Don’t Look Away

There is a Buddhist thought that accurately perceiving reality is a moral act—instead of running away from reality, we must face it.

When it comes to the state of the education of our children in Fort Worth, there is a temptation to want to look away. But we must face it.  

The reality is that only 26% of Fort Worth ISD third-grade students are expected to meet grade level benchmarks on this spring’s State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness reading exam, according to the district.

At the February 22 board meeting, Fort Worth ISD administrators informed the school board of these alarming student performance projections based on a mid-year test students took in January.

Fort Worth ISD students are even further behind on third-grade math scores. Administrators projected 19% of all third-graders will meet grade level this year.

When you break it down by racial and ethnic group, it is even worse. Only 9% of Black 3rd graders are projected to end the year at grade-level for math. 17% of Black 3rd graders are projected to end the year reading at grade level. The data was just as horrific for Hispanic 3rd graders, of which 17% are projected to be on grade level for 3rd-grade math and only 21% are projected to read at grade level by the end of the year.

This follows similar dismal numbers from last school year that my organization, the Fort Worth Education Partnership, reported on in August: Data and Research – Fort Worth Education Partnership (fortworthep.org).

We talk sometimes about improving public education in Fort Worth as a matter of economic development. Companies don’t want to locate here if their employees don’t want to send their kids to school here. Businesses can’t hire the needed qualified workers if our schools are not producing them. I know these things are true.

But 26% of third-graders reading at grade level is not first an economic crisis. It is a moral crisis. Thousands of our children are woefully behind and unlikely to catch up. And, every year, thousands of Fort Worth high school students graduate from high school unprepared for college. It is a moral crisis.

Meanwhile, debates rage over such things as masks and critical race theory and library books and defending districts against the encroachment of charter schools. How about these for issues to focus on: Are the kids in our schools thriving academically? Are they reading at grade level? Are they graduating from high school ready for college?

Now THAT is something to be outraged about.

And what about all those children, in our city, right now, as we speak, who are being left out and left behind?

Imagine a FWISD yellow school bus full of forty third-grade children.

Right now, when you see that bus drive by, think about the reality that only 10 of those 40 children are reading at grade level.

8 kids on that bus are able to do math at grade-level. 32 are not.

And if that bus is full of Black FWISD third-graders, 4 of the kids on that bus are able to do math at grade-level. 36 are not.

There’s a poem that was popular in the early 20th century, and it’s by that prolific author, “Unknown.” 

I think oft times as night draws nigh of an old house on the hill,
Of a yard all wide where blossoms bloomed and children played at will.
And when at last the night came down, hushing the merry din,
Mother would look around and ask, “Are all the children in?”

It’s many and many a year since then, and the old house on the hill
No longer echoes the children’s feet, and the yard is still — so still.
But I see it all as shadows creep through many years since then.
I can hear Mother ask, as she did before, “Are all the children in?”

I wonder if, when the shadows fall on that last short earthly day,
When we say goodbye to the world outside, all tired with our children’s play,
When we step out into that other land where Mother has long been,
Will we hear her ask, just as of old, “Are all the children in?”

 Fort Worth, are all the children in?

This is the question we need to be asking ourselves. Are all the children in?

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