Those who know Eduflack know that I have but a few true passions. First and foremost is my family. Nothing is more important to me than my wife and my two perfect little tots. Then we have two things tied for a close second — education improvement and baseball. Those who read these pages realize the first, and they may surmise the second based on the regular baseball references and analogies. Such continue this morning.
Last night, I had the good fortune of attending the first official New York Mets baseball game to be held at Citi Field. (Yes, the name is unfortunate, but it seems the grassroots effort to rename it “Taxpayer Field” quickly sputtered out.) It is an absolutely beautiful ballpark — far, far better than the dump that was previously known as Shea Stadium. It is also a new ballpark that is rich in baseball history, particularly that of the Brooklyn Dodgers and of Jackie Robinson (a little too much Dodger for this die-hard Mets fan, particularly when you think of all of the Mets history — particularly 1969, 1973, and 1986 that could be there in its stead.)
The focus on Jackie Robinson and the majestic blue “42” (see below) as you initially pass through the Citi turnstiles can’t help but have you think of Robinson and his ability to break the color barrier and bring a sense of equity to America’s pastime. As we get ready to celebrate the anniversary of that important day later this week, it serves as yet another example of how separate is never equal. Two leagues — one for whites and one for blacks — would never be the same as simply having the best players competing on the same field. Success only comes when we have access to the same resources, are held to the same standards, and are measured by the same record books and the same tape measures.
Which gets us to the issues of school improvement. How do we expect to say we improving our schools when we operate so many dropout factories in our urban centers? How can we say everyone has access to a high-quality public education when 50 percent of African-American and Hispanic students are dropping out of high school? How do we talk about equity of opportunity when there are clearly haves and have-nots in public education, those with access to the best teachers, the latest technology, the newest books, and the best data systems, and those who are just left to muddle through the best they can with what we are willing to give them?
When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field in that Dodger jersey for the first time, he landed a significant body blow to all of those who believed that separate could be equal, that facilities and leagues for blacks were “good enough,” or that the standards and records by which we measured ballplayers of color were different than those by which we measured white players. We talk of the greatness of pitchers like Cy Young and Walter Johnson, yet we truly don’t know how they would stack up to greats like Satchel Paige and Smokey Joe Williams. We speak of baseball hitting legends like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, but have no idea if they could even take practice swings in Josh Gibson’s shadow. For 60 years, major league baseball refused admittance to equity, and the game and the nation paid the price.
As we stand on the precipice of a new day in public education — a day when all schools are in the same Race to the Top and a day when all schools are held to the same AYP standards and, hopefully, all students are held to the same academic standards — we need to think about tearing down those remaining barriers that prevent our public school systems from truly offering equal access to resources, education, and opportunity. “Good enough for …” should be eliminated from our educational vocabularies. Dropout factories should be urban legends. And lowered expectations for certain subsets of disaggregated student populations should be retired along with so many baseball jersey numbers. If we expect all of our students — regardless of skin color or socioeconomic status — to compete on the common field of academic and career success, we need to make sure they have the skills and the equipment to do so.
Yes, education is a great American civil right. Yes, far too many of our citizens are denied complete access to it. Yes, every child can succeed, with the proper support and motivation. Yes, there are specific action steps we can take to do something about it.
Getting additional financial resources to schools in need through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and through a host of third-party foundations and corporations is a good first step. But we need to make sure those resources are being used effectively. We need to make all students are being held to the same standard. We need to make sure the dollars that represent our inputs are results in true return on investment when it comes to student performance. Otherwise, we will continue to have some students who are playing in the big show when it comes to their futures, and some that are still just playing Whiffle ball in the backyard.
It is now April 2009 in the United States. Is it really too much to ask that every school, regardless of demographics, has equal access to well-trained, effective teachers? Is it too much to ask that every student have access to the latest textbooks, technology, and instructional materials? Is it too much to hold every state, district, school, and student to the same measurable academic standards? Is it too much to believe that every child can succeed — both in school and in life — if provide equal access to an education of equal quality?
Tomorrow, we celebrate the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier and stepping onto the brilliant green grass in crisp Brooklyn Dodger white. Next month, we celebrate the 55th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court case that declared, once and for all, that separate was not equal when it came to public education. As we reflect on these landmark moments, we can see how far we have come in bringing equity of both resource and opportunity to our schools and communities … and how far we still need to go.
Can we really see school success and 21st century competitiveness without addressing the dire problems in our urban schools and those serving historically underserved student populations? Can we truly see an America that can compete on both international benchmarks and in the 21st century global economy if we are writing off so many students and so many schools so early in the game?
Believe it or not, these were some of the thoughts going through the head of the occupant of Section 114, Row 30, Seat 1 last evening at Citi.