To the Editor:
Regarding your May 7, 2008, Commentary “If We’re Talking About Race, Let’s Talk About Education”:
The heart of what U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, in his March 18 speech in Philadelphia about race, called the “gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time,” is, in the words of Susan H. Fuhrman, the “persistent inequities in education.” While few would disagree with her, the three education issues she identifies as needing attention to move education “front and center” reflect limited assumptions about the inequities in education. They also support the existing reform proposals of the education establishment and will not have a sufficient impact on the status quo.
Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers in disadvantaged schools and neighborhoods; funding early-childhood, after-school, extended-day, and extended-term programs; and providing an enriched curriculum do not compete with the more complex and resistant levels of change required in the education establishment to address persistent racial inequities.
It is not simply the lack of equal access to high-quality teachers, it is the challenge and complexity of redefining “high quality” and the preparation of teachers who have both the necessary expertise in curriculum content and the knowledge and skills to engage diverse populations of learners.
It is not simply increasing education programs, it is what is required of federal and state policies, higher education institutions, state school boards, and departments of education to ensure that certification is not limited to content requirements, but is expanded to include the knowledge and skills needed to successfully engage student populations this country has historically failed.
It is not simply ensuring the availability of an enriched curriculum, it is supporting teachers and convincing all educators that learners from impoverished neighborhoods and varied cultural, economic, and sociopolitical backgrounds are capable of learning such a curriculum.
Change that goes beyond the necessary provision of teachers, programs, and enriched curricula, to include the alignment of federal and state education policies, boards of education, and higher education is what we will need if the “gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time” is to be seriously addressed.
The writer is a cognitive psychologist and the editor of Closing the Achievement Gap: A Vision for Changing Beliefs and Practices (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).
A version of this article appeared in the June 04, 2008 edition of Education Week as Confronting Race Will Take More Than Teachers, Programs