Fall is normally a very exciting time of year for not only myself but also, countless thousands of educators who start a fresh academic term. This fall was a little different and difficult. My first months of school included the collection of beginning of the year data. I work with younger students therefore this is their starting point, for many this is their first experience in school and in most cases their very first data set. Older students of course have data from the previous school year. Once the data was collected and reviewed it was time to have perhaps the hardest and most difficult conversation of the school year.
The overwhelming majority of my students start at risk for failure. Despite the abundance of knowledge regarding learning and achievement gaps, the majority of my young students still continue to start their academic career in a position of deficiency. I have the role and ethical responsibility of sitting down with the parents of my students and sharing where their children are in relationship to other children in America, and what must be done to prevent complete academic destruction. I wish this conversation was restricted to a few families but the reality is these discussions and daunting circumstances apply to most. In fact, based on national data the majority of US educators should be engaged in difficult conversations surrounding dismal student outcomes. Both national and local data pools continue to demonstrate the severity of the issue.
Now I have a choice, there are no formal procedures, which force me, or my peer educators to proactively meet, inform, and strategize with parents regarding the academics’ of my students. This is perhaps the root or at least a key component to the problem. Overall we don’t have strong systems in place, which support the involvement of parents in meaningful academic ways. Parent involvement and its implementation have historically remained extremely vague and difficult for many to get a concrete grasp. I however, believe in a concept called educator malpractice and this occurs when educators fail to discharge their duty of informing parents of the progress of their children in a timely and meaningful manner. It would be educator malpractice for me to allow a group of students to face academic perdition and I not make every conceivable attempt to prevent it. Although terribly uncomfortable and sometimes painful, I had the task of sitting face to face with parents and informing them of the devastating reality of when five year olds don’t recognize their own name, they are at risk for life long academic failure. Additionally, there is a narrow and critical window of time for reversing this negative trend.
This year’s difficult conversations, also known as academic conferences, were perhaps more emotional than normal. This fall marked the season in which the former CEO of the nation’s third largest school system was convicted and plead guilty to corruption which involved receiving financial kickbacks for educational contracts. After the indictment, the former CEO referred to the district’s children and was quoted as saying “they deserved so much more”. She is indeed correct, they did and they still deserve so much more. There is considerable human collateral damage when we fail to put children and their families first. The magnitude of this type of behavior is so grave that it’s impossible to assess an amount to the damage that has been caused and will surface in the decades to come.
It is quite evident that we are at a real crossroad in education and it is time for difficult conversations to commence at all levels. How much more do all students deserve, especially those who are most vulnerable? What is their education really worth to us? What price are we really willing to pay and what sacrifices will we make to ensure that they receive the very best?