In the first Presidential Debate of the 2012 election, both President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney, spoke briefly of their different perspectives on the government’s impact on Public Education. President Obama referred multiple times to the progress and success of “Race to the Top”, a federal program created in 2009 to incentivize education reform on the state level. While Romney did not disagree with the progress or future of Race to the Top, he spoke highly of establishing school choice and promoting education legislation on a state level. It is clear that both candidates support the need for reform. However, a program like Race to the Top quantifies success and failure in schools, instead of addressing or solving qualitative problems.
In this week’s presentation, Professor Daniel Long addressed many of the driving issues of the achievement gaps in public education. In defining the factors that contribute to differences in ethnic/racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, he quotes: socioeconomic differences, unequal expectations, cultural mismatch, inter-personal factors (including both the effects of teachers and home life on a student), neighborhoods, impact of Federal policy and programs, among other things. This list is full of factors that affect the success and achievement of students from outside the classroom. The neighborhood, home life, segregation, and cultural expectations and labels on students are huge contributors to the success of schools. However these factors are not taken into account in a program like Race to the Top, which is quantifying students’ achievement and teacher quality in numbers. This is not to say that RTT fails to provide teacher training and support, but it furthermore challenges teachers and students to quantify their ability in context to standardized testing. In his article, “The Exhaustion of the American Teacher”, John Kuhn quotes: “The favored lever for achieving this prescribed augmentation of the American schoolteacher’s work ethic is fear, driven by a progressively more precarious employment situation.” Throughout the article, Kuhn, an impassioned educator himself, expresses frustration over the scapegoating of teachers. The fear that he describes here is emotionally and professionally pervasive to the job and inefficiently addresses many of schools’ issues.
While much of Kuhn’s article is emotionally charged and in some parts a bit helpless, the anger is not unfounded. Echoed by both candidates last night, the future of education reform in America is still characterized by standardization and a race, or better, scramble for funding. But what was shown during Professor Long’s presentation is that the gaps in our education system are deeper and more complex. We need to do more than simply replace teachers or give students a golden ticket to find new schools without focusing our efforts on the widening gaps and institutionalized injustice in our failing schools.