Let’s face it: 2017 was a really rough year for education, and all things political. So 2018 leaves us ample room to up our game—as individuals working with children, as schools and as political systems setting policy and controlling purse strings.
In that spirit, I’d like to offer up a list of resolutions—what I hope to improve in the coming year, and what I hope to see from our educational leaders in 2018.
- I want to learn more about teachers and schools who get discipline right, who create calm, structured and vibrant learning environments in challenging circumstances. We know students of color and students with disabilities are punished more severely. We also know that banning suspensions and mandating progressive policies around restorative justice won’t work with resistant teachers and in chaotic schools. Research is important, but I want to learn from teachers who are masters when it comes to classroom management.
- I plan to spend more time looking at how school districts spend money. Last year, Illinois passed “historic” school funding reform that promised to level the playing field for the most disadvantaged schools—a promise that may prove elusive if school districts don’t spend new state dollars on the right priorities. It’s no secret that extra money often means more money for the grown-ups but not necessarily better outcomes for kids. I live in a property-tax rich school district where extra money has not translated into improved test scores or a narrowing of the achievement gaps, so I’m starting to realize how important it is to watch the bottom line, even in the “best” schools.
- I vow to recommit to mentor a college-age student who wants to earn a degree but needs some additional support on that path. I coached two new community college students through a fabulous organization called One Million Degrees. Both students were derailed by various obstacles as they started on their path to an associate’s degree—one by his family’s financial situation, the other by a failing grade in a class that discouraged her from pursuing a degree in psychology. Their experiences reminded me of how precarious this pursuit is for even the smartest and most ambitious students, and how important it is for them to know that people are rooting for them, when they struggle and even when they fail. There are thousands and thousands of students just in the Chicago area who need caring coaches.
How to Make 2018 A Great Year for Students & Schools
And here are a few other resolutions that could make 2018 a more productive year for students and schools:
- It’s go time for Every Student Succeeds Act, so this year we’ll know if states and districts can truly be trusted with school accountability—and if they are going to do right by our most vulnerable students and schools. The planning year did not inspire confidence, and far too many states defaulted to timid plans with fuzzy goals and languid timelines. I suspect ESSA will be taken about as seriously as the typical resolution to lose weight—a short burst of frenzied activity marked by a predictable return to the status quo.
- Schools need to stop making excuses and start hiring and supporting teachers of color. The evidence is clear that Black students, in particular, benefit from having a role model in their classrooms. But all students benefit from having strong teachers from diverse backgrounds. Clearly, this isn’t a panacea for schools that struggle with deeper racial divisions, but a sustained commitment to a diverse teaching corps is an important first step. This became an issue in my own community, where 45 percent of our high schoolers are students of color but more than 80 percent of their teachers are White—a percentage that has not budged for the past five years. In a district where the average teacher salary tops $100,000, you can’t hide behind the excuse that it’s just too hard to recruit quality teachers of color. With that kind of hiring power, you’re just not trying hard enough.
- Let this be the year that schools commit to truly engaging parents—not for field trips and fundraisers, but for the meaningful work around school improvement. This should be obvious by now, so enough said.
- There’s been a lot of wishful speculation about whether Betsy DeVos might get pushed out as U.S. education secretary, and as much as I’ve been sorely disappointed by her first-year performance (including her refusal to meaningfully engage with education reporters), I just can’t root for her removal. I can’t fathom that any pick coming out of the Trump administration will prove anything short of disastrous, so my resolution is to stick with the devil we know.
Happy New Year, and let’s get to work.