By Rachel Gershon Rourke
For The Gazette Opinion Section
Working as an elementary teacher at an inner-city public school for the last 20 years, I have become well-acquainted with programs and initiatives such as Reading First, Every Day Math, Basil Reading Programs, Race to the Top, Common Core Standards, and No Child Left Behind/Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
All of these have much in common. They aim to use cutting-edge best practices, increase rigor of curriculums, utilize data, and incorporate technology. We know these programs strive towards creating critical thinkers who will be globally competitive as employees, citizens, and future leaders.
All of these programs have also been met with controversy and protests. This is good for education. To be given something new and not analyze its effects with a critical eye is taking the uneducated way out. The struggle is the education. This is called productive disturbance.
The challenge is that no two students are alike. No two schools are alike. No two communities are alike. It is these differences that many of the programs focus their attention on. “Leveling the playing field” is often the metaphor used.
When considering how best to do this, I suggest we struggle, let all the ideas, thoughts, and passions marinate and then together move forward, not backward. We should accept this method as a productive educational experience. We should learn from our prior experiences in order to project the future needs of our students and society, and base our educational programming on those needs.
The time to struggle with the ESEA reauthorization is now long overdue. We do not need to go backwards by taking out of this bill the progress that has been made to equalize our country’s education standards and to help us be globally competitive.
As we evaluate the ESEA reauthorization proposals, we must keep the following tenets in mind:
All students deserve to be taught by highly qualified teachers. Teachers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and state certification in the subject they are teaching.
All testing should be age-appropriate and consistent across the United States. As a teacher, I believe in assessments, but not in consecutive days of testing children ages 8-14 for three hours a day.
All students must have access to current instructional practices and technologies, including computers, Internet access, smart boards and educational online programs.
Finally, we should continue to support school improvement grants, as they are a fantastic way to create that productive disturbance in our educational leaders to move forward with best practices.
As a mother, teacher and voter, I must struggle with the debates surrounding the ESEA reauthorization. I must think critically and learn how the proposals will affect my children, my students and my community.
I have experienced first-hand how education levels the playing field. I attended an inner-city public school, was the first in my family to graduate from a four-year college, and now have a stable job that I love.
This would not be possible without the education acts put in place to ensure students receive a quality and equitable education.
I have come to the conclusion that all our children need to have the above tenets — quality teachers, appropriate and consistent testing, access to technology, and school improvement grants — included in the new ESEA bill, because all of our children deserve an equitable and quality education.
Rachel Gershon Rourke of Niskayuna is a gradate of Schenectady schools and a fifth-grade teacher in the Schenectady City School District.