Putting Students First

By Sue Walsh


Consider two scenarios:

  • Your beloved mother needs heart surgery. Does it matter to you how many successful operations the cardiac surgeon has performed prior to taking the scalpel to your mother’s heart? Does it matter to you how much success, or lack of success, the surgeon has had in saving lives?
  • Your beloved brother needs legal representation. Does it matter to you how many successful litigations the attorney has conducted prior to taking the case that informs your brother’s liberty and livelihood? Does it matter to you how much success, or lack of success, the attorney has had in winning cases?

These questions are what most folks would call no-brainers. Track records matter. Numbers count. Those of us who have choice want to make the best choice.

And so I bring your attention to the article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, with excerpt here:

“A quality education is a tool that can break the cycle of poverty and provide a critical foundation upon which students can build to reach a brighter future. It is easy to understand why there is passionate debate about how education is delivered, but it is important we never forget whom education truly serves – the students. The teacher is the single most important factor in a student’s success . . . . A Stanford University study illustrates the impacts of effective teaching, finding “teachers near the top of the quality distribution got an entire year’s worth of additional learning out of their students compared to those near the bottom.” Using analysis that included students of all incomes, race and family backgrounds, researchers suggested “having a good teacher as opposed to an average teacher for three to four years in a row would, by available estimates, close the gap by income” . . . . Senate Bill 364 makes significant changes to that evaluation system. It lowers the weight of student academic growth as a part of a teacher’s evaluation from 50 to 30 percent, below what research has identified as a reliable indicator of performance . . . . While we understand the desire to address concerns over how much a student’s academic growth will weigh in evaluations, this could have been accomplished while still falling within a range that research shows gives a proper balance between objective and subjective measures. This bill instead allows subjective observations to count for up to 70 percent of an evaluation. When observations have consistently rated more than 97 percent of teachers in the top two categories and fewer than 3 percent in need of improvement, we fear this lopsided balance is less likely to help teachers understand where they are excelling and where they can improve. Ultimately, our interest is with the needs of students. “

And I bring your attention to the article of this morning from The Boston Globe, with excerpt here:

“At issue is a proposed Massachusetts ballot question that would allow for the creation or expansion of 12 charter schools per year, with a preference for proposals in the lowest-performing districts. . . . Mostly white business leaders and hedge fund executives are bankrolling the pro-charter campaign. The largely white teachers union leadership brings much of the anti-charter money to the table. But minority communities may be most affected by the debate. . . . Shaleea Vass-Bender, 38, an administrative assistant who grew up in Mattapan, attended suburban schools as a child through the state’s Metco program. In the fourth grade, she said, administrators suggested she take remedial classes — a move her parents resisted after independent testing showed she was performing above grade level. When her own son got into Metco, Vass-Bender said, he tested above average but was told to attend summer school before classes began. “I said, ‘No, I’m raising a little black boy and I know how hard he works, I know the preschool education that I gave him, and I know how much I’ve invested in him,’ ” she said. ” ‘I will not have him quickly tracked as being a student who needs extra help.’ ” Vass-Bender chose, instead, to send her son to Edward Brooke Charter School in Mattapan, part of a network of three Boston charters serving mostly black and Latino students that have some of the highest test scores in the state. The trouble, critics say, is charter schools like Edward Brooke are sapping committed parents, talented students, and millions of dollars in state funding from traditional public schools that serve the bulk of black and Latino students. Charter operators counter that their schools are open to all, through a lottery system, and serve large numbers of students from low-income, single-parent homes. . . . “Even if [charters] are doing better, it’s better for the few,” said Cofield, of the NAACP. “Society ought to be concerned about the many.”

Education is supposed to serve students – to educate them to the highest extent possible and ensure the academic and character foundation that allows students to live a life of promise and opportunity. Education is not supposed to serve adults – to compensate them to the highest extent possible and ensure market share and economic livelihood regardless of outcomes.

Those of us with resources have access to the best surgeons, the best attorneys, and the best schools.

Children without resources deserve the same.

We are concerned about the many: we give strong encouragement and support to those in education reform who are growing teachers, putting real achievement at the heart of the work, pushing without compromise for students, and we give strong encouragement and support to those in education reform who can deliver results for students now. To support the first does not mean we deny the second. One thousand parents without access to a quality school, looking for 100 quality seats, is not where we can stand. We have a moral imperative to provide proven public education that delivers results to as many families and students as we can, as quickly as we can.

Either we believe that education is a tool that can break the cycle of poverty or we do not. Either we believe that high quality teachers mean that students have high quality results, or we do not. Either we believe that the yellow pencil in the child’s hand does not know the color of the skin holding it, or we do not.

Our interest is with the needs of students.