As a country, we value the education of some children more than we do that of others. And the kids know it.
When I was in junior high school in Detroit (long before its current meltdown), my classmates and I were taken out to the public high school of one of the wealthiest suburbs for an “exchange visit.” We were stunned to see carpeted, well-stocked libraries, working restrooms with warm water and hand towels; real science laboratories; and a gym building with indoor track and swimming pool. We were never told what the purpose of the trip was, but its net effect was to confirm that we were worth—less than rich people’s children.
According to the recently released second part of the 2010 MetLife survey, 48% of students felt their teachers expectations of their academic performance matched their own. In fact, 38% of students, especially those who get lower grades in school, think their teachers have expectations that are too high. This is a significant improvement over the 2009 results in which the majority of students did not believe their teachers even wanted them to succeed.
Pair that result with another from the 2010 survey: That an even larger percentage of students at lower performing schools believe that their schools could be better at equipping them with the skills and abilities needed to succeed in college or careers. The students are perceptive enough to make the distinction between their teachers (those folks with the high expectations), and the school conditions in which they and their teachers must work and learn. They recognize, as my classmates and I did, that the schools which serve them are of lower quality than those serving their suburban or cross-town peers.
The students and teachers who have the most to accomplish are historically and continually expected to do it with fewer resources than those who do not have an “achievement gap.”
My teachers and most of those with whom I have taught here in the Mississippi Delta have done amazing work under often disgraceful conditions. I wondered then and now, how much more they could have done if they had the resources and support of their better situated colleagues? Shouldn’t ending this longstanding inequity be a top priority of education reform and ESEA reauthorization?
How can we seriously address determining which teachers are or are not effective when even the best teachers in poor schools are forced to work under conditions that limit both them and their students? How ironic is it that some of the same political forces that have planned and perpetuated this inequity are now among the loudest criers for giving poor parents the choice to send their children to other schools? How encouraging is it when parents and students recognize that it’s often not the teachers, but the lack of resources or political leadership that is putting their children at educational disadvantage.