Jarett Fields ER Room
By Jarett Fields
Recently, Milwaukee’s Black students scored the lowest in the nation in fourth grade math and reading and eighth grade math and reading.
This was the first time that has ever happened, and for the sake of Milwaukee ’s future, I hope it’s the last.
Student test scores only tell a part of the story, but they are indicative of two very important issues in Milwaukee ’s educational landscape: poverty and teacher preparation.
It is no secret that poverty is a hindrance to learning.
Students with unstable, inconsistent or no housing at all have difficulty prioritizing homework.
Students with little or no food in their stomachs have trouble concentrating for long periods of time.
And, children who attend school ashamed of their clothing, cleanliness, and hygiene become targets of jokes, and even worse, constant bullying.
But I want to be clear; poverty does not equal stupid.
It also does not render a child unable to learn.
Poverty is detrimental to student learning because of the challenges it presents that often prevent students from attending school regularly, practicing learning, and completing homework.
And, for a child in the classroom of an inadequately trained teacher, the effects of poverty become more damaging to student learning.
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) completed its “State of the States 2013” report earlier this year.
Overall, the report concluded that around the nation, and in Wisconsin, teacher education programs are not adequately training aspiring educators to deal with the demands and rigors of increasing instructional goals.
For Wisconsin, the report included twenty-seven institutions with elementary and/or secondary education programs.
One of the more alarming findings deals with teacher preparation with regard to reading instruction.
Only twenty-five percent of the programs surveyed prepare teacher candidates in effective, scientifically-based read instruction.
This might help to explain why Milwaukee ’s poor and minority students test so poorly.
In essence, what students are learning may not be what they need to succeed in the classroom.
The same is true for math preparation.
Only twenty-five percent of evaluated programs provide strong preparation (as compared to high performing countries like South Korea or Singapore) to teach elementary mathematics.
The result creates a domino effect with regard to math scores.
For many students, especially poor and minority, math proficiency drops from the fourth to the eighth grade.
Not only do students need practice, teachers need practice.
It is not sufficient for teachers to rely solely on their formal training or professional development.
When poverty and inadequate teacher preparation are taken together, low test scores, low proficiency, and low graduation rates become understandable.
However, they should never become normal.
Making failure and mediocrity the norm for poor and minority children is heinous.
We must change this.
For this Thanksgiving break, as you spend time with family, friends, and acquaintances, have open conversations about your children’s future.
Ask them constantly, what they want to be and do when they grow up.
Ask them how they are going to get there.
But most important, offer them time to practice their reading by reading holiday stories to smaller children.
Give them time to practice their math and show the family what they are learning in school.
Make encouragement your primary goal, so they know it is okay to practice what they are learning.