Achievement Gap

Educational Equality and Thankfulness

I was already writing this Thanksgiving piece when news broke of the decision in the Michael Brown case. It quickly became impossible for me to watch stores burn and tear gas fly without wondering if more educational equality could have altered, even slightly, the way this tragedy in Ferguson has ultimately unfolded. I do not know specifics about Michael Brown or his schooling. I do not know the specifics of the educational opportunities of the hundreds of people in the streets and I have not studied academic data from Ferguson, Missouri. But a quick read of Rishawn Biddle’s piece for Dropout Nation provides some disheartening insight. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say right out of the gate that what has gone wrong in Ferguson goes far beyond education equality. That being said, in listening to concerned citizens speak on television during the past twelve hours, school quality has been a repeating theme in what they see as the embedded belief that somehow their kids “don’t matter” or “hold no value.”

Schools to Be Thankful For

As a school choice advocate and someone who feels tremendous gratitude for my children’s school, I can’t help but assume that many African American parents in Ferguson, Missouri, do not feel the same gratitude that I do. When I think of how a school shows that it “values” children, my mind automatically goes to the question of expectations. So we must ask the question: Are the black children of Ferguson held to the high expectations they deserve? Do they enjoy the same educational resources and opportunities as their white, perhaps more affluent, “peers”? Do parents get the sense that educators and elected officials are doing whatever they can to prepare their children for college and the world beyond? Do they feel their kids are being pushed, challenged and encouraged to aim high? I’m certainly no expert but I worry that for many the answer is “no." Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of advocating for school choice with so many parents, educators and public officials. In addition to fighting to keep my own children’s school open, we fight for other school models that have a track record of flipping the achievement gap on its head and for making sure that all kids of all colors feel like they matter. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do that. I want the parents of Ferguson to have that. Do they? I’ve had the privilege of being part of a school where my kids are not only accustomed to sharing classrooms and playgrounds with kids of all backgrounds, but where my world is expanded and enriched by all of the parents with whom I share the common cause of school choice. My fight is their fight. Despite our different races, income levels, zip codes and cultural traditions, our lives now have a reason to be intertwined. I’m thankful for that. I want the parents of Ferguson to have that. Do they?

For Me, It's the Teachers

As part of my personal Thanksgiving, I thank teachers. I have the privilege of being part of regional school where school leaders are in charge of their own hiring, where expectations for students are high, and where zip code becomes irrelevant. What images come to mind when I reflect on my gratitude to my children’s teachers?
  • Photos of exciting reading growth charts for my first grader popping up on my phone in the middle of the day.
  • Meaningful and challenging assignments at the elementary level about democracy, immigration, free trade and our judicial system.
  • My husband dropping my sons off every morning (including in the freezing winter) to the smiles and handshakes of teachers and staff who are waiting outside for them to arrive.
  • Teachers available via cell phone until 9pm at night to answer questions or help with challenges around homework.
  • Third graders sitting in a circle outside playing violin while the sun shines on their face.
  • “Opportunity Days” on Saturdays for students who are struggling with reading or math to get the help they need.
  • Tales of the school principal playing football with the kids at recess.
I do not know how many, if any, of the parents in Ferguson, Missouri, can say the same. If they can’t, that needs to change—today—and we all need to be part of that. Thanksgiving seems the right time to make that change.
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...

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