Tuesday, January 10, 2012

When Fair Must Always Mean Equal

You and I live in a world that is constantly changing and growing; our world is becoming more and more complex by the day.  The rise of the internet and other forms of communication, coupled with the inter-connectedness of our world’s nations has created many complex dilemmas. Solving these challenges will require critical thinkers with creativity and a deep understanding of their world. Our job, which is to prepare the problem solvers of the future, is equally as important to the problems they will be solving.  The preparation of the world’s future leaders – our students – is a task not to be taken lightly or approached softly. It is our duty to rid the inequalities that plague our schools so we can ensure a first-class education for each and every student, regardless of where they are born or where they live.  The students of today need to be equipped with the tools to think critically, to collaborate efficiently, and to understand the world that surrounds them.  None of this will be possible without these students receiving an equitable, thorough, and engaging global education that prepares them for a world that we, nor they, can possibly envision.

The state of American education and the teaching profession has received much attention from local and national media. Many issues swirl around our profession today – standardized testing, NCLB waivers, Race to the Top, the erosion of collective bargaining rights, whether or not to institute merit pay, tenure reform…I could go on. However, the single most pressing issue that confronts our profession today is a total lack of equality among our schools. The root of this inequality is a lack of equitable funding, which invariably leads to a lack of equality in schools, resources, and education for our students. If we are to prepare our students and our nation for an uncertain future, we must remove all uncertainty and inequality from our schools.

Numerous politicians, business leaders, pundits, and so-called “reformers” would have you believe that the panacea to the ills of our current educational system would be to look to the business world for answers. They advocate for changes that would bring about choice and vouchers, with the claim that choice in the market is a good thing. We’re told that competition between privately funded, often for profit, charter schools and public schools will force public schools to get their act together. Competition in the market is a wonderful thing. Except for when that market is our schools. Competition among schools does not, and will not, increase the quality of our schools. Competition creates winners and losers, successes and failures. We cannot afford to have losers when it comes to our children and our schools. We need collaboration and balance among our schools, not competition.

To combat this inequality, we must make sure that every public school is robustly and equitably funded. Your zip code should not determine the resources available to your school or the education your student receives. We must not turn a blind eye and act like poverty, home life, and the environment in which a student is raised has no impact on their education. Students from the poorest districts often find neighborhood schools with the fewest resources. Yet, these are the students and schools that need the resources the most. Make no mistake, I am not saying that we can throw a pile of money at our schools and expect magic to happen.  What I am saying is that we can no longer tolerate schools in one area having less than those in another, simply because of their tax base.

Once we solve the core problem of misguided per-pupil funding formulas and a lack of proper and equitable funding, our work will not be done.  Simply having money will not solve the problems; rather it will be in how the money will be used. We need schools equipped to prepare our students for the ambiguity of the future. Students must have access to the 21st century tools that they will be asked to use. It is of paramount importance that we teach our students how to think critically and solve problems. We need to have broadband internet access in every school, we need working modern computer labs for our students to connect to and collaborate with the outside world, we need to make sure that all our students have access to portable devices that will engage them and allow them to collaborate, capture, collect, and share their learning with others. If our students leave us without receiving the education they need and deserve, then we have failed.

Lastly, when it comes to teachers, we need to ensure that we have the best of the best in every classroom. Teachers are the single most important factor within a school on determining a student’s learning. We need to improve teacher quality by improving how we train and select our teachers, providing stronger mentor support, adopting higher salaries, and creating collaborative environments that are fully supportive of the teachers and students they advocate for. We must prepare our teachers for the difficult task of preparing our students. Teaching, and learning, in the 21st century will look different, but we must make certain that our teachers are practitioners of sound pedagogy and have the tools they will need to be successful.

We must remind ourselves, no matter our role in public education, it is all about our students. Every single decision we make must always be made, first and foremost, with the students in mind.  Most educators will rightly tell you that sometimes in an individual classroom, what’s fair for students is not always equal. However, when it comes to our schools, fair should, and must always be, equal. As it stands right now some schools can advance, while others are forced to stay behind. We cannot expect to prepare all our children, and our nation, for the future while only educating a segment of our children. We must ensure that we have schools buoyed with equality, rather than riddled with inequality. Education is a public good, and all of our children have a right to first-class education.

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