Rich Child, Poor
By Jane Weinkrantz
unveiling of the “Excellent Educators for All” initiative to place more
“excellent” teachers in low- income schools has just been updated.
However, the initiative still suggests that the President and his
basketball buddy, Arne Duncan, still haven’t gotten a realistic grip on how
the American education system works and why it succeeds where it succeeds and
fails where it fails. The program
demands that states create plans to distribute effective teachers more equitably
among high and low income school districts. Here are the edu-vapor bullet points
straight from Duncan’s press release:
Educator Equity Plans
Department is asking states to analyze their data and consult with teachers,
principals, districts, parents and community organizations to create new,
comprehensive educator equity plans that put in place locally-developed
solutions to ensure every student has effective educators.
State School Officers will receive a letter
today from Secretary Duncan asking them to submit their new plans by April 2015.
These plans were first created in 2006 and are required by Title I of the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Equity Support Network
Department is investing $4.2 million to launch a new technical assistance
network to support states and districts in developing and implementing their
plans to ensure all students have access to great educators.
network will work to develop model plans, share promising practices, provide
communities of practice for educators to discuss challenges and share lessons
learned with each other, and create a network of support for educators working
in high-need schools.
empower communities and help states enhance their equity plans, the Department
will publish Educator Equity profiles this fall. The profiles will help states
identify gaps in access to quality teaching for low-income and
students, as well as shine a spotlight on places where high-need schools are
beating the odds and successfully recruiting and retaining effective educators.
addition to the profiles, the states will receive their complete data file from
the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). States will be able to conduct detailed
analyses of the data to inform their discussions about local inequities and
design strategies for improving those inequities.
Just to be clear, I want every child to have an excellent teacher. I
don’t think income should be a factor in teacher quality. But, we all know it
is. Look at any real estate
advertisement. We may love the granite countertops, the central air or the
“park like grounds,” but without the “EXCELLENT SCHOOLS!!!” part of the
caption how eager are we to move in? When we purchase homes, American families
buy the best schools we can afford. Think
about the number of times someone you’ve met has said, “So what district are
you in?” and commented “Very nice,” or sniffed with disdain, depending on
your answer. We take pride in our
zip codes because of our school districts. So what types of schools do the
people who can’t afford homes and really can’t afford anything else get?
They get schools with high teacher and administrative turnover, building code
violations, crowded classrooms, outdated materials and failing standardized test
A friend of mine teaches in a charter school in the South Bronx. She
tells me stories of crowded classrooms, hungry children, violent children, kids
who don’t speak English or have learning disabilities yet receive no services,
a fractured discipline system, building safety conditions comparable to the
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a sometimes scary walk from the subway to her
school and, not surprisingly, an out-of-control teacher turnover rate. She is an
intelligent woman and a dedicated teacher. In Plainview, she would be highly
effective; at her school, most of her students failed the state assessments and
we know test scores are the final and true arbiters of efficacy.
In Davonte’s Inferno: Ten Years in the New York Public School Gulag,
Laurel M. Sturt, a New York City teacher who spent ten years working in an
elementary school in the Bronx describes the revolving door of faculty as
follows: “The want ads should read, ‘Seeking selfless, tireless, individuals
with unbounded idealism, energy, stamina, and a capacity to be abused, maligned
and underpaid.’ Indeed, the attrition rate is already huge, in urban districts
about twenty percent a year, with about half of teachers nationwide leaving
before the end of their fifth year. The instability from that high turnover,
destructive to any learning community, but particularly to those in poverty (a
change in teachers negatively affects learning outcome), costs in the billions
of dollars annually from wasted teacher training, the expense of new training,
and the loss of accumulated expertise from teachers who leave.”
Teacher burnout in low-income districts is much higher because the work
is so much harder and the kids face so many more challenges just to get to
school each day. Sturt chronicles children who came to school hungry, dirty,
sick, sleepless, abused, homeless, with parents in prison and pretty much any
other Dickensian condition you can imagine.
There is a vast difference between that type of school and a school
where, every August, teachers send out elaborate school supply lists that can
total $50-$100 with the realistic expectation that everyone will have those
items on the first day of school.
difference is money. Any child, but probably particularly a poor one, could tell
you that. The middle class and wealthy can afford to give their children the
support they need to thrive physically. I
mention that before thriving academically because let’s face it---you can’t
learn much when the loudest voice you hear belongs to the growl of your stomach
and the heaviest thing you own is the weight of your own eyelids.
President Obama and Secretary Duncan think the difference is teachers.
If they can just find the right teachers to teach in those poor schools, all
will be well. Yet again, anything that’s wrong with education is something
that is wrong with teachers. Poverty
is not the problem. In fact, it’s OK to be hungry and homeless if you’re
reading on grade level and passing your ELAs.
President Obama had announced a plan to make sure every low-income child has a
full stomach, a bed to sleep in, a coat in the winter and a notebook to bring to
class, I’d be thrilled. As it is, he’s announced a plan…well, not really a
plan…if you look at those bullet points, there’s nothing there that could be
called a plan. There are just some vague ideas:
states will share “promising practices” which means that states will
have to think of some promising practices---we’re not even feeling confident
enough to call them “best practices” yet--- because the Department of
Education is flat out of suggestions. So, OK, President Obama and Secretary
Duncan have issued a decree that
states come up with plans, using guidelines that barely exist. Chad
Aldeman, an associate partner at the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners,
told The Huffington Post.
guidance released here -- it's honestly pretty fluffy, it's just a non-binding
non-existence of a plan isn’t even the real problem. Changing
the players won’t change the schools, as long as the children remain deprived. The big change the President revealed today is painful in
its naiveté and commitment to delusion. He announced that states now have until
June 2015 rather than April 2015 to submit their Educator Equity plans, giving
states two more months to devise a solution to what is ultimately the problem of
poverty. That should be plenty of time.
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