*This is a sponsored post. While I was compensated, all opinions expressed are my own.*
I am an advocate for public education and I hope I always will be. From first grade through college, I only attended public schools. And while my overwhelmingly positive experiences surely influenced my decision to become a teacher, my passion didn’t fully blossom until I realized that not all students are so fortunate when it comes to their schooling. Now, as a mother myself, I want to support education more than ever. All children deserve to be nurtured in a safe school, learn in an effective environment, and be taught by a knowledgeable educator. Every young person should be given this opportunity regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, or geography. It should be the highest priority for everyone in this country. Especially because we are currently so far from this goal. Today one-third of all fourth graders in the United States cannot read at a basic level, a quarter of American students do not graduate from high school, and the U.S. has fallen from first to ninth among countries whose young people have earned a college degree. These statistics, from Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School, are disheartening to me as an educator and as a parent. How did we get here? More importantly, how can we change the state of education in our country? Where do we even begin?
Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia believe they have the solution. Their book, Mission Possible, outlines what has been accomplished in a few short years at the Harlem Success Academies in New York City. As a former NYC public and private school teacher, I have heard of the Success Academies. The amazing results they have seen, particularly on standardized tests, are undeniable. This growing group of schools is known for taking a predominantly underprivileged population, getting their parents involved, intensely training their teachers, having high expectations for their students, and turning reluctant learners into scholars. Because the Success Academies are charter schools, the students are admitted by a random lottery, which means thousands of children are turned away. If more schools were to implement their practices and adopt their unique philosophies, many additional children would benefit from the changes that have started with these campuses. So how have they done it? Their approach is simple. By, “embracing rigor, working with grown-ups to improve their teaching skills, and demanding excellence from all”, we can break the cycle of mediocrity that has come to plague our schools. A large emphasis on this methodology starts with the adults. Principals, teachers, parents, and policymakers are expected to strive to be better, to do better. Therein lies the key to student achievement.
Why isn’t that already happening? Why aren’t principals demanding more, beginning with themselves? Why aren’t teachers eager to improve their instruction? In large part it’s because this country treats teaching so differently from other professions. And why is that? Because it’s too easy to become a teacher. Please understand me here. It’s not easy by any stretch to be a teacher. Which goes to my point; the standards and expectations to call yourself a certified teacher should be higher. After eight years, over three grade levels, between two school districts, one private school, and two states, I have never heard a worthy educator say, “I decided to be a teacher because I knew it would be the easiest path”. And I have worked with and known a lot of truly talented teachers. Instead of trying to mold new teachers and motivate experienced ones, then preaching about accountability when undesirable results come in, we need to look at college programs and make the study of education more rigorous. At the Success Academies, teachers attend a boot camp of sorts to prepare for the school year. Its purpose is, “filling the role that colleges of education have failed to assume”, because they know their staff needs more training to meet their high standards. But what if all colleges of education did assume those roles? What if there was more practice and modeling for students studying education, in addition to learning the necessary theory and lecture? Perhaps in addition being respected for their work, educators would be viewed as the professionals they are, experts in their craft, who deserve to be aptly compensated. No one goes into teaching for the money (or for the summers off, thank you), but if the education field was more demanding and teachers were able to accomplish what they set out to, we might see a turn around in the low teacher morale that is practically endemic in many schools today.
Is Mission Possible the answer to what’s wrong with our public schools today? The truth is, it’s too early to tell. We don’t yet know what the long term impact of this program will be on the students who have attended the Success Academies from it’s inception. Based on how strongly they have emerged as leaders in only a short period of time though, it seems the outcome will be a positive one. Is this curriculum and it’s approach flawless? Certainly not. How special needs students are accommodated, for one, is not thoroughly addressed in the book. I know all students are welcome to attend if they are selected through the lottery, but I am not clear on what services they are provided, or how learning disabled students are assisted when necessary. Also, I am curious about what happens if a child’s parents are not cooperative or as receptive as the school demands. I fully understand, and wholeheartedly agree, that parental involvement is crucial to a student’s school experience, as Ms. Moskowitz and Ms. Lavinia clearly believe. I’m not implying their schools’ success is solely because of the parents they are working with by any means. But sadly not all parents are willing or able to devote enough time to their child’s education. Those who make the effort to apply to these schools obviously are, but when implementing the “secrets” of the Success Academies elsewhere, what strategies can the faculty use if parents are resistant? Most parents simply want better for their children and will do what it takes to ensure they provide all they can, but teachers need support when that isn’t enough. And sometimes it isn’t.
When I was a teacher, I craved a strong administration to lead me, help me improve, and then trust me to do my job. Many teachers all over the country feel the same way. Mission Possible may not be a manual for how to make this happen, but it is definitely an excellent resource that can provide guidance to principals, teachers, parents, and policymakers across the country. We need change. We should be demanding it. Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia have laid the groundwork. It’s up to us to move forward.
To learn more about Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School, visit ReadMissionImpossible.com.You can also connect with Ms. Moskowitz, founder of the Harlem Success Academies, on Facebook here, or through Twitter, here. In the meantime, I am giving away one copy of the thought-provoking and encouraging book to one lucky reader. Leave a comment on this post for your chance to win.
Together we can work to improve the state of education in our country. Refuse to accept mediocre schools in your state, city, and neighborhood. Your child deserves better. All children do.