Education advocate: Diversity should be country's greatest advantage

Scott McIntyre/Staff (2)
Kati Haycock, left, president of the Education Trust in Washington, D.C, chats with East Naples Middle School Assistant Principal Pamela Vickaryous  after a meeting Thursday. The Education Trust works to help students achieve more academically. Haycock later spoke at the Naples Philharmonic during an education forum about local and national data and examples of innovative models that are working in classrooms.

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Scott McIntyre/Staff (2) Kati Haycock, left, president of the Education Trust in Washington, D.C, chats with East Naples Middle School Assistant Principal Pamela Vickaryous after a meeting Thursday. The Education Trust works to help students achieve more academically. Haycock later spoke at the Naples Philharmonic during an education forum about local and national data and examples of innovative models that are working in classrooms.

— The growing diversity in U.S. schools could be the country's greatest advantage in competing internationally, but the education system has instead turned it into a disadvantage, a national education advocate told a Collier County audience Thursday evening.

Assigning disadvantaged students to the least experienced teachers and setting lower expectations for them has led to wider achievement gaps in U.S. high schools and in higher education, said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents children and works toward equality for all students.

"We take the kids who come to school with less and what do we do?" Haycock asked. "We turn around and we give them less."

That can be changed — and has been dramatically turned around in schools and districts across the country with the help of strong teachers and community support.

Haycock spoke during a Thursday evening forum held at the Naples Philharmonic by the nonprofit Champions For Learning, which supports local teachers and students. More than 500 educators and community members gathered for the event, during which former Daily News editor Alan Horton and his wife, Beverley, were presented with Champions For Learning's Heart of the Apple award.

During her keynote speech, Haycock ran through data on educational achievement at the international, national, state and county level. Among her data was some positive news, including the fact that the U.S. has taken strides in narrowing the gap at the elementary and middle school levels.

Still, she said, much more needs to be done and can be done.

She pointed to three examples of schools that face steep challenges due to their number of lower income and minority students but, because of strong teaching and leadership, exceed their state averages in some education indicators. Those schools are not just "outliers," she said.

In Collier County, educators face many of the same challenges as districts in the rest of the country, Haycock said, though it is more diverse than some areas. The district has gaps in achievement between white and minority students and high and low income students, she said.

However, Haycock said it also has several advantages in Superintendent Kamela Patton, who is dedicated to bridging the gaps, and in principals and teachers who impressed her during school visits during the day Thursday.

"You've got huge strengths on which you can build," she said.

Susan McManus, president of Champions For Learning, said Haycock's speech is just the beginning.

"The real work will happen afterwards," she said, "when we sit down and look at as a community at what are some things that we can really work on."

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