It’s been on my mind for a long time: the idea that receiving quality education is dependent upon the neighborhoods that students live. This just shouldn’t be. Quality education should be an opportunity afforded to all children regardless of race, class, or status. Although Brown v. The Board of Education struck down state’s ability to segregate schools based on race, segregation is still very much a part of the American education system. Since the days of forced integration, our country has continued towards a perpetual slide into segregation. This time, the segregation of school is not something that has been mandated. The effects are just as damaging.
It is resultant from the systems that have been created to determine where children go to school. Your neighborhood is the determining factor of whether you get access to high performing school or a school wrought with disfunction, underfunding, and other disparities. In states like Pennsylvania that regulate education using districting, the difference between going to a quality school or an underperforming school might lie just a house over. While working in York, I drove past a top-performing high school that was less than a mile from a high school that infamously unperformed due to lack of funding and a variety of other factors. Our country continues to expect all schools to perform at the same level when there exist such huge disparities that separate the schools that sit in areas of wealth and those that don’t. From the very moment a student sets foot into a school, a clear message is sent. To those walking in the underfunded schools, the message is clear: “your education is not important.” Each day children in underfunded and underperforming schools are awakened to the reality that the system doesn’t value their life to the same degree that it values others.
When attending a school is dependent upon your ability to afford to live in a certain neighborhood, how can we say that everyone has a fair shot at making it in this country? Policy makers continue to speak of ways that they can reduce the achievement gap in this country when the very foundation upon which our school system is built is rooted in inequity. How can we expect a school that is highly underfunded to perform at the same level as a school that has more than enough funding? Compounding the issue is the fact that in many cases the schools that are underfunded are those that are in need of the most support. Some of our most inexperienced teachers are sent to teach in the the most difficult schools because these schools cannot afford to pay their teachers at the same level as surrounding districts. After 2-3 years of service, many of these teachers either exit the profession or go teach in more wealthy districts thus creating a revolving door that further leads to greater inequity. Other well meaning, but ill-conceived programs like Teach for America make teaching in high needs area an interim experience and not a life-long profession.
Our country has created systems that continue to perpetuate inequity. No matter how much time we spend trying to reduce the achievement gap, it is unlikely to budge because the very system is created in division. Don’t get me wrong, there are schools existing in high-poverty areas that have done exceedingly well at increasing student outcomes, but they are few. The only time in our country’s history that we saw the gap begin to substantially shrink is in the time of forced integration. Integration is not the remedy, but it is the foundation upon which the remedy is built. Not only does it begin to ensure more equitable access to education, it’s a way to start tearing down the walls of racial and socio-economic division in this country. When we exist in community, we can begin to see each other based on our shared humanity.
I do acknowledge that there are a lot of forces at play here, but we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a country where quality education is location dependent and not a guarantee. I, for one, want to live in a country where every child is afforded an equal opportunity at education no matter where they were born.
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