One of my first pivotal realizations happened when a 5th grade boy used to hang out in my apartment. He struggled to read three-letter words. I was baffled by that because there was nothing I knew that made him different than anyone else who came over to my apartment. I decided to go across the street to the school in my neighborhood and visit with the Assistant Principal about it. When I explained the situation and asked why that might be, she simply shrugged and very matter-of-factly stated, “Maybe he has reached his peak.”
Her comment shook me.
I volunteered at that same school for many years. At one point, the school was chosen to have the internet installed. Other schools had already received the internet by then, but I was happy it was finally happening in our school. Workers came in during the day and entire classrooms were displaced--like the first grade classroom who’s new surroundings became the main floor hallway for a week so the workers could install the internet in their classroom. It was noisy and distracting...but it seemed like the price we had to pay in order to get up to speed. I thought nothing of it until a friend of mine...a teacher from Allen, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), came to visit. She asked why it was so noisy and why kids were in the hallways. I explained that we were finally getting the internet. She looked puzzled. “That would *never* happen in Allen!” she explained. I was confused. It had never occurred to me that it could be done differently. In her school, the workers were required to work at night so as not to disrupt the kids’ learning. That made so much more sense! I wasn’t sure if it had never occurred to our school administrators or if they just didn’t want to spend the money on overtime. Either way, kids’ learning was disrupted for a good bit of that semester.
Again, at the same school, a friend of mine began subbing. She had a college degree, which is required of substitute teachers in Texas, but she had no teaching background or experience and her degree wasn’t in English, which was where she was placed. She was asked to teach fifth grade English Language Arts. Fifth grade ELA was really important back then because fifth grade was the year they had to take TAAS, the state standardized test, and had to pass Reading, Writing, and Math in order to move on. My friend subbed for several days in a row and then was asked if she would be a permanent sub for the rest of the year. She taught that class for the majority of the school year. These fifth graders’ entire future was determined by how much they could learn from a substitute with no prior experience.
One could say that was just my experience in one school, but I have been in more than one urban school in my career and things like these aren’t uncommon. I have more stories.
Where you live determines what kind of resources your school gets. Kids’ in urban communities have to work harder to learn.
I can already guess what some might angrily comment, “Not all teachers/principals are bad!” “We need to weed out the bad teachers!” “DISD isn’t like that anymore!” But while each of those statements may be true, there is a SYSTEM that has been created. Here are some facts:
- Teachers in urban schools still don’t believe that their kids are college material. It shows on a survey DISD does with the teachers in their schools every year. I’ve sat on SBDM (Site-Based Decision Making) Advisory boards of at least five schools and hear how teachers options for students. When teachers don’t believe kids are college material, they teach them differently. They prepare them differently. Less resources are put toward college and more are put toward technical education.
- The state dumbs down the requirements of what it takes to graduate from high school. The state of Texas used to require four credits in each core area: math, reading, science, and history. But graduation rates were low. It didn’t make them look good. So instead of trying to figure out how to improve their educational system, they created, “A new, more flexible graduation program” where students only have to have three credits in math, science, and history. They achieved their goal. High school graduation rates went up and the state looked better to the outsiders. However, it didn’t do the kids any favors. Competitive colleges want to see that kids have taken more core classes and more *rigorous* core classes. If a school isn’t pushing them to do that, kids take what is required. Kids and parents don’t find out until they’re trying to apply to college that they didn’t have a rigorous enough transcript to make them attractive to the competitive colleges. Even then, many of them don’t really know why the colleges aren’t accepting them. They did what was required so they assume it is some deficiency on their part. Instead, the system created a lack of opportunity for them.
- Many schools across the nation have started offering more technical education options and make them sound exciting by calling them “collegiate” or “early colleges” or even just flat-out calling them “technical institutes.” Money is invested into them, they look fancy, and marketing teams go to town. While some are truly AS (Associate of Science degrees...an “Associate’s”), others are AAS (Associate of Applied Science) degrees, which simply prepare them to go into a technical field after high school. The argument is that those kids will “make more than I do” when they get out of high school. While this may be true for some, the $50,000-$75,000 salary right out of high school is not what everyone gets. And the truth of the matter is that a college degree will give a student way more options as they navigate their future. If you want to argue with me, please help me understand why the competitive private schools like Greenhill, St. Mark’s, Ursuline, Hockaday, etc. aren’t promoting these pathways in their schools.
While I may have joined others in the past of lamenting that only about 6% of our kids in urban school districts classify as “prepared for college”...and while I might have blamed the other 94% for not doing enough...I have learned that the system is not designed for them to go to college and access the same opportunities that put them in a competitive college or workforce arena. I have learned that this is what makes it possible for us as White people, to continue to dominate the CEO, Board President, and top-level administration positions in our society.