As their tiny fingers trace the letters, they are reading books in English, while their parents and grandparents instruct them in Mandarin or Cantonese. I am amazed by their dedication and discipline, as I could barely get my son to do his daily homework.
Then again, this is a familiar sight in a country where 42 percent of the citizens are first generation immigrants. The parents and grandparents devote their time to tutoring their children or grandchildren in a language in which they themselves are not fluent. They understand all too well that education is the key to their children’s future.
Like my mother, so many immigrants in the U.S. share a common story of leaving their country with dreams of a better future, acclimating into a culture of which they have little knowledge, and with sheer tenacity and relentless discipline, creating a brand new life for themselves and their children – in essence, realizing the American dream.
The American dream, however, is becoming harder to obtain, as inequity in education grows. According to a study conducted jointly by economists at Harvard and Columbia universities,
Students who are taught by poor teachers for three consecutive school years exhibit an average achievement gain of 29 percent. By contrast, students who have competent teachers for three years in a row exhibit an average achievement gain of 83 percent.
Encountering good teachers [during early years in a child’s life] increases the chances of student eventually attending college by 1.25 percent, and Students who have good teachers consistently from the fourth grade onward are likely to earn higher income during their adult years than students who struggle through with below-average teachers.
Simply put, when a child has exposure to great (high-value-added) teachers, he or she is more likely to go to college and become financially successful.
Of course, this is not to say that sole responsibility of shaping a child’s future lies with teachers, and I’m certainly not discounting that teaching is one of the most undervalued professions in America. Teachers play a vital role in children’s lives and hold the key to shaping their future. It is one of the most important professions, and therefore, should be celebrated and compensated as such.
Our society needs to understand that decline in quality of teachers weakens the society as a whole, and inadequate or a bad teacher can have a devastating and lasting effect on a child’s life, as a great teacher can inspire and motivate children to realize their dreams.
Therefore, we need to understand the integral role that teachers play in eradicating educational inequity, and providing all students with motivated, talented and inspiring teachers must be a major goal of our nation’s education system.
Policies that promote equality of opportunity must target the youngest Americans, and we, as a nation, need to put our children and education first and prioritize our resources to promote excellent teachers.
Inequity in education is no longer unacceptable in a nation that prides itself on equality and equal access. It’s an injustice and a violation of basic human rights we can no longer ignore. Inequality of education and inequality of opportunity reinforce each other, and though much debate exists on how to make the American dream a reality, there’s no question that education is a vital component.
More importantly, it is imperative that we don’t let our country drift farther from ideals that the vast majority of Americans share, and that every child has the same opportunity to realize their potential in life and to attain their American dream.