We’re spending way too much time focusing on who is ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ debates over education, and not enough on implementing proven solutions.
As a parent, a mentor, the son of a civil rights leader turned child advocate and a former aide to Robert F. Kennedy, and an advocate for children for nearly twenty years, I can tell you this with confidence: when it comes to helping underserved students succeed, there’s no silver bullet or quick fix.
But there are real solutions:
High quality, free preschool for three and four year-olds growing up in low or moderate income households.
High academic standards that are common across states, so students who move around have continuity and teachers can learn from each other and benefit from the best educational resources.
School principals who are effective instructional leaders, not just building managers, and who have the support they need to last in their difficult role.
Teachers who arrive with the skills and training needed to succeed and who are given the compensation, support, respect, and time to collaborate they need to stay in their profession, lead their schools, and improve their craft.
Engaging students’ families through home visits and ongoing communication so families and schools can team up to support children’s academic success.
Accurate, ongoing information about a student’s learning progress that enables teachers and families to help students stay on track and administrators to know when they need to intervene.
A multi-faceted approach to ensuring students reach the critical milestone of grade level reading by fourth grade.
Instructional materials and approaches that motivate, stimulate, and engage students.
Art, music, physical education, and, in high school, electives that make school more fun and relevant and tap students’ varied interests and talents.
Major progress—which lifts students out of poverty and changes generations to come—is indeed possible.
A smart and fair approach to school discipline and meeting students’ social and emotional needs that keeps kids in school, promotes positive behavior, and creates an environment where teachers can teach and students can learn.
Systems and staff to ensure all students take the classes they need to graduate ready for post-secondary education and that students who are lagging behind don’t fall through the cracks.
Unfortunately, rather than centering on these solutions, the debate around public education too often highlights “sides” and “conflict” and which grownups are “winning.” That’s why I’m writing this column: to shine a light on how to help more students growing up in poverty get the education and support they need to graduate high school and go on to college or career training.