The New York Times Editorial Board ran a post in its opinion pages on January 9 called “Racial Isolation in Public Schools”. Which I read, because I am interested (very) in public education. Though this piece focused on Buffalo, it could be about almost any inner city public school system where failing schools, teacher issues and money issues all go hand in hand.
American education is a tiered system, unbalanced to the nth degree. If you’ve got wealth your children never see the inside of public schools, which takes several layers of students away from public education. Then you have parents who opt for something other than local public schools because they perceive the local public schools are bad in some way and have at least some cohesion within the family to do so. Another layer of students pulled away. Keep pulling layers of students away – charter schools, home schooling, and what you have left is a layer of students who are at the lowest rungs on the socio-economic ladder. What students are left for the public inner city schools to work with?
Immigrants certainly. Many are good kids, with homes where education is praised and parents who want better for their children while they toil in menial jobs. Someday, they figure, their children will take care of them. They cannot go back to wherever they came from, and America holds promise of better for all as far as they are concerned. These immigrant children work hard at school, and do succeed. I have heard several teachers say that they would take a roomful of immigrant students any day. I suspect I would hear similar things from teachers a century ago. The fact that today’s immigrants have darker skins should be no barrier to their success, no matter what public school they are in.
But then there are the students who time and time again have problems. Who are these students? Many are products of generations of inner city broken homes, whose baggage just coming into schools is enormous. There is no public school with resources enough to help these children completely succeed. It would take not only redirecting wealth into public education, but also convincing political naysayers to redesign school systems to deal with the baggage brought in. Here it’s not initially about academics, its about creating places where success is possible, on whatever level.
The editorial says “the federal civil rights agreement does not address the school systems as a whole, which is still shortchanging minority children.” This is a fair statement. We can legislate that all children have the right to an equal education, but that is no guarantee of success in life for a child whose home and community are broken in some way.
It is no guarantee that teachers will stay in a school more than a couple of years before moving on in their own lives. Although the teaching model today in public education is for short time teachers, we do a disservice to students whose life outside school is chaotic. Stability within a school can help provide that veneer which might make a difference in a child’s life. If a child sees the same teachers, knows that favorites will be there for them when no one else is, it gives a small possibility of success for those students.
Racial inequality will continue in public school systems as long as America ignores public education as a failed idea. It has not failed. It is one of the few places where all children are welcome, no matter what. Redirect funding back into programs, give parents a reason to send their kids to public schools. Put oversight in place to keep schools honest. Buffalo had success when these things were in place, I suspect that putting them back in new forms would have a similar effect.