Now, anyone that knows me knows that I’m, by no stretch of the imagination, a cheerleader or mascot for Teach for America, and no this isn’t a post aimed at tampering with the glorious pedestals upon which TFA sacredly and preciously rests: I’ll save that for another time. Though, TFA’s message and mission are ideals that I think most people in education profoundly agree with, that “one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”
As many Americans well know, we have not seen that day, and even with the fiercest of programs, litigation, efforts, and reforms, I’m not confident that we’re on track to witness that day in our lifetime.
As long as we have a tax-based education system where school funding is apportioned by property taxes and the values of the homes within a given zip code, all children will never have the opportunity to obtain an excellent education. I don’t believe we will ever achieve educational equity under this particular funding mechanism.
Education experts can fully agree that failure stems from a host of sources, such as out-of-school factors, a “broken system”, the vicious school-to-prison pipeline and zero tolerance policies, the failure of educational and juvenile justice systems to work together, teacher ineffectiveness, the narrow focus of standardized testing and the unintended consequences of accountability, sub-standard curriculum, and dilapidated facilities.
A poisonous and ignorant belief is that “because it’s not affecting me, then I don’t care about it…that, as long as it’s not my kids failing; it’s those kids who don’t want to learn or it’s those kids whose backgrounds are too rough for them to learn.”
Imagine a system where all of the “those kids” became all of our kids. Before you think this is a mere talking point, please keep reading.
Imagine a system that actualized the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., what he referred to as “an inescapable network of mutuality”. The fate of each of us is tied to a single garment of destiny, that whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
Imagine a system where the educational stakes are identical for the wealthy family of the CEO husband, stay-at-home mom, 2.5 kids, a golden retriever and a white picket fence and for the single, divorced mom on welfare who works three jobs just to meagerly scrape by to provide for a family of six.
To witness TFA’s one day, to make those kids our kids, to fulfill the dreams of King — something radical must happen, and when we have the futures of kids who come from wealthy backgrounds in that “single garment of destiny” as we do kids taken hostage by the achievement gap, then we have reason to hope.
An idea that has been kicked around for decades, my radical solution to solve urban education is quaternary:
1. Outlaw private schools, except for religious institutions
2. Assign every child in this nation to a public school by random lottery
3. Fundamentally reframe teacher education programs in the country to meet the demands that a truly diverse school community would call for.
4. Draft teacher effectiveness legislation for every state
Do I think that everyone would agree with this? No.
I am only pushing this radical solution as a theory, placing logistics aside.
Now, politicians’ children, university presidents’ children, actors’ and actresses’ children, Fortune 500 CEOs’ children, doctors’ and lawyers’ children – all of these people will now have a stake in public education.
Now, we have a system that forces attention to public education like never before.
Now, we have a system that delivers the hopes of what Brown v. BOE intended, desegregating schools in the most necessary of ways.
We say we’re working hard to achieve meritocracy, but imagine the differences that children will be exposed to. Imagine what that would do for sociological concepts such as social and cultural capital and reproduction.
Imagine how swift resources would move from one end of the city to the other. Imagine a system of high-quality schools that would be so legendary that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top initiatives would look prehistoric and silly.
In short, to end the urban education catastrophe, we must force everyone into this fight of public education and make people feel its importance and urgency. Only by forcing the powerful, the wealthy, those with clout and the leaders of our nation into the same situation as people who are poor, or people who are powerless, or people who don’t have lobbyists, or don’t have clout can we expect to gain meaningful ground in terms of education reform. We cannot expect education to become a national priority until the entire nation has a vested interest.
As our country becomes more diverse in every imaginable way, our nation must act radically before we feel and the see the effects of the achievement gap more than we’re already feeling and seeing those effects today.
Failing schools means failing children, failing children means failing communities, and failing communities means a failing nation.
The time for boldness is now.