Young children spend their days in early education like sponges, soaking up the knowledge and skills that will help them succeed later in life, said lecturer Jonah Edelman.
Edelman, the CEO and founder of Stand for Children, an organization that supports children’s educational interests, spoke at the School of Social Work on Wednesday about closing the achievement gap between students of different races and pushing all students toward success with proper support.
Those early yearnings to learn and absorb are often marred and overshadowed by adult discussions and political challenges that surround education today, he said.
“It’s we adults who ruin it for them — it’s not their failing,” he said. “We need to get away from adult debates and focus on what is best for students.”
Those adult debates include funding, unions and management of school boards, he said. While all of those issues have relevance in discussions of education, the emphasis should be placed on providing children with excellent educators and challenging academic programs, he said.
Edelman said the Austin Independent School District has made impressive strides that often go unnoticed by the press or a larger public audience.
“There’s some really good things happening here in this community,” he said. “There is good leadership, good governance and wise use of funds. Austin students outscore their counterparts in several areas.”
Despite these signs of success, the district is also facing challenges, Edelman said, citing the achievement gap between African-American, Latino and white children.
Edelman said much of the responsibility of closing that gap rests on a community’s individuals and their willingness to help.
“The question for you to ask yourselves is, what can you do individually to address these needs?” he said. “Can you tutor? Can you mentor a kid? Can you join a nonprofit? You have to challenge yourself.”
Ramona Trevino, chief academic officer of AISD, said measuring academic performance is only part of what is needed to make sure students succeed in school.
“There’s this delicate balance between academic excellence and the human side of schooling,” she said. “The students are not widgets coming off the assembly line. Each one is unique in their character.”
Trevino said ensuring the success of English language learners is also achieved through encouraging the importance of speaking multiple languages.
“It’s very important for Spanish speakers in this district to know that Spanish is important,” she said. “We want them to be bi-literate, to be bi-cultural.” Gregory Vincent, vice president for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at UT, said the community should view public education as a collective benefit and attempt to break down the barriers that undermine a child’s ability to succeed.
“One of the most important things we can do is to restore this idea that education is a public good,” he said. “When an individual walks across the stage with a degree, the whole society benefits.”
Printed on Thursday, March 22, 2012 as: Speaker addresses children's education