As a teacher, one of my most difficult tasks is to differentiate for the varying abilities of students in my classes. This year, one of my non-English-speaking students is Asian and deaf. Kanda just moved to the U.S. from Thailand, where she was taught the Asian Sign Language. This is different from the American Sign Language; just ask my interpreter, who also signs for three other deaf and hard-of-hearing students in my class. Kanda is just one of my 33 students whose reading levels range from a student with a first-grade English proficiency, who is also deaf, to students who read at a college level. Many of them require additional resources and support, including those who are on Individual Education Plans (IEPs). And then there are all the traditional students in the class, who have their own unique abilities and stories.
And this is just one class.
Even after 24 years of teaching, these varying abilities challenge my commitment to ensure that every student has what they need to be successful. Kanda comes to first period ready to learn and she has the ability to do quite well. But here’s the sad secret most teachers share: There is no way I can provide her with the services and resources she needs and there is no way I can do this for many of my students on both ends of the ability spectrum. I end up teaching to the middle, which I hate doing. During my meetings with administrators and the students’ service providers, I have made the case that, as a professional, I cannot give her and others what they need. How am I to ensure that Kanda is proficient with the Colorado Academic Standards when she can’t even ask me to go to the bathroom? I am told that I have to “do the best with what we have.”
Our students deserve more than doing our best with what we have. Through Amendment 73, Colorado could significantly increase funding for K-12 education. This Amendment would raise the state corporate tax rate and create a graduated income tax for people earning more than $150,000 a year. It addresses the hundreds of millions of dollars that K-12 schools get shorted by way of the Budget Stabilizing Factor, a legislative sleight of hand to balance the state budget. If passed, here is what Amendment 73 and additional funding would allow me to do:
- I would be able to seek out and receive professional development to support the inclusion of students with diverse needs. Even with 24 years of experience, I need training and opportunities to collaborate with my colleagues around recent research and best practices.
- My school could hire more interpreters to limit the grouping of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the same classes. Classroom teachers like me could have access to other learning specialists, and the time to collaborate with them.
- Finally, funding would help us to reduce class size so I could see to the needs of every student, regardless of ability.
Amendment 73 is not perfect, but we should not let perfect be the enemy of good. The amendment would give me and my peers the opportunity to advocate for all of our students who need resources, from those who struggle to those who need to be challenged. Amendment 73 could move Colorado up in the ranks when it comes to funding by state. With one of the most vibrant and productive economies in the country, it is hard to reconcile why we can’t reap the benefits and provide an education for each and every student that addresses what they need to be successful. We know that there is more that should be done and we need more than “do the best with what we have.” Amendment 73 could give us more funding to do our best for every child.
Mark Sass teaches high school history at Legacy High School in the Adams 12 Five Star School District. He is a Teach Plus Colorado State Director.