Lately, I have engaged with many people from my husband to Oakland public school parents on the state of education in our country. I can talk about this topic for hours — as I know many of you can! Here are a few things on my mind:
My husband and I, who both graduated from excellent suburban public high schools, got into a discussion on the disparities in public schools. My husband was convinced there was a correlation between disparities in schools and the growing income disparity in our country. After reading this article in the Texas Tribune, I couldn’t agree more.
Michael Marder, a professor in the University of Texas’ department of physics and co-director of the university’s UTeach program, which prepares university graduates to become secondary math and science teachers, prepared charts of every piece of data you’d ever want to know about student achievement, like, what effect teacher bargaining had on student test scores as well as how charter schools compare to regular public schools. Even better, you can check out all this data in your home state, which he also had. I had fun comparing the charts.
But one of the things that blew me away is that Marder has yet to find a single school that serves a majority of low-income students — think schools in which 80 percent of the students qualify for the free lunch program — that could churn out more than a handful of students who could pass tests like the SAT. “The schools that serve the wealthy kids are up here,” Marder signaled with his hand on a video. “And the schools that serve the poor kids are down here. There are no exceptions…Not one. I did not find one this year, I did not find one last year or the year before that.”
Marder thought it was imperative that we find a way to help out these students. My question to you all is…how? Sometimes I feel like we’ve dug a hole for ourselves in the way we have insisted on cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and both stigmatizing and cutting social safety nets that would help our most vulnerable families. How do we reverse this trend?
Also on my mind: I’ve received a lot of e-mails from Oakland Public School parents who just averted a crisis. Due to our state’s financial irresponsibility — how else could you explain $26 billion in debt when we have so many wealthy people and businesses in the state? — some of the schools in Oakland were in danger of shutting down this year. There were schools that expected to lay off all of their teachers!
Now I understand that the crisis was averted until…next year. My question for you all is where are students supposed to go if their school shuts down? Have any of you experienced a school closing?
Finally, I went out this weekend to the movies with friends. We saw Water for Elephants, which strayed from the book, but was still quite good. I enjoyed it.
We saw an earlier showing to eat dinner afterwards. The topic of conversation? The movie and…schools. I have a couple friends in the Berkeley public school district, which thankfully is being funded by a couple of taxpayer-approved bond measures. We have weathered a lot of the crisis facing other school districts like our neighbor Oakland.
But my friends had a complaint. They weren’t satisfied with their teachers this year. I asked one of them what she considered to be a “good teacher.” My friend thought about it for a moment and said that the issue with public education today is that there is such a range in child ability that it is impossible for a teacher to address every single person’s needs in the classroom. In her case, her child was just coasting since the teacher had to tend to other student’s needs. We got a laugh at how he is constantly tooting his own horn at being the “smart kid” in class.
My other friend echoed her. My question to you all is: have you noticed these disparities in the classroom? What have you done, if anything, to address them? How do you support your child — and the school?