It’s the 4th of July and it has always been a time of reflection for me since the year that my dad died.
He was born on July 4, 1902 and because of that, his mother gave him the middle name of “Union”. His name was Brice Union Taylor.
Education was of the utmost importance in our family. Being African-Americans in the early 1900’s, both of my parents’ families understood how critical it was to receive an education.
My mother’s father was a train porter, one of the best jobs that an African-American man could have at that time. My grandmother was a music teacher. They lived in Aiken, South Carolina. My mother was the oldest in the family and it was her responsibility after graduating from college to help her two younger sisters and brother finish college. My uncle became a radiologist and my two aunts became teachers. Again, for African-American women during that time, that was one of the best professions that one could be a part of.
During the time that my mom’s sister was in college in Texas, she met my father who was a football coach and soon to be president at Bishop College. They married and their first goal was for both of them to go back to school and get their masters degrees. They decided on the University of Southern California. This was at the start of the Depression but that didn’t seem to deter them from their goals. One of them would stay and work in Texas while the other would travel to Los Angeles and study for a year. This is how they received their graduate degrees.
Whenever I begin to wonder why it is that I am so concerned about education in this country, I think of my family and wonder no more.
To follow is testimony that I gave at a board meeting in April regarding high stakes testing and performance pay and how it ties into the experiences of my family:
My dad, Brice Taylor, grew up in Seattle; African-American, poor, with only his father and two siblings. His mother and another sister had died in a fire that had consumed their home.
He used to tell me the story of how one day after football practice, at Franklin High School, his coach came up to him while he was on his way home and asked him where his jacket was. My dad said that he didn’t have one and this man, his teacher and coach, took off his “dark blue Chesterfield coat” and put it on my father’s shoulders. This teacher became a crucial part of his life and was instrumental in my father attending the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. He and two other students were the first African-American students to attend that University. My father went on to become the first all American in football at USC and there is a plaque in the stadium next to the Pope in his honor.
He became an educator and devoted his life to helping others. His last years were spent as Director of OEO, the Office of Economic Opportunity, in California and the program that was closest to his heart was Head Start.
I wonder now just how his coach and teacher would have been evaluated within the context of this assessment testing, what score he would have gotten.
When I think about this system that is being put into place, I think about a teacher who devotes much of his free time to raising funds so that his students can have an experience of a lifetime working in Guatemala and learning about another culture during spring break. I think about the art teacher who carries home all of her students’ ceramic projects to fire at night in her own kiln because her kiln is better than the one at school; or the teacher who is always buying books to add to her collection in the classroom so that students will have a wide range of reading experiences or the teacher who offers evening art classes so that the schools’ neighbors can join in and become a part of the school community.
How will they do when evaluated by what is clicked by a student on a computer in a classroom under any number of conditions?
Will they be kept or fired? Will they get swept up in a wholesale firing of staff or a school turnaround? Where does what they do fit into this system of curriculum alignment?
This evaluation system that is being put into place for millions of dollars allows little time to connect with students or properly evaluate what a teacher actually does or how they affect a student’s life.
A more effective way to spend this sort of money is to focus on the youngest ones coming up, in programs like Head Start which is woefully underfunded, hire more teachers to allow for smaller class sizes, provide all of the materials and books necessary so that each student has the tools that they need to succeed and ensure that there are wrap-around services in place for students and their families.
Have a good 4th.