True equity has yet to be achieved in the schoolhouse

SCOTUSOur nation is six decades removed from Brown v. The Topeka Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that ordered school desegregation to proceed with “all deliberate speed” based partially on the logic that separate is inherently unequal.

Nearly a decade later in his “I Have a Dream” speech, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged us to contemplate the “fierce urgency of now” and to avoid succumbing to the status quo of “gradualism”.

Those phrases suggest concern that those implementing the desegregation order had chosen the third alternative definitions of the adjective “deliberate,” as in: done or acting in a careful and unhurried way.

At the commemorative event of the 50th anniversary of that great oration, an elderly gentleman carried a placard that said, “50 years later and I’m still protesting this s*#t.”

Half a century later, de facto geographic and economic segregation still exists. True equity has yet to be achieved in the schoolhouse. More than 20% of our children live in poverty and attend schools that are ill-equipped to break the cycle of poverty.

We are forced to wonder where Dr. King would fall in today’s debates about education, but he left us some clues…

On March 14, 1964, Dr. King accepted the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers and declared, “The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.”

Can we talk some more, please, about that “fierce urgency of now“.

Further Reading: The Prince George’s Sentinel

[This commentary appeared originally in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on January 16, 2014.]

The ABC’s of Teacher Turnover

Walking a mile in the shoes of a rank-and-file public school teacher is not generally an option for the public, but understanding the challenges confronted by professional educators might serve to elevate the public discourse on the topic of improving our schools. Grasping the complexity and intensity of the teaching experience is critical to moving the debate about allocating appropriate human and material resources to the education of all children.

      Imagine yourself as a teacher. You enter your classroom to look out on a sea of more than thirty faces. A few smiles;  a few frowns;  too few students seem actively engaged in your agenda as heads are already pressed down on the desk before instruction even begins. None seem particularly enthused about the task at hand as you walk them through the warm-up. One student sighs when you begin to give the directions. A few classmates perform compliance rituals but intellectual focus is not observable. The ten minute homework assignment, if completed, is partial and poorly written. Your students recall little from yesterday’s lesson. You help the three who were absent to catch up. Three more are absent today.

     For the next fifty minutes you aspire to fulfill your role as a purveyor of knowledge, as a shaper of young minds, as an architect of America’s future. But, instead of conveying knowledge you must spend ten to fifteen minutes addressing classroom management issues (i.e. student disputes, off-task behavior, outright misbehavior, passes, transitions, etc). You are interrupted a handful of times : knocks at the door, the public address system, boisterous hall walkers.  Ironically, you think to yourself, “Today’s lesson is going fairly well…”

Now imagine that for a few minutes you are telepathic and can divine the mostly-unspoken inner secrets of your students. Nothing can really prepare the casual observer for the sheer tally of emotional baggage that arrives in any given classroom room each and every day …

(Each of these caricatures is based on an actual student. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

  • Allen is a teenage alcoholic.
  • Betty is regularly beaten.
  • Christine is a “cutter” and cannot be trusted with sharps.
  • Diane has dyslexia.
  • Elaine is an emancipated adult.
  • Frank carries a firearm.
  • Greg & Gina are bullied for being openly gay .
  • Harry is HIV positive; Harriet is homeless.
  • Irene is an illegal alien (and evading the INS!)
  • Jay was released from jail in June.
  • Kevin’s brother  was killed in a drive-by.
  • Larry has been a  latch-key child since the second grade.
  • Mary was molested by her stepfather.
  • Nadine appears narcoleptic.
  • Oscar is an orphan in foster care.
  • Pam is pregnant (again!)
  • Quinton is quitting school.
  • Rachel has been raped.
  • Steve is suicidal; Sylvia is into substance abuse.
  • Thomas is twenty and still in high school. 
  • Ursula is unruly.
  • Vickie lost her virginity at eleven.
  • Warren works full-time to help the family.
  • Xavier is uninsured, but needs x-rays.
  • Yvette cares for her five younger siblings.
  • …and Zoe has a 0.0 GPA.

-Thirty children.

-Thirty challenges.

-This is your smallest class.

A feeling of dread mounts as you entertain the thought that you have six such classes on your caseload, and realize that you will never know all the baggage that your students transport to class. You may find yourself experiencing a twinge of guilt for no longer wanting to know. With caseloads approaching 500 students, how much support will the guidance counselors and administration provide?

     Few professions can claim to have a more altruistic labor base than teaching. Teachers want to teach. Teachers dream of planning and presenting perfect lessons. They seek to motivate learners. They aspire to hold learners accountable for their learning and relish the reward of student work demonstrating growth over time. 

 Go to your child’s school and spend an entire school day. Be sure to arrive at 6 a.m. and leave at 9 p.m. You will find teachers and administrators who arrive hours early and depart hours late. Teachers sponsor clubs; coach sports; offer tutoring; correct never-ending stacks of papers late into the night; prepare lesson plans outside the contract day; inform parents of their child’s progress; coax, cajole, inspire, beg and plead in the hope of getting students to learn. Then, they attempt to comply with the directives to personalize all their lesson plans to address the needs of each individual student. If they are fortunate,  they will accomplish some small portion of the task in their “copious” planning time of a so-called 50 uninterrupted minutes. More likely, however, they will polish a lesson plan, correct one class set of papers, call parents,  confer with colleagues, update records, write disciplinary referrals and, hopefully, find time to address biological needs.

And, all this educators do for a yearly salary that would not inspire loyalty in a good car mechanic. 

The realization soon sets in: This work is never finished! Even if a teacher were able to devote 24/7 to the profession, the “to do” list would never grow shorter. The question then becomes: What portion of your personal life do you sacrifice for the greater good?  Unfortunately, it will NOT be the part time job you took to make ends meet. Nor will it be the coursework for your Master’s that you must complete (and fund!) to maintain your teaching license.

In the 1980’s John I. Goodlad reported in  A Place Called School  that the top 50% of teaching candidates -as measured by class-rank and GPA –  leave the profession within seven years.  How can this be?  When did teaching become an avocation instead of a vocation?

The reasons are many.  But according to Goodlad, while money was not even listed as a priority for choosing the profession, it rose to second place on the list as a reason for abandoning it. Working conditions were first. Teaching is now considered a stepping stone on the career track; time in the classroom has evolved into little more than a résumé enhancer.

The first round of departures are generally the “pie-in-sky” idealists. They are usually novices. They are often under the impression that teaching will be fun.  It is not too long before all those holidays are simply time to catch up.  Sometimes it can be something simple that sends them packing… Perhaps a student requests they perform an anatomically impossible act…  Perhaps an entire class refuses to complete assignments…  Perhaps it will be a student load that approaches 200 and a belief that they must correct every student paper… 

In a macabre ritual reminiscent of the first-night in The Shawshank Redemption, senior teachers have been known to run winner-take-all “pools” based on the date and/or person to first resign. There is quite often a winner in the first weeks of the school year.  One year, the first resignation occurred before the pool could be formed; another year, a prospective teacher signed a contract, then investigated the reputation of the school in question, and failed to report for duty.  Seldom does a year go by that some novice educator fails to wave the white flag before the first holiday break. How can a someone spend four years or more preparing for a career and still not be aware of what they will encounter?

The novices are followed closely by the mercenaries. The mercenaries quickly calculate the grossly inadequate economic return for the energy expended in challenging educational scenarios. These teacher candidates sometimes find another school system with higher pay scales. Often, super-qualified and highly sought after,  someone in private industry makes an offer that doubles and sometimes triples their current salary.  Au revoir les enfants! Greener pastures beckon!  Who can blame them? It is no small challenge to raise a family on the wages offered beginning teachers. 

In the range of two-to-six years come the first wave of premature burnout victims.  This last stage of early departures is usually the direct result of other life priorities. Usually, these individuals have been committing the time it takes to perform the job of educating their students. The seventy-hour work week of the first-year teacher has dwindled down to the fifty-five hour week of the more experienced crew, but there is little room for improvement beyond that.  Suddenly, they find themselves no longer able to do the job.   Marriage is proposed; a child is born; a parent becomes ill; the job of teaching well becomes an untenable burden instead of a joy. Teaching is a joy until life happens.

Who decides to stay for the long run?  Altruists for whom money is not of primary importance and who understand the importance of education to the next generation. Specialists for whom the passion for  an intellectual discipline affords fewer opportunities in the private sector.  Pragmatists who, if not entirely accepting of what they can not change, are at least able to discover ways to work around the barriers. 

Even the best of these will get worn down eventually. No matter how committed, no matter how much you love the job,  weariness is inevitable.  Thus begins the quest for short-cuts where,  at least occasionally,  one succumbs to the temptation is to teach to the lowest-common-denominator.

Our society pays much lip-service to the importance of education in our democratic society.  To date we have only talked the talk; we have yet to demonstrate a collective willingness to walk the walk.  Never forget that the intellect of a child is a fragile seed hoping to land on fertile soil.  We can no longer afford to lose half to barren ground.  It is up to all of us to turn and amend that soil to give the seeds of intellect a chance to grow.  Teachers want only the tools and sufficient time to turn that soil, because teachers really are the gardeners of humankind. We must commit the resources necessary for the education of all children. To quote Mikhail Gorbachev, “God will not forgive us if we fail.”


[This is a much revised version of my first commentary in the now defunct Prince George’s Journal. The original version, much longer, appeared circa 1998.]

Heavy load puts teacher retention at risk

Considering all the positive outcomes arising from our public schools in recent years, it is somewhat disheartening to see the issue of turnover rearing its ugly head once more. All our advances will be for naught if this community fails to entice educators to spend their careers right here.

How has it come to this, again?

A nearly completed career in public education leads me to a single, inescapable conclusion. Call this Haines’ law: Systems of labor requiring unsustainable effort can never be taken to scale. 

Teachers quickly realize that the assigned goal of reaching every child requires the deployment of nearly every waking hour to the preparation, delivery and evaluation of instruction. The persistent call of “Teacher Do More!” plays quite poorly to those dedicated altruists who already devote nearly their entire existence to improving the lives of children.

Valiant efforts do occur. Those stories can be inspirational, even transformational, but they have yet to be proven sustainable over time in the public schools, especially in public schools where poverty is prevalent.

Periodically, anomalous improvements in academic performance are generated in challenged schools. Such results most often involve a charismatic leader who inspires educators to heroic efforts on behalf of children.

Much-ballyhooed successes invariably lead to promotions and transfers of valuable personnel in the attempt to seed other sites in the hope of generating like results.

Most frequently, in just a handful of years, such success stories begin the inexorable slide back to the mean. Simply put, there are limits to human endurance and patience. Heroism arises occasionally in extraordinary circumstances. It cannot be sustained as a workload or lifestyle.

In this age of increased scrutiny and accountability for educators, there will be some who ridicule the idea that teachers are assigned an unreasonable number of tasks to perform on any given day. Educators, however, know that the design and delivery of effective instruction too often becomes an afterthought on the administrative flow chart.

If this community fails to support and empower our highly performing teachers, those instructional leaders certainly will be the ones to seek out employers who will. It will be our children who suffer form our failure to learn form past mistakes.

Further Reading @ The Prince George’s Sentinel


[This Commentary originally appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on January 31, 2013.]

 

 

Humanity must beat its swords into ploughshares…

defensespending“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Not much has changed since the sixties.

Annually, this nation continues to spend on defense more than the next six most militarized nations, combined. Congress has allocated $1.5 trillion for the F-35, alone. This fighter jet may never be safe to fly and its gunnery may not be fired prior to 2019 while awaiting software fixes, but the merchants-of-death-from-above are doing quite well, thank you!

We could likely end world hunger by allocating $1.5 trillion to that effort.

Which program would generate more good will and likely promote world peace?

In the meantime, too many of our own veterans end up sleeping on vents and under bridges; too many of our families can be bankrupted by one health crisis; too many of our workers toil too hard for too little reward; too many of our children still attend schools that are poorly resourced.

How can this happen in the country that, overall, boasts the “highest” quality of life ever attained?

The answer is simple: too many of the powerful and privileged have chosen personal profit over the public welfare, and we, caught up in our daily struggle to thrive, have allowed acquired wealth to consolidate tremendous political power in the hands of a far too greedy few.

In his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos, or Community? Dr. King offered us a different vision when he wrote, “The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement.”

What is the first step toward achieving dignity for all and ending intergenerational inequity? We must ensure the effective education of all our children lest another generation becomes grist for the mill.

 

[This commentary originally appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette in January 2015. The graphic for “worldwide defense spending” is available on line.]

Quiet tragedies persist in schools…

“All too many of those who live in affluent America ignore those who exist in poor America; in doing so, the affluent Americans will eventually have to face themselves with the question that [Nazi death-camp supervisor Adolf] Eichmann chose to ignore: How responsible am I for the well-being of my fellows?”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since the first application of what Arnold Toynbee referred to as “the thin veneer of civilization”, humankind has struggled with the idea of subjugating the desires of the individual to those of the community.

Self-preservation is almost universally hard-wired and true empathy is too rarely experienced. The motivation for most humans action is self-interest followed closely by our genetic programming  to assure the survival of our offspring and family members. Generosity becomes increasingly  difficult when addressing the needs of neighbors, the nation or the entire species.

Humans show promise, at times, as the events of recent months demonstrate. However, the pride inspired by our collective response to noisy tragedies such as the felling of the World Trade Center must be tempered by our acquiescence before the quiet tragedies of own  making.

As a nation and as a community we largely abdicate our responsibility to provide and adequate and equitable  education for the children of the poor. We turn a blind eye to the plight of latchkey children sitting in over-crowded, poorly-equipped classrooms staffed by overworked and underpaid teachers.

We are to quick to condemn the working poor as neglectful of their children when they work long hours in their effort to climb out of poverty and improve their social status.

When it comes to social welfare many resent the sustenance that government furnishes the unemployed. When it is a question of supplying educational opportunities the privileged now resent the strain that the children of the working poor place on limited resources for the public schools.

Our indifference to the plight of our fellow citizens virtually assures that children of the poor will not break the cycle of poverty.

What, if anything, do we owe our fellow travelers on planet Earth?

That depends of whom you ask, but consider the Book of Mark, Chapter 21, Verse 6: Jesus replied, “If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower.” When the young man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.

Much like this young man, most of us are not prepared to meet the demands of such a saintly life. Many seem more likely to regard the passing of a camel through the eye of a needle to be an engineering problem rather than to consider the possibility that the essential message has  been missed.

Our popular culture tempts us with the rhetoric that greed has gotten a bad rap over the centuries. We joke that the winner is the one who dies with the most toys.

Conspicuous consumerism has become a social responsibility to drive the economy and the acquisition of wealth our national aspiration. “It’s your money!” has even been a political campaign slogan.

Some neighbors ask why they should pay for schools when they have no children. Others complain about elevated taxes with one breath and the the lack of services with the next. Some political leaders worry more about a legacy of architectural achievements than making this region a place where all souls can flourish.

Our government, of the people and by the people, should insure at the very least, that all schools are funded adequately and equitably. In the words of John Adams, “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

In the coming, weeks we will hear that insufficient funds will fill the county coffers to fund the budget request of the Board of Education. Those who advocate for children must present a united front and demand sufficient resources for all the children of this jurisdiction. For the first time in nearly four decades, this community must fight to fund the entire school budget request. For like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. each of us must have “the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.

 

[This Commentary originally appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Journal on January 20, 2002. Photo from MadMikesAmerica…]

 

Who is Accountable for Classroom Claustrophobia?

crowded
The View from the Blackboard?

The second president of the United States, John Adams, knew that education would be the firmest foundation for American society. He sagely counseled, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy,…in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

Americans have long cherished the belief that it is the duty of each generation to afford its heirs the opportunity to provide themselves a better life. Through education and self-actualization, our children might one day eliminate pestilence and poverty giving rise to an era of global peace and prosperity as yet unimagined. Who among us would dare wish for the contrary?

Two centuries ago few children achieved little more than the rudiments of reading and writing. A century later most children attained modest levels of functional literacy. A few decades ago child labor laws removed children from the hazards of exploitative and dangerous labor practices saving countless thousands of limbs and lives. Today, most children acquire a high school diploma.

We have come so far, but we have so far yet to go!

Today, much of what students are expected to learn in high school has been discovered in the years since their grandparents graduated. The children of current students will be obliged to acquire knowledge that has yet to be discovered. What Sir Francis Bacon referred to as “The Knowledge of the State” is doubling every seven years, but funding for the public schools, as a percentage of the Gross National Product, has not changed appreciably in decades.

This generation risks becoming the first American generation to fail to meet the challenge of readying students for the workplace that awaits them. And why is this? Taxpayers do not see the need for improving working conditions for teachers or learning conditions for children.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the issue of class size.

For years now, educators have been informing anyone who will listen that large class size negatively impacts student achievement. Well-designed, longitudinal research was performed in Tennessee. The research clearly demonstrated the positive effects of reduced class size in the early elementary years on student achievement in subsequent years. The conclusions were unequivocal.

Yet, there are still ideologues who claim that lowering class size constitutes “throwing money at the problem” of lackluster performance in our schools. They inform us that students in other countries achieve academically despite large classes while conveniently omitting the fact that most of those countries “weed out” low achievers by the age of fourteen by placing them in apprenticeships or in the workforce.

The student load confronted by teachers in any high-poverty school system is simply overwhelming, and the welfare of children is not served by increasing compensation for educators if that means returning to a more overcrowded classroom each autumn. Why should the concept of workload stress be any less relevant for educators than it is any other human undertaking?

Let’s assume there are two footraces this weekend. The first is fifteen kilometers and the second will cover thirty. Which race do you suppose will have the highest percentage of drop-outs? Which race will be run at the fastest pace?

Let’s put two barbells on the floor. The first weighs 150 pounds and the second is loaded with 300. Which barbell are lifters most likely to raise from the floor? With which weight will the lifters perform the highest number of repetitions?

Yet, we routinely place 30 students in a room with one adult (and sometimes even 40!) for nearly 300 minutes a day, despite knowing that efficiency would be improved by reducing both numbers. Now, in the Age of Accountability,  bureaucrats hope to pass judgement on teachers when “educational outcomes” are less than optimal.

Even car manufacturers in Detroit learned that listening to their labor partners and slowing the assembly line produced better cars, reduced product recalls and increased morale. It is a lesson that must soon be applied to Public Education.

Think carefully, now!

All other things being equal, would you rather have your surgery done by an overworked doctor performing thirty procedures a day, or one performing half that number? When are medical mistakes more likely to occur?

Would you rather have your case tried by a public defender assigned thirty difficult and complicated cases, or one assigned only fifteen? Which lawyer is more likely to overlook something crucial to your defense?

So, should your child be sitting in a marginally equipped room with 29  classmates (or more!) and one overworked, under-compensated professional educator who corrected papers and wrote lesson plans into the wee morning hours? Can we not agree that a teacher and a child would have a better opportunity to connect emotionally and intellectually in a less cramped environment?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said, “To throw obstacles in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes.” Placing our children and their teachers in overcrowded conditions is an inexcusable hindrance to the future success of both… Therefore, the community must resolve to remove this impediment from the path to sustained academic excellence. Moreover, if we do not accept the responsibility of providing adequate resources to all learners, then many children will forever wander anonymously in the crowd of students competing for the teacher’s attention.

All children deserve a better fate.

Further Reading:

[This commentary originally appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Journal circa 2000.]

Testing without improved resources won’t work…

Deeply imbedded in the American psyche lingers the belief that punishment of undesired behavior is the ultimate goal of any test. As a people we have been slow to relinquish this notion.

Our Puritan heritage provides the absurdity of the “swim-test” of witch hunt lore in which those suspected of sorcery were bound in a sack and thrown in a river.  Occasionally, alleged witches overcame their natural buoyancy and sank to the river bottom. The price for vindication on the charge of witchcraft was often death by drowning.

More often, however, the accused simply floated. In such instances it was deemed that the water had “rejected” the evil in the perpetrator’s body. Those who floated were snatched from the water and promptly put to death. Call it the puritan version of a Catch 22 later made famous by Joseph Heller.

Our culture is no stranger to irrational high-stakes testing or poor test design.

Fortunately, our society is somewhat wiser today. We no longer execute those who survive our standardized tests; we merely seek to deprive them of educational resources as a punishment. 

It remains to be seen what fate ultimately awaits those who perform poorly on our state-mandated, standardized assessments. It would appear, though, that  sticks will be many and carrots few. Therein resides the conundrum.

Standardized assessments will never, in and of themselves, improve the academic performance of our students. Does a blood-pressure cup cure high blood pressure? Or, does it merely indicate who might profit from increased medical surveillance?  Would it make any sense to withhold medication that treats high blood pressure from a medical facility where high blood pressure was prevalent?

How then can we threaten to withhold resources from schools where the demonstrated need is greatest?  The very question boggles the mind…

Ignorance and disease share a common trait. By the time we determine that a test is order, it may be too late to change the behaviors that led to the disorder. Many diseases can be conquered only by lifestyle changes years, even decades, prior to the onset of symptoms.  Ignorance holds those characteristics in common.

So, how will we improve the academic achievement of our young people?

One key for improving student performance is standardized working conditions for educators.  How can we expect similar results from vastly dissimilar learning environments?

Teachers in one jurisdiction might have thirty-six students in their classrooms.  Their counterparts across some line on a map might have only twenty-two.  Which group of teachers is most likely to reach a higher percentage of their students?

Teachers in one school count themselves lucky to have one class-set of textbooks to share among several classes.  Teachers in another school send a book home with every child.  Which teachers are more likely to have students prepared for class tomorrow?

Teachers in one elementary school confront 300-plus minutes-a-day of non-stop custodial care for dozens of children.  Teachers in another elementary school have fewer students and are relieved by itinerant “specialty” teachers for enrichment activities like music and foreign language.  Which teachers have more opportunity to plan for dynamic instruction?  Which teachers are better able to hold students accountable?

Do you really believe that children sitting in air-conditioning and children sitting in hazy, hot and humid classrooms are going to perform similarly on any standardized assessment?  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see that statistical correlation?

The clamor increases for “accountability” in our  schools, and teachers are increasingly expected to play the role of Professor Harry Higgins for every  little Eliza Doolittle in the world. Still, we are ignoring one key element of that famous musical. Professor Higgins wagered on his ability to change the life of just one student.

Unfortunately, the reality for teachers more nearly approximates the circumstances of the old woman who lived in a shoe. Teachers have so many students, they just don’t know what to do. Today, however, broth without bread and a whipping before bed are not considered viable educational models, nor are they conducive to increased achievement on a weeks-long marathon of standardized testing.   

Most teachers dream of holding students strictly accountable for the acquisition of skills and knowledge in their classrooms. Most teachers learn early in their careers, however, that the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against fulfilling such ambitious dreams. The obvious remedies are perversely flip-flopped and become road-blocks.

Teachers call for a reasonable number of clients to be served. Staffing ratios are reduced; programs and positions are eliminated; class sizes are increased.

Teachers call for more instructional time. Instead, they lose weeks to new computerized assessments.

Teachers call for fewer disruptions to the school day. Instead, they watch a different 20 percent of their class leave every day for a weeks at a time rendering it nearly impossible to escort a class through a sequential curriculum.

No standardized test will ever, by itself, improve the intellectual prowess of a student. For that, three facets are required: involved parents, a manageable number of clients in each classroom, and qualified teachers equipped with appropriate and adequate resources.  Academic achievement is adversely impacted when any one of these essential elements is missing.  Incomprehensibly, too many students and educators spend entire academic careers lacking all three.

With the force of a moral imperative, it is incumbent on our society to provide adequate and equitable resources to every public school.

Centuries from now, will historians look back on this period of economic elitism and wonder why so many children were willfully left behind?  Centuries from now, will social scientists look back on our testing mania with the same derision that we reserve for the witch hunts? Centuries from now, will educators ridicule this era for assisting only the survivors of our psychometric “swim-tests”?

If we continue to distribute grossly inadequate resources inequitably, if we continue to emphasize back-end assessments instead of front-end instruction, if we continue to formulate policies that abandon those most in need, then folly shall be our legacy.

[This updated Commentary originally appeared as a slightly shorter version in the now defunct Prince George’s County Journal on February 22, 2002. While ESSA has replaced NCLB on the federal level, it may be years before states walk back from the policies put in place to obtain federal funding. ]