Last year, my roommate took a work-study job tutoring at one of Philadelphia’s neighborhood junior high schools. Coming from the suburbs, she was shocked at the condition of the classroom in which she worked.
Sixteen-year-olds were still in eighth grade, many of the students could barely read and the teacher had no control of the class. After a semester, my roommate was forced to stop tutoring because the school was closed, while the students were redirected to other schools just like it. Compare this North Philadelphia school with that of my hometown, Council Rock, the wealthiest school district in Pennsylvania.
When I first drove by the new high school that was being built in the Council Rock district, I mistook it for a condominium complex. There were lit tennis courts, winding paths and fields for every sport imaginable. Even though I was only 45 minutes away from the school where my roommate tutored, I was in a different world.
The disparities between the two schools are disgusting. There is no reason why students in wealthy areas should be offered after-school cake decorating classes while students in poor areas do not have textbooks. The effects that the differing educations have on wealthy and poorer students send them down two different paths.
In a March article, the president of Columbia University’s Teachers College, Arthur Levine, shared some staggering statistics.
“By the end of fourth grade, African American and Latino students, and poor students of all races, are two years behind their wealthier, predominantly white peers in reading and math. By eighth grade, they have slipped three years behind, and by 12th grade, four years behind,” he wrote.
As Levine illustrates, often the students most affected by unequal schooling opportunities are minorities.
Levine called his article “Why Should I Worry About Schools My Children Won’t Attend?” This title sums up the attitudes of many suburban parents. They are protective of their own children’s educations, but when it comes to the children of other people, they feel it is not their problem. Education of all children should be everyone’s concern. The people who prevent less well-off children from getting a decent education send them down a road to poverty. Educational inequality perpetuates a cycle of poverty and violence; neither of which anyone wants.
Under the Bush administration, the federal government’s solution to the achievement gap has been the No Child Left Behind Act.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, “No Child Left Behind holds schools and school districts accountable for results,” and NCLB does this by testing students every year and grading their schools based on the results. Schools with positive results are rewarded and those with negative results are penalized.
Yet rather than adding more standardized tests, the government should improve the abilities for schools to provide good educations. The schools with poor test results are losing students and funding. The government should not be closing troubled schools, but making them better.
College graduates entering the education field should opt to teach in areas where students are struggling. Anyone who is truly passionate about teaching will be thrilled at the challenge.
Teach For America, a non-profit organization that I intern for, places top graduating college students in low-income areas to teach for two years to gain firsthand knowledge of the problem. They can make an immediate impact in the lives of the students who need it most before moving on to their chosen careers.
The solution to ending educational inequity does not lie in increased testing. The answer is having the best teachers sent to the schools that need them the most.
It does not matter if you are from a good school district; this problem is all of ours, and it is up to us both as individuals and as a nation to do something about it.
Emilie B. Haertsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.