By Amanda Litvinov
It’s hard to believe we devote just one day a year to showing our gratitude to moms. Flowers and cards and phone calls are wonderful—and much appreciated!—but it’s time we all started thinking bigger.
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Fourth-grade teacher Caroline Sweet is one of millions of educators who know that strong neighborhood schools in every community would be the ultimate tribute to moms and families. What could give a parent greater peace of mind than knowing that their kids—and all children—have access to great public education and all the opportunity that comes with it?
Sweet, a bilingual educator who works with students making the transition from doing most of their coursework in Spanish to completing most of their work in English, had the opportunity to tell President Obama just what a difference the right policies could make for students like hers during a stop on the President’s Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity tour.
“It was a chance to thank him for deferred action and to encourage him to keep pushing for comprehensive immigration reform,” said Sweet. But she didn’t stop there. “I told him that charter schools are not the answer, that we cannot keep enacting policies that further the divide between the haves and the have-nots.”
She had plenty of examples. “I told him that our current accountability systems—centered on high-stakes, standardized tests—are adversely affecting children of color. They are oppressive to children, to our teaching and to the profession.”
Sweet says her students are forced into a testing system stacked against them, especially the English language learners who make up 56 percent of the school’s population.
“In fourth grade, students have to take the writing test in English. While a student may be conversationally bilingual, writing is the last skill to be acquired when learning another language. And here they are taking the same writing test as kids whose first language is English,” Sweet said.
“The President may not know exactly what’s going on in Texas, but he knows what’s going on in Chicago. School closings are terrible for marginalized populations. And let’s face it—these rampant school closings are mostly targeting schools that serve children of color.
There’s something entirely wrong with the system if we’re taking away neighborhood schools in areas that really need those resources.”
Demanding that federal lawmakers reverse the devastating, across-the-board cuts they allowed to kick in earlier this year is only the beginning of the solution, as Sweet sees it. It’s up to educators and all public education advocates to show policymakers at all levels of government where investments need to be made in their community.
“We can work so hard with these children, but if we’re not supporting the whole family, we’re still failing them in many ways,” she explained. She sees vastly expanded access to early learning—as proposed in the President’s budget—family outreach programs and wraparound health and community services based in schools as elements of a solution.
Sweet, whose four-year-old will start school this fall and whose second child is due to arrive in four days, says she doesn’t worry about the opportunities her own children will have. “It’s the kids I work with day in and day out who are dealing with life issues like food insecurity and deported parents that I worry about most,” she said.
“It’s going to take resources to forge real and ongoing relationships with the whole community, especially in areas that have been so under-resourced for so long.”