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LETTERS

The petri dish, treadmill, crucible, hardship, and beacon of hope that is our K-12 education system

In this file photo, second-grader Amanda Souza raises her hand during the first day of class at Salemwood School in Malden in September 2015.
In this file photo, second-grader Amanda Souza raises her hand during the first day of class at Salemwood School in Malden in September 2015.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Some will seize on pandemic to replace teachers with technology

Thanks are due to Paul Reville for clearly stating what most K-12 teachers have known for decades: The best predictor of school success is a child’s socioeconomic status (“Coronavirus gives us an opportunity to rethink K-12 education,” Ideas, April 12). But when it comes to suggestions about how to reform the education system itself, Reville becomes oddly inarticulate: “School leaders, too, have an opportunity . . . to take a moment to step back and consider whether or not this crisis represents an opportunity for reconsidering some of our most basic norms.”

Say what? In any event, chances are that school leaders will be doing just the opposite during this crisis; that is, figuring out how to limp along with remote learning until schools reopen.

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We can be certain, however, that many for-profit ed tech and online charter school companies will seize on the pandemic opportunity and echo Reville’s vague call for individualizing learning and using “newly acquired ed tech tools to break down the artificial school barriers of time and place.” If one looks carefully at the goals of many of these companies and their political supporters, a less public-minded hidden agenda emerges: Replace teachers with technology, and weaken brick-and-mortar public schools.

Neither of those ends, however, is consistent with how children learn, or the stated goal of providing increased support for low-income students and families. And let’s hope that “school leaders,” if and when they “step back,” listen closely to the voices of parents who, during the pandemic, have developed a new appreciation for the job that their teachers and their public schools are doing, despite the challenges posed by inequality.

Seth Evans

Brookline

The writer is a retired teacher.


The year of our Sputnik moment also gave us the racism of Little Rock

Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, asks us to consider the shortcomings of our K-12 system. He recalls our 1957 Sputnik moment, when the nation, propelled by a federal investment in education, lived up to its superpower status. Something else happened that same year, in Little Rock, Ark. We watched the feds scuffle with a state whose white citizens preferred military violence over their children sharing high school classes with Black children. Across the nation, officials and livid parents flouted a Supreme Court decision, opting to close their schools rather than allow what the law and Black tax dollars helped provide. This nation chose sides, and many did not choose justice.

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Reville seeks a class-based set of remedies, seemingly oblivious to the racial animus inherent in much of the economic disparity unveiled by COVID-19. Past “audacious” measures racially categorize achievement and advance deficit thinking to remediate sub-grouped children toward a white mainstream. This ignores racialized funding formulas, ill-prepared ethnocentric teachers, anti-Blackness in discipline, and curriculum largely irrelevant to nonwhite and indigenous communities.

Sputnik was about proving the myth of American exceptionalism; Little Rock was about exposing it. I’m all for a rethinking of K-12 education that begins with that acknowledgment.

Jamel Adkins-Sharif

Cambridge


Boston has been doing more than its share of rethinking education

Yes, Paul Reville, we have “an opportunity to rethink K-12 education.” Many don’t know, though, that Boston has been doing this. Innovations include:

Boston schools and nonprofits are doing cutting-edge work, but it’s not guided by a transformative agenda. Such an agenda might prioritize working across education, human services, and economic development to achieve greater educational, health, and economic equity. It might also emphasize pedagogical shifts supporting seamless learning in and beyond classrooms and the integration of real and virtual spaces.

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Bringing any redesign agenda to life requires giving districts and partnering organizations funding expressly for innovation, helping them develop stronger change-management practices, and shifting energy from invigorating anachronistic systems to inventing ones that more powerfully support and empower young people.

Turahn Dorsey

Boston

The writer is the former chief of education for the City of Boston.


We lost our way with high-stakes testing

Kudos to Paul Reville. Yes, it is indeed time to change how we do school in this country. However, I wonder if he would consider how much time and money we have wasted in pursuing the one-size-fits-all approach to learning that high-stakes testing such as MCAS has fostered. As Reville admits, the punitive, top-down mandates that the Globe so recently has lauded have done nothing to narrow the so-called achievement gap.

Well-intentioned as it may have been, the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 served to discourage the kind of experiential, differentiated, project-based learning that started to flourish in the 1980s. In fact, though the original curriculum guidelines were based on best practices recommended by reformers such as Theodore Sizer, and even included a commitment to portfolio assessment, John Silber, on the state level, and George W. Bush, on the federal level, with No Child Left Behind, left us with this narrow definition of education that we have today.

I was in fifth grade when Sputnik shocked this country. I remember how, almost overnight, we had new classroom furniture, new textbooks, and new ways of learning. I am grateful for the education I was given from that point on. Let’s hope that this difficult time will indeed give us the opportunity to rethink all of our assumptions about schooling.

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Mariam Karis Cronin

Fitchburg

The writer is a retired English teacher.


Don’t forget key component of Children’s Cabinet: students

I applaud Paul Reville’s opinion piece “Coronavirus gives us an opportunity to rethink K-12 education.” I couldn’t agree more with his assertion that “the best predictor of your educational success is still your socioeconomic status. That’s not what America is supposed to be.” His recommendation for a Children’s Cabinet is a positive step forward; however, he forgot to include students. After a 40-year career in public education, I’ve learned something: We neglect to include the young people in our decision-making processes.

We must ensure, as we reshape public education, that the voices of our future are at the center of our deliberations and conversations. They must play a key role in representing their needs and interests, not just adults who are policy makers and educators. Young people know what they need and want. Ask them.

Linda Nathan

Executive director

Center for Artistry and Scholarship

Dorchester

The writer is a former Boston Public Schools headmaster.


No Chromebook can meet child’s need for safe, secure home life

Paul Reville acknowledges that socioeconomic status remains the best predictor of educational success. He writes, “If we want to rectify this gross inequity at the heart of our society . . . then we’ll have to come together as civic communities . . . to provide all children with the basics that those of us who have privilege take for granted.” He correctly diagnoses the problem: The current school model does not compensate for socioeconomic stratification. But his solution — more comprehensive children’s services — is flawed, because educational institutions and children’s services alone will never be enough. We need to come together as civic communities to fix the socioeconomic structures that entrench “this gross inequity."

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No “cradle to career pipeline,” as Reville calls it, can successfully insulate children from the stress and dysfunction that socioeconomic hardship inflicts on families. Children belong to, and love, their families and communities. If, as a society, we truly want to provide equal opportunity and access to social mobility, then we need to fix the systems that crush these communities. This means fair wages and labor laws, affordable housing, universal health care, the decriminalization of poverty, and the equal distribution of resources — such as green space, transportation, and food access — across neighborhoods.

Educational reformers touting new daily schedules, year-round calendars, and online apps need to understand that as long as public schools and children’s services are expected to do it all, they will fail. Children living with homelessness, food insecurity, neighborhood violence, and parents with addictions cannot leave these problems at the schoolhouse door. There isn’t an extended-day program or Chromebook in the world that can meet a child’s need for a safe, secure home life.

Children cannot be saved if their families and communities are left behind.

Lisa Robbins

Brookline

The writer is a teacher in the Boston Public Schools.