Teachers and education "reformers" have been battling back and forth in the editorial page and letters of the Star Tribune recently. First, a Strib editorial said everyone needs an effective teacher, and that would solve the achievement gap.
Then teacher Melinda Bennett responded in an op-ed, saying it doesn't matter how effective the teacher is if the kids aren't fed, have moved three times in a year (or are living in a homeless shelter), and are justifiably angry at the world because of all this.
Today, there are two letters in response. One reiterates the point about research proving effective teachers work no matter what. The other, from a reading specialist in the Minneapolis schools, supports Bennett's claim that students can't learn when they're abused, neglected, and hungry. She also, however, says students need their parents involved in their educations, including their homework.
Here's what we know:
- Research doesn't show that effective teachers are most important, or that they even "work" for solving the achievement gap. Most teachers are already effective, within the constraints of our current school system, although reformers seem to be doing everything possible to undermine them by taking away tenure, increasing class sizes, and paying low wages.
- Further, the definition of what makes an effective teacher is based primarily if not only on higher test scores, which vary from year to year per teacher in most cases. So did the teacher suddenly stop being effective the next year?
- Kids don't need parents involved in their homework or even "supporting" them in school, per se. Kids whose parents are involved in their homework don't do any better and may even do worse, depending on the subject.
- Kids do need a culture of expectation of achievement, whether that's in their family or in their wider cultural community. Both would be good.
- They do need to be fed and cared for in a loving way, with secure attachment to their primary care-givers. Not having these things likely causes, in essence, brain damage.
- A nurturing home life is most likely to occur if the parents/care-givers are not under dire stress from poverty. The long-term scarcity mindset that comes with poverty has clear effects on behavior, and they're all bad.
- Poverty, as Matt Bruenig consistently shows, is a structural element of our economy, which pays the lowest wages to younger workers, who make up the majority of parents. Not to mention the lack of jobs in the first place, given globalization and the decline of unions, and all those unpaid internships. We could solve much of poverty and (concurrently) the achievement gap in education by paying a child allowance of something like $300 a month to families. Something similar is done in many other developed countries.
There's more to solving the achievement gap. See my earlier post, based largely on Diane Ravitch's great book Reign of Error, for more.