and concepts or are we assessing the ability to demonstrate skills and concepts in multiple contexts? And finally, lessen the over prioritization of the method and instead focus on the objectives. If the memes around parents feeling out of touch and frustrated having learned math one way and their children being required to learn it another, we are really wondering does the method truly matter if they’ve mastered the objective and can articulate how they solved the problem? For more information and thoughts see How to Tell if Distance Learning is Working for Your Kid.
There is a linear progression within education: K-12, post-secondary/college, and then career. This progression, too, is dated, and though there is a linear progression the three entities do not seem to work in tandem. Firstly, education is the crux from which our economy and nation work. Whether formal traditional college or boot camps education is how we prepare future generations for the workforce. Yet, “for years, college costs have only gone up as incomes failed to keep pace,” which has now resulted in this alarming data point: full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a one-bedroom rental in 95 percent of U.S. counties. There is an apparent disconnect between students being prepared for college and then college students being prepared for careers that mar our understanding of how the aforementioned relates. Oftentimes, we see reports that highlight this discrepancy in test scores as an indicator of mastery. However, “only about one-third of high school seniors are prepared for college-level math and reading. Statistics show that while the performance in reading is increasing, some students are performing worse” finds one study. Education needs an increase in the variety of pathways. The pathway should not be linear. With approximately 13% believing that college-graduates are prepared for the workforce (varying on professional, collaboration, soft skills, etc). It’s evident that the barrier of affordability of college and preparedness are not successful indicators that if our youth completes college they will be ready for the workforce or even able to afford life after college. To end this broken cycle we must think of better ways to aid our youth for the future. Mouse is in the process of redefining how we can support our youth to ensure that they are ready for the end goal: to lead a successful life of their choosing, they are economically self-sufficient, they have a successful career that allows them to advocate for themselves and give back to their community.
These are not the likely requests, yet if we’re thinking of the educators and students whose “dreams have been deferred for too long” Biden’s reference to Langston Hughes poem Harlem, and are being deferred from the beginning of their educational career then we have to treat the underlying causes, not just the symptoms.
Renae Williams, Chief Program Officer
November 11, 2020