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Thursday, August 22, 2019

170 years of Fix the teachers, Fix the kids, Fix the tests, but never ever fix inequity

Winston Churchill said: "The farther back, you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." On my journey into the mountains this August, I found a gem in an antique store in Peterboro New Hampshire. It wasn't for sale. It was just a part of a display. I explained that I am a teacher educator and love finding these kinds of gems. The store owner said I don't know how to price this kind of thing. I said it is for a good cause. Teachers of today need to know what it was like for those of yesterday. Five dollars sealed the deal.

It's time to share my 5.00 find in the mountains, and how it informs my thinking and wandering on education. America's Public School reforms have are rooted in three concepts for more than 170 years. I have spent considerable time searching through old public documents over the last decade.
I have found three common threads.
1. Public schools need more rigorous standards in our schools,
2. We need better teachers. To get them we need higher standards for teachers,
3. We need more stringent assessments to improve our public schools.
These three are the revolving door of education reform to fix the standards, fix the teachers, and fix the tests. Occasionally someone like John Dewey comes along and offers a more child-centered approach, or inquiry-based learning, or community school movement. All of these are positive, but when the measure of success becomes some high-stake testing standard. Everyone always falls under these standards, and without equity, it becomes an immoral failure.

Some cheer on the idea that American Public Education is about community schools. Each community is responsible for its public schools. The concept of every child walking to his/her local school embedded in local control.  I love this concept, as well. But, when many of those local schools are underfunded and under-resourced that harms children in those community schools. Then your public school system because a system of the haves and the have nots. When those schools have been in this state for 170 years, then something about the public school system is immoral.
Do we send rockets to the moon?
Do we spend more money on prisons than on public schools?
Do we fight wars in every corner of the world?
Do we give trillions and trillions in tax breaks to the wealthy?
My list could on and on, but when you can do these things, and we don't give equity in our public schools to all children. What do we call it?
Honestly, America's public school system is in a state of Structural Racism.  Racism driven by fear,  fear that Black, Brown, Immigrant, Jewish, and Muslim children might rise above their children. Something that happens time and time again, even under the harshest conditions of hate and inequality.  Imagine all our public schools fully funded?  That is the White Suspremercist nightmare.  I do want community-based schooling, but not community inequity. Equity has always been the prize sought by people of color, immigrants, and the poor in America.

So, what did I discoverer in these mountains of New England within that old 1869 Peterboro school finance report, and my studies over the past decade? 
That reforms without equity cannot bring justice to all our children attending our public schools.  American local schools have been segregated by race and poverty since the beginning — the 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. The Board of Education has not led to the desegregation of our public schools.  Time and time again that decision has been weakened at both the federal and state level. From Plessy to Brown, these American courts and legislators had numerous shots at desegregation. In my opinion, they have run far away from those opportunities at every chance.  If they get a clear shot at it, like 1954 with Brown, well then those winds of Racism stir up the haters, and it's a full-court White Suspremercaist press stopping it.  Change can't come from merely chasing more rigorous standards and assessments over and over again. But, it does provide excellent cover for a system not willing to change. 

The issue of inequity never gets systematically addressed in my professional opinion.  Shouldn't all researchers accept improving public education begins with equity?  Should every education reformer be standing to shout from the rooftops equity first? I often find some mention of the inequity of resources in my studies. I see it but addressing it, demanding it, implementing it, and making it a reality. It's too big, too abstract, and too costly. It, however, is always mentioned.  Mentioning the White Elephant in the room has been America's way of dealing with inequity.  Black, Brown, Immigrant, Special Education, and Poor Children have been waiting for justice for over 170 years.

I find the vast majority of policymakers, legislators, and reformers not vested in an all-out fight for equitable resources. Race and income inequality get briefly mentioned, never really addressed. Reformers always return to those three safe status quo choices.
1. Public schools need more rigorous standards in our schools,
2. We need better teachers. To get them we need higher standards for teachers,
3. We need more stringent assessments to improve our public schools.
In 2000, within NCLB the language of Inequity and Race found it's way into our current Education Reform picture.  Communities of color given new reforms coming in more robust tests, new standards, and intense competition would save their children.  In 2019, our public schools are more segregated and broken then they were in 1954. I see no serious attempts to address inequity and lack of funding for poor schools. 
I find those same old ideas of new standards and assessments still driving our current education reforms. With an assumption that competition and incorporating business model thinking is the only way to improve equity and quality in our public schools.

In conclusion, I find Racism still drives American public education.
What will change it? A mass uprising of parents, teachers, and citizens who understand this public school system rooted in Racism is the greatest threat to our democracy.
Rise up, teachers and parents reject silence and apathy, 
Dr. Jesse P. Turner
Moral Monday Connecticut Education Ambassador

If you like to hear the tune that inspired my morning walk today, its mystery of iniquity from Lauryn Hill 


  1. It reminds me of the origin of jaywalking. Cars hitting pedestrians was a problem, so they changed the narrative and made the pedestrians the "bad guys" punishing them for using the streets they used to roam freely, because they were now designated for cars.

    It's like this with teaching. They constantly reframe things so that it's the teachers, not any of the actual reasons.

  2. An excellent analogy Neil, and yes, it always the teachers in their book.