Broader, Bolder vs. Holistic, Audacious

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John Eric Lingat is currently serving as a public elementary school teacher in the District of Columbia. He has taken on multiple roles in education, including school-level teacher lead, Washington Teachers Union building representative, and DC Teaching Fellows hiring manager. We asked Lingat for his opinion of the latest round of the Broader Bolder debates in the latest issue of Education Next. this time led by notable Duke researcher, Helen Ladd, and editor Paul E. Peterson. In his column, Petersen pulled no punches in responding to a Ladd speech before the AERA, a speech which by all measures was Broader and Bolder in its purest form.

In his "fact-checking" column, Peterson calls out Broader, Bolder's vocal proponent, Helen Ladd, for her circulation of what, in my view, are surprisingly uninformed theories. Since Ladd does have extensive experience in educational public policy, it is a shock that her perspective presents such a limited understanding of the positive impact of high quality teaching.

Ladd claims that the income of a child's family is the ultimate predictor of student achievement. According to Ladd, it's all very simple: those whose families do not have an adequate income cannot learn; those whose families do have an adequate income learn the most and are the most successful. She goes so far as to say that education reforms other than income redistribution will not work. Ladd's own Broader, Bolder approach to education assumes quality education systems arise naturally in localities with the financially and professionally successful and that it would take supernatural performance for students and families living in poverty to achieve at the levels of  their more privileged counterparts.

While Ladd can be lauded for her desire for a more economically just society, it's a pipe dream to depend on this as the necessary ingredient for education improvement, given our culture's tolerance for the inequities that emerge with capitalism.  If the problem is the means to develop college-and-career ready students, then why doesn't Ladd look at all the inputs to schooling, including teachers taking a "no excuses" approach? Yes, improved social services and reduced poverty can impact student achievement, but even without them, genuine progress can be made in the classroom. It makes a teacher's job more manageable to have students from stable families, home environments and communities, but student achievement isn't impossible when that's not the case, especially when the teacher assures students that there is no limit to what they can achieve with sufficient effort.

Since both social services and public education have strong influences on a person's long-term well-being, reforms in both areas should work in tandem, as the successes of Geoffrey Canada and like-minded reformers indicate. Ladd should subscribe to this more holistic approach to solving the problems she outlines. To truly reform American education and address poverty in America, the broad and bold strokes of any approach need not be so narrowly conceived.

John Eric Lingat