Marcus Williams (Chicago ‘03) is on the Talent Recruitment Team at Teach For America.
Watching last night’s Presidential Debate, I heard references to Race to the Top, the success of schools in the state of Massachusetts, and inexplicably, “poor and disabled children.” If I had to choose a title to depict what I observed, I would go with Jay-Z’s “Politics as Usual.” Missing from the dialogue was the fundamental question of the status of the teaching profession and the value this country places on teachers.
Just four years after rallying themes such as “hope” and “change” gave Americans a new outlook on this dire situation, education continues to be de-prioritized on the national agenda. In 2008 when I was in my 5th year teaching in Chicago Public Schools—a time I still refer to as serving “on the grounds and at the center of the battle”—this rhetoric hit my ears as both inspirational and feasible. Four years later the lack of progress we’ve made on shifting public perception around teachers and the pivotal role they play in the future of America was exemplified by the topic being a blip at the end of other issues in last night’s debate.
Since joining Teach For America as a corps member in 2003 and being blessed with various experiences teaching in schools, I’ve had a bird’s-eye view of what needs to change within our school systems to create opportunities for all kids. Providing children in low income communities with an excellent education isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s about getting to the heart of the value this country places on teachers, and the implicit value it places on educating the “disabled and poor” Romney referred to last night.
Other countries get this. Korea, Singapore, and Finland draw young, talented recruits to the profession by offering decent wages, they provide financial support for teacher training and ongoing professional development, and they bestow social prestige on the teaching profession. This approach appears to be working: Finland has the world’s top literacy rate, and students in Singapore and Korea routinely outperform their U.S. counterparts in science and math.
In this first round of presidential debates, neither candidate offered solutions to address the teacher status issue which, I believe, is at the heart of our country’s education problem. As tempting as it is to fight this battle from my classroom at Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, what I saw last night just reaffirms my personal commitment to the broader movement to engage leaders who will help shift the discourse beyond the party lines.