A moral imperative

During our school board retreat today, our vice-chairman called the need to dramatically improve our low-performing schools a “moral imperative.” We have the levers for change at our disposal: research shows that principals and classroom teachers can make a signficiant and lasting difference in improving student academic performance. His empassioned and eloquent call for change made me think of something another board member shared with me recently. If scientists studying a lake found only one or two fish of the same species dying they would likely attribute the deaths to natural causes. If all the fish in the lake began dying, or if one particular type of fish began dying enmasse, the scientists would raise the alarm about environmental factors and start assessing what is present in the lake that is so toxic to these fish. Her question to me, which echoes our board vice-chairman’s remarks, was simple. When the evidence is so overwhelming that students of color, particularly African-American children, and students who come from poor families, are not doing well in our schools, why do we assume this is caused by the students and their families and not by the school environment? The fish are dying. When are we going to quit blaming their parents and start looking at the lake? It’s a good question.

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