The other night at dinner, a few of my colleagues and I were talking about equity in education. We all work at a school that receives 100% free-and-reduced lunch, where 98% of the students are Hispanic and where students come from a high level of poverty.
Whenever I think about being fair, I’m reminded of a quote: “Fair isn’t everyone getting the same thing. Fair is everyone getting what they need to be successful.”
What if we forgot about being equal for the sake of fairness? For instance, if the proficient, functioning schools are doing well with a 1:25 teacher student ratio, let’s keep that ratio in those schools. But if students in other schools aren’t doing well, why don’t we change the ratio in those “low-achieving” schools to 1:15 teacher student ratio, especially in the early years. With really struggling students, why not have a ratio of 1:1 for part of the day.
Or let’s provide mandatory structured reading and math programs (that also utilize concepts in social studies and science) after school for students who are not making the necessary gains to become proficient. We could use their standardized tests to identify the skills they need help with and then address them. Once they’ve proven mastery, they don’t have to attend the after-school sessions any more. Rather than having students repeat grades, or simply struggle more the next year, why not adjust schools to work for struggling students, instead of against them?
Some might argue this isn’t fair to keep certain students after hours and that it would most likely target ELL students and those in poverty. However, it also isn’t fair to use the same strategies that don’t seem to work while each year these students fall further and further behind, fail to make proficiency, and pass them on hoping a miracle will occur before they eventually drop out, either.
If enough of the students are not proficient in one school, maybe it means that certain schools have longer school days. As long as teachers get compensated for the extra hours of work, I have no problem adding instruction time to the day. Again, keeping the same hours as the “good” schools may not be fair to my students because they need more help, structure, guidance and exposure to a wider variety of experience: music, art, sports, and literacy. If parents don’t want their student to be in a school with longer days, they can opt out of the school by sending them to another public school in the city, sending them to a charter school, or sending them to a private school.
On the flip side, there may be some students in schools who don’t need to be there all day. Maybe they need more work study opportunities or internships to enhance their educational day. What’s fair is getting what you need to be successful.
I realize that through funding, conflicting public/political ideologies, and logistics these ideas will probably never come to fruition. But why can’t schools truly be fair?