Last week my friend Ben Howe, a single father, got into a passive aggressive argument with his daughter’s kindergarten teacher via notes exchanged in the child’s notebook. The notes read:
Teacher: (Smiley face) No snack today Remember snack everyday (sic)
Ben: The snack was in the pocket on the side of her backpack as always.
Teacher: She couldn’t find it @ the time & checked multiple times its (sic) her responsible (sic) to get out as well w/ other classroom responsibles (sic)
Like many of Ben’s other friends, I was left scratching my head. How on earth did a woman so unfamiliar with the mechanics of the English language become a certified teacher? How could she possibly be an effective educator, even of children so young, with such a rudimentary grasp of basic vocabulary and grammar?
A new story out of New York State might help explain how and why Ben’s daughter’s teacher is in front of a classroom instead of toiling away in a community college program in remedial English. NBC reports,
New York education officials are poised to scrap a test designed to measure the reading and writing skills of people trying to become teachers, in part because an outsized percentage of black and Hispanic candidates were failing it.
The state Board of Regents on Monday is expected to adopt a task force’s recommendation of eliminating the literacy exam, known as the Academic Literacy Skills Test.
This decision makes almost as much sense as one made, also in the deeply blue and often irrational City of New York, to change the physical fitness requirements for firefighters because women weren’t passing the tests frequently enough to please the social justice crowd (yes, that actually happened).
This is yet another example of the widening gap between social justice warriors and the rest of the (sane) population. Most Americans want teachers who represent the different ethnic and sociological backgrounds that make our country great. I want my children to have exposure inside and outside of the classroom to authority figures and peers of varied backgrounds. A great deal of the ethnic and socioeconomic divides in our country can be solved if we begin to view each other as human beings instead of members of specific identity groups. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
By eliminating a test which minorities fail, teachers are not avoiding being judged by the color of their skin, nor does this decision enable them to be judged by the content of their characters. While backers of the decision to eliminate the test claim it’s a poor indicator of who will succeed in the classroom, it’s apparent there needs to be some kind of mechanism in place to weed out weak students before they begin to work in a classroom molding the minds of a future generation. While I care if my children have a balanced education, I, like most parents, care first and foremost that the quality of instruction they receive is of the highest caliber. I don’t care what color your skin is, as long as you teach my child about responsibilities, not “responsibles,” as my friend Ben’s daughter is currently learning.
Instead of striking the test off of the state’s list of requirements, the State Board of Regents missed an opportunity to truly reflect on the state of the education they are providing in New York. Why is it that a greater number of black and Hispanic test takers were failing in comparison to their white peers? Does the test reference cultural experiences more familiar to white Americans than their black and Hispanic counterparts? Are black and Hispanic test takers in less rigorous school programs, leaving graduates ill-prepared for life after graduation?
By moving to eliminate these literacy tests the New York Board of Regents is proving how ill-equipped they are to educate a future generation of New Yorkers. This decision may indeed result in a more diverse workforce, but it will also result in teachers who are merely perpetuating a cycle of education of further diminishing quality. If students of color are in fact graduating from programs that are less rigorous, the solution isn’t to make certification less rigorous, but to instead prepare all students, especially those who will become teachers themselves, to be the best they possibly can be at their job, which is among the most important in our society.
Lowering standards to fit a narrative may make for better numbers on the diversity scale, but ultimately it does further harm to students who are already struggling against the odds. If the problem behind lower test scores is in fact a lower quality education for minority students, the answer isn’t lower quality teachers—it’s better education for those teachers, regardless of the color of their skin