One of AACTE’s most important goals is to support members in preparing educators for highly diverse schools. Teachers must work with students from different racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as students with varying abilities – and varying command of the English language. The notion that educators will only teach one type of student from one type of background is as antiquated as reruns of Leave It to Beaver. Thus, AACTE members are committed to ensuring that teacher candidates will be successful with all of their students.
Teachers, however, cannot do this alone. They need our help, and they need the help of policymakers and key stakeholders within their states, cities, and school districts.
Every teacher candidate should graduate with two fundamental beliefs: one, that every child can learn, and two, that every child should be given an equitable opportunity to learn. Too often, policymakers focus only on excellence in education – defined by test scores and other performance metrics – and overlook equity in education, which commits to a high-quality education for all.
Well, you cannot have one without the other. You cannot have excellence without equity.
Equity in education does not mean that every student in every school district should receive the same amount of funding. Far from it. Low-resourced areas, for example, may require more funding than an affluent area to offer equitable educational opportunities – and even more to narrow the achievement gaps often experienced by students with inequities based on their income, race, ethnicity, and language, for instance. We should not only acknowledge the need for extra funding, but be strong advocates for such. All children, regardless of background, deserve an opportunity to succeed.
What does that mean? It means every student should have access to an accomplished teacher, to current technologies, and to well-respected learning resources – measurable standards that are not determined by zip codes or property values. This is a fundamental right for our children, and we, as educators, are obligated to uphold it. Our willingness to fight for equity in education speaks to what we value and whom we value without exclusion or equivocation.
In a world that can be unfair, public education must be fair and equitable. Not everyone has equal access to a great education. Not everyone has a clear path to success. Given the odds that many must overcome, our system must be effective. We must hold ourselves to a high standard and ensure that the weakest, poorest, and most vulnerable among us are protected. We must remain accountable and committed to all of our nation’s children.
Public education is not perfect. There are areas in which it could improve – and must improve. But I fundamentally believe in the power of public education. I believe that we can provide an equitable education to all students without sacrificing excellence.
The purpose of public education is to educate all students regardless of their background, regardless of what deficits they face, regardless of what challenges they must overcome. We all come from different ethnic and economic backgrounds, have different ways of looking at the world, and have different hopes, goals, and dreams. But we all have value – and an unalienable right to a quality education. Many things in this country are negotiable. The fundamental right to a quality education cannot – and should not – be one of them.
In the end, we do not get to decide which students we educate, but we do get to decide how well we educate them. Let us reaffirm our commitment to an equitable education for all and work together to create a better future for our children. The success of our nation depends on it!
Renée A. Middleton is 2017-2018 chair of the AACTE Board of Directors and dean of The Patton College of Education at Ohio University
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