Sunday, April 24, 2011

Believing in teachers, believing in students

I believe that the overwhelming majority of teachers make a positive difference in children's lives through the work they do each day.

I believe that when teachers work together to find and implement good new strategies, they can raise student results.

While I don't believe teachers can completely defeat the poverty odds and completely eliminate income-based gaps in achievement,  I do believe teachers can narrow those odds and shrink those gaps.  That is, I believe dedicated teachers, hunting for and applying the best available approaches, can produce better results for students from low-income families than what we see today.

At the core of my being, I believe that teaching is hard, creative, important work, entitled to our profound respect because teachers can and regularly do find ways to move children to higher levels of knowledge and skill than we once thought possible.

That's why today's big Courier-Journal education story, about how "JCPS schools search for success against poverty's stacked deck," disturbs me.

Kathryn Wallace with the NAACP does speak up for teachers being able to make a difference, suggesting strategic changes that she thinks the school system could implement to create meaningful improvement for children. Sadly, she seems to stand pretty much alone within the district.

If JCPS superintendent Shelley Berman believes teachers can change results for students, I can't tell it by reading the article.

If JCTA president Brent McKim believes teachers working collectively can lift children to better futures, I can't tell that from his comments to the newspaper.

If Terry Brooks of Kentucky Youth Advocates thinks there's a way (other than an unlikely economic revolution) for schools to do deliver more for Jefferson County children, his belief isn't visible either.

Can we do better than this?

Can we agree that poverty makes learning harder and that teachers can find ways to make learning easier?

Can we say that raising results for children from low income homes takes extra work and say that the work is worth doing?

Can we reason together and conclude both that current NCLB targets are unreasonable and that some other set of improvement targets is worth setting and striving for?

I hope so.

I believe the children of Jefferson County and every other Kentucky district are capable of learning at higher levels.

I believe just as strongly that the teachers of Jefferson County and every other Kentucky district can convert that learning potential into real, worthwhile, demonstrably higher levels of student achievement.


  1. Susan -- I think the new study, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago (2010), by Tony Bryk et al. sheds some important light here. The study found FIVE essential ingredients for school improvement, and each is about equally important. If all five are in place, the impact of poverty is greatly reduced. I think JCPS has been focusing on only three: leadership, instructional support and quality, and teacher professional capacity. The other two, a safe and student-focused school climate and strong family and community ties, are equally important and without them improvement is sluggish or non-existent. JCPS does not believe in the capacity of its families and community to help, and tries to move along without them, while giving lip-service to the idea of parent and community involvement. They are discouraged because student progress is anemic, and they're blaming poverty for it.


  2. I too believe in teachers believing in students no matter the barriers. The barriers are a given - certainly there are those in our district who see this as an opportunity! Let the conversation be more about how we can instead of why we can't. We've had too much of the later.


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