Powering the Global Education Conversation: About edCircuit

Where Teacher Recruitment, Education Programs and the Economic Achievement Gap Meet

By David Greene

I often say how lucky I was to have gone to Fordham University’s Undergraduate School of Education in New York City during the late 1960s. We were the 60’s “Boomer” generation, raised during the quietly prosperous 1950s that became the idealist generation looking to save the world from itself. Many joined the Peace Corps to work with the poor across the globe, but many more joined what no one thought of as an American peace corps…the teaching profession. What better way to help those in need than to help them learn how to learn so they could build their lives?

Yes I, as well as most of my classmates, complained about what we knew were practically useless courses. But, we also knew how well we were introduced to the culture of NYC and our primarily minority future students. We took courses where we learned about how skin color affected relationships among Puerto Ricans (the largest Spanish speaking group in NYC at the time). Our 95% white classes read Piri Thomas’s “Down These Mean Streets” and the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.” We did a semester of field work in the communities where we were to get jobs, and of course we student taught for a full semester in those communities. We also had courses in child psychology, and were instructed in methodology specifically for our subject and/or grade levels. Of course, not all of our professors were great, but after all it was college. We all know that college is often not the best place to find the best teachers, regardless of the subject or major.

How things have changed for today’s twenty-somethings thinking of becoming teachers! Economic conditions have worsened. Idealism has been replaced more and more by materialism. The public policy of high stakes standardized testing to evaluate students and teachers has poisoned the teaching profession. Common Core State Standards have stifled creativity.

“This generation [millenials] was raised during one of the worst recessions this country has seen, and the idea of paying for school to go into a job that will pay next to nothing and give you a stress-related ulcer isn’t appealing to us anymore. The promise of summers off forever isn’t enough.

Instead, teachers need a wage worthy of the work they perform. Perhaps once reforms to the education system make sense for teachers to put their lives into it again, enrollment in teaching colleges will pick up again.”

– Jordan Riley, The Indiana University Daily Student

Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington, Seattle, and professor emeritus in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Hilary G. Conklin, a program leader and associate professor of secondary social studies at DePaul University whose research interests include teacher learning and the pedagogy of teacher education, have published, “Beyond Knowledge Ventriloquism and Echo Chambers: Raising the Quality of the Debate on Teacher Education.”

In it, they point out, as many of us already know, that improvement in university teacher education is much needed. Too many leaders of education programs are blinded by their own reflection in the mirror.

They tell us what the best education programs already do and the rest must:

  • Connect coursework more deeply to the complexities of schools
  • Emphasize research-based teaching practices
  • Teach cultural pedagogy so new teachers can understand, respect, and build on the cultural diversity [and economically created differences] that students bring to school.

As a result of the way media reports education issues, Zeichner and Conklin also implore all education programs, undergraduate or graduate to be transparent in their use of educational research. All education researchers must:

  • Reveal their funders and their direct and indirect links to the programs
  • Clearly communicate their findings to policymakers, practitioners, and the general public.

Clearly they believe the truth must come out.

And they emphasize, as I do that:

  • The Media must cover claims about issues in teacher education [and the repercussions of the income gap] based on the strength of the evidence and not based on which wealthy benefactor supports the claim.

We agree that the quality of programs should NOT assess based on whose graduates can raise test scores. Research suggests that an emphasis only on raising test scores deepens educational inequities and continues to create a second-class system of schooling for students living in poverty.

This, in fact has become the case since 2001. As Sean Reardon of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford points out:

  • Achievement gaps between more affluent and less privileged children are wider than ever.
  • Today the biggest threat to the American dream is class.
  • Fifty years ago, the black-white proficiency gap was one and a half to two times as large as the gap between the top 90th percentile of the income distribution the bottom 10th percentile.
  • Today, the proficiency gap between the poor and the rich is nearly twice as large as that between black and white children.

A specific example just reared its ugly head in NYC’s highly gentrified Brooklyn. New York City has one of the most segregated school systems in the country.

In Brooklyn’s gentrified Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, and Vinegar Hill areas, mostly white rich P.S. 8 parents don’t want to send their kids to underutilized yet mostly poor minority P.S. 307 even though P.S. 8 is vastly overcrowded.

At P.S. 307, 90 percent of students receive some form of public assistance. Its state test scores has 20 percent of its students passing the math tests and 12 percent passing the reading tests this past year. At P.S. 8, whose population has only 15 percent receiving assistance, scores are considerably above the city averages. Almost two-thirds of its students passed each test.

Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia University has a new book titled “Too Many Children Left Behind.” In it, she and her colleagues point out children from families of low socioeconomic status:

  • Are already more than a year behind the children of college graduates in their grasp of both reading and math
  • Are seven times more likely to have been born to a teenage mother
  • Are only 50 % likely to live with both parents, compared with 83 percent of the children of college graduates
  • Suffer higher obesity rates, have more social and emotional problems and are more likely to report poor or fair health
  • Are less likely to afford private preschool or the many enrichment opportunities — extra lessons, tutors, music and art, elite sports teams — that richer, better-educated parents lavish on their children

Are about one-third more likely to have a novice teacher. They are much more likely to be held back a grade, a surefire way to stunt their development, the researchers say.

Given all of this…

Will we ever be able to solve the problems created in our school systems based on the differences in the socioeconomic conditions of the wealthier and poorer segments of our urban populations regardless of ethnicity?

Who will teach under these increasing economic and educationally difficult conditions?

How will we make sure new teachers are well prepared to do so?

The opinions expressed here are solely those of David Greene.

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