New York City

Low Expectations in New York Means Not Enough Quality Teachers for Minority Students

I see Chris everyday. He comes to our field office to talk about his school experience as a student of color in Brooklyn. Each day, Chris pulls out his fourth grade-level homework. But Chris is not in the fourth grade—he is a high school senior who is working hard to graduate from his New York City public school. His teachers have decided they would rather give students an A on below grade-level work than give challenging grade-appropriate work that would actually prepare them for college. They would rather Chris’ mom think he’s doing well so that she and other parents won’t storm the school doors. His teachers, who have probably all been deemed “effective” by a watered-down evaluation system, have taken the easy path, but it’s not the one that will help Chris achieve his dreams. I know firsthand that students in New York City are being failed by the soft bigotry of low expectations. This is one of the reasons I have fought so hard as a public school parent and an advocate for raising the standards. Common Core sets a high and consistent bar so that more kids like Chris will be better prepared when they graduate to succeed at a level Chris can only imagine. I am happy that the state of New York preserved high standards for the students who will follow behind Chris and be met with more rigor and hard work. But I didn’t join this fight just for higher standards. I also joined this fight to hold teachers accountable for how they are educating students like Chris. I don’t want anyone to be served as poorly as Chris has been his entire public school life. I want a system that looks at the ways teachers are educating students and ensures they get feedback to improve. We’ve organized and rallied for years to end the decades-old habit of rating every teacher “effective.” And even after hard-fought reforms, teachers in New York continue to overwhelmingly score high while students’ progress remains dismally low. Too many students of color continue to be in classrooms with teachers who are ineffective. I understand why New York leaders have just approved a transition period for evaluations—we need buy-in, not just from parents in the communities I serve, but the ones in the suburbs whose test scores help show what’s possible. There are a couple of things parents must fight for during the transition, the first being the right to information. Parents deserve to know whether their teacher would have been ineffective if state test data were used. The state must compute teaching ratings as if the old system were in place so that parents have access to information and policymakers can review trends across schools. Second, the State Education Department must audit districts that have major discrepancies between evaluation results and student performance on state tests. Local districts have shown that they will inflate results and “ gum up the works” to prevent the accountability of the adults we entrust our babies with. Students who depend on public education, like my own child, are too often failed by a system that puts special interests ahead of children’s interests. We need to put an end to this tired rhetoric that serves only to delay meaningful solutions to the problems in our schools. We all want better schools—schools that graduate all students college- and career- ready. As parents, we all, regardless of our zip code, skin color or earning potential, want what is best for our own children. For far too long our society has accepted academic failure, and in doing so we have failed parents in low-income communities of color. It is time to figure out the best way to hold teachers accountable for how they are educating our students. We owe it to the children of New York.  
Tenicka Boyd is the director of organizing for StudentsFirstNY. She joined StudentsFirstNY from the Obama administration, where she served at the U.S. Department of Education in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Tenicka is an outreach expert who has spent years as an organizer in community organizations, faith organizations and on several state, local and ...

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