Lillian Lowery grew up knowing what it was like to be encumbered by boundaries and to break through barriers.
But she doesn’t regret it — in fact, she thinks her surroundings made her into a better person. “I was born in the segregated South to a working, single black Mom but I had a lot of role models and they all expected us to be the best we could be. I had the benefit of growing up in my culture. But when we integrated when I was in the 10th grade, I walked in confident and focused. I walked in with a path I knew I had to travel that I will be the best I can be. It does makes a difference.”
In turn, Lowery, ETS’s new Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Student & Teacher Assessments, believes that the idea of education for all can be vital for improving the lives of the underrepresented in the United States, which was a main theme of the recent ETS Professional Educator Program (PEP) Advisory Panel held in Princeton, N.J.
Lowery has tremendous passion for the ETS mission of educating every child in America. “We need to step up and do what is best for our students. Our children are tomorrow. This is not a dress rehearsal for them and, if we don’t do what is necessary, this nation is on a slippery slope,” she said.
The speakers for the three-day PEP panel were state leaders, organizations dedicated to educational excellence for every student, and traditional and alternate route ed-prep experts. All were “purposely chosen,” according to Lowery, to highlight awareness on issues such as broadening teachers’ entry into the classroom and culturally responsive teaching. ETS acted as a facilitator to promote long and meaningful discussions where personal stories and information were shared.
We all are products of our environment, from all walks of life, and we need to harness this experience, our intellect and our passion.
In Connecticut, as the Founding Dean of the Relay Graduate School of Education and member of the advisory panel, Rebecca Good wants to close the gap between the number of white teachers and minority students. “Forty-seven percent of our children identify as people of color so there is no reason that 92 percent of our teachers should be white. Research shows there’s a large benefit to have a teacher of color,” she states.
Considering that, what Diann Huber, Program Director and Founder of iteachUS, has achieved in Louisiana is remarkable. “We have 38 percent teachers of color working in classrooms where there are 37 percent students of color. We just removed the barriers and we opened the door,” she said.
Robert Carreon, Vice President of Public Affairs for Teach For America, can also point to stunning statistics to fuel his optimism. “When I started with Teach For America in the Rio Grande Valley in 2003, I was one of 10 percent who were Latino and there were no graduates of Valley high schools teaching for Teach For America in their home community. Now more than 50 percent are people of color, 40 percent of them are Latino, and one in three are graduates of a Valley high school. This change is reflected all across the Teach For America network. Now what got us from there to here probably is not going to get us into the future, but it’s enough evidence to really feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”
Wesley Williams, the Senior Project Director of Westat, works on the ground with districts around the country to try to get them to “embrace a culturally responsive teaching mindset” in which students are able to bring their character, their home languages and their culture into the classroom among other things to change teacher and even principal standards.
In Oregon, we are getting equity, inclusion and diversity into the standards. We have to draw on our student assets to build curriculum given the diversity of students. It’s really about getting kids to see themselves as agents of change.
It’s something in which Marvin Lynn, the Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University, is having success in as well. “In Oregon, we are getting equity, inclusion and diversity into the standards. We have to draw on our student assets to build curriculum given the diversity of students. It’s really about getting kids to see themselves as agents of change.”
Every day, Good actively looks for agents of change in the form of teacher candidates. “We prioritize historically underrepresented people, males in elementary and females in STEM,” she said. “All children need to see individuals in positions of authority who are not only white. It’s crucial for our next generation.”
In closing the event, Lowery challenged the assembled educators to act. “We need to push each other’s thinking and expectations, and be as energized and as committed to this work as we can be. We all are products of our environment, from all walks of life, and we need to harness this experience, our intellect and our passion.”