We can start by acknowledging and understanding the unacceptable experiences we’ve created for millions of students: three-quarters of the school year or more wasted in classes that are boring, too easy, or irrelevant to their life goals; worse experiences for students who need better ones the most; the tacit belief that some students are less capable and less deserving than others.
We can own up to our role in perpetuating these problems—because if you’re reading this and you work in education in any capacity, you bear some of the responsibility. That includes teachers, whose daily choices influence students’ outcomes in the most visible ways, but it includes others as well. Teachers often find themselves forced to implement poor choices made by school leaders, superintendents, legislators, schools of education, textbook companies, and others; or asked to implement better decisions without adequate training and support.
It certainly includes us at TNTP. These conclusions have been painful because we’ve been part of the problem. For many years, for example, we trained new teachers to lead compliant students through a standard curriculum, using standard instructional techniques, and believed that if they did so, students would succeed at high levels. We are actively working to shift our approach to ensure that all students—and particularly those who have been historically under-served, including in our own work—get the resources we write about that they need to succeed.
Most importantly, we can listen to students and learn from their experiences. Across all five districts we studied, we saw a promising trend: When we make different choices about how resources are allocated—when all kids get access to grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and high expectations, but particularly when students who start the year behind receive these resources—achievement gaps shrink. They shrink substantially enough that if we extrapolate the results we saw in one year over five years, achievement gaps would disappear, given more equitable access to the four key resources. If we made different choices, millions of students with big goals for themselves, most of whom are already doing what they’re asked in school, would be prepared to live the lives they aspire to.