Giver-teensharp at richmondWhen education policy leaders are spending months negotiating the technical details of state accountability systems or educator compensation policies, it can be easy to lose sight of their mission: serving students.

Mired in debates about whether to pay highly-effective teachers more; whether the Smarter Balanced assessment should be reincorporated into teacher evaluation; whether parents should be able to opt their children out of the state test; whether schools should receive letter grades/stoplights/no ratings at all, it can become difficult to see students.

Student interests and aspirations scarcely surface during these debates and students have little to no voice in the policy process. Other than the occasional school visit or event; far too many education policy leaders rarely see students in their work.

Over the next few days, I have the opportunity to bring students into view as I embark upon TeenSHARP’s 6th annual overnight college tour. This year, we’re taking a group of around 40 young scholars (from 6th grade to 11th) and parents from NJ and PA to Connecticut to visit Yale, Trinity College, Connecticut College, and Wesleyan. In addition to meetings with students and admissions representatives at these highly-selective colleges, we have organized a special meeting for our students with award-winning journalist Laura Pappano. Her recent NY Times articles “First Generation Students Unite” and “Is Your First Grader College Ready?” are well worth a read.

During our three days together it will be great to see students experience these colleges for the first time, imagine new possibilities, and cultivate the type of aspirations that will fuel their academic success. As we spend time together, it will also be enlightening to see their concerns, their insecurities, and what they do not care about.

For example, my students will not be concerned about opting out. They are concerned, however, about whether the quality of school they attend, the level of instruction they receive, and the resources they have access to have opted them out of consideration for their dream colleges.

They don’t care about whether we use Student Growth Percentiles or whether poverty is included in the state’s growth model. They care about how their family’s financial situation factors into their chances to attend and complete college. An upper income is nearly 10 times more likely to earn a college degree than a low-income student.

My students are not concerned whether “VAM is a sham.” They will be concerned, however, if they learn that the A’s they earned on their report card were a sham, leaving them enrolled in remedial courses in when they get to college.

With students in our view, we can allay these concerns and counteract the systemic inequities that give rise to them. That’s why we do this work. Even though it sometimes becomes difficult to see.

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