When we arrived in our new town, one of the first things I heard was how bad the schools are. So when some friends said they were enrolling their chil­dren in the­se fail­ing schools, I didn’t under­stand until I actu­al­ly vis­it­ed the schools.

At the schools, I saw chil­dren who were learn­ing. They were engaged and hap­py. There were resources and tech­nol­o­gy in the class­rooms. There were full-time teach­ing assis­tants in the pre-k and kinder­garten class­rooms. There were inter­ven­tion­ists through­out the schools. They had art, music, PE, recess, a robot­ics com­pe­ti­tion team, a Girl Scout troop, teams for track and bas­ket­ball, and a host of clubs. I found myself ask­ing, if all the­se great things were hap­pen­ing, why is the school “fail­ing?”

School rat­ings are only a very small snap­shot.

School rat­ings are flawed. The for­mu­las vary and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect what learn­ing is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing for the indi­vid­u­al stu­dent. Often­times what makes the best schools score so well is the very fact that they exclude chil­dren with men­tal, emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal or socioe­co­nom­ic dif­fi­cul­ties.

“Fail­ing” can be a code word for poor and black/latino.

This arti­cle sums it up very well: 

“We know that low­er-income stu­dents on aver­age come into school worse off achieve­ment-wise than their high­er-income peers. […] More­over, stud­ies have shown that low­er-income kids per­form worse on stan­dard­ized tests in gen­er­al. All of the­se fac­tors add up to the fact that a school with only high­er-income kids might have high­er test scores than a school with a mix of incomes even if the intel­lec­tu­al abil­i­ty and teacher qual­i­ty are exact­ly the same.

Let’s assume that you have a school with a bunch of ter­ri­fic teach­ers that is doing a great job edu­cat­ing its kids. One year, a bunch of low­er-income kids come into the school. Let’s say that the teach­ers do just as ter­ri­fic a job edu­cat­ing the exist­ing kids and the new kids. Exist­ing kids don’t lose out at all. Yet the school’s aver­age test score will go down. 

This rein­forces the fact that we are mea­sur­ing and report­ing the wrong thing. But most peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know this, nor do they have bet­ter data avail­able, so they’ll under­stand­ably choose the high­est-per­form­ing school they can, even if “high­est-per­form­ing” only real­ly means “school with the fewest low­er-income kids.”

Some aspects of rat­ings are the sim­ple math of eco­nom­ic seg­re­ga­tion. Since schools now are more seg­re­gat­ed than they have been in decades, it’s worth con­sid­er­ing who exact­ly we’re try­ing to get away from and what is left when every­one opts out of sit­ting their kids next to kids with few­er resources. 

There are ben­e­fits that can’t be mea­sured.

I like that when I drop my son off in the morn­ing, the teach­ers are smil­ing. They legit­i­mate­ly look hap­py to be there. In the after­noon, they look tired but still hap­py. The school rat­ings don’t take into account the hugs I see between teach­ers and stu­dents.

They also don’t mea­sure the pos­i­tive impact on the stu­dents to see a healthy rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple, includ­ing those with less. There are kids who are learn­ing Eng­lish, and kids whose par­ents teach it. There are chil­dren with spe­cial needs. There are chil­dren from tough homes. There are all kinds of kids who if you look at their indi­vid­u­al assess­ments are doing just fine in this “fail­ing” school. And there are kids who by most mea­sures are fail­ing, but who would undoubt­ed­ly be doing worse if they were not receiv­ing the inter­ven­tions or the ben­e­fits of being around the aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly suc­cess­ful chil­dren.

Like many pub­lic schools right now, my son’s school is in the process of a rebirth with ded­i­cat­ed lead­ers and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who show up every day. I’ve seen teach­ers cel­e­brate a pre-k child learn­ing to count to 10, yet the­se same edu­ca­tors are teach­ing my son ear­ly geom­e­try. Despite what any­one says, there is no mag­ic pill of account­abil­i­ty or test­ing or extreme dis­ci­pline that’s going to “fix” the­se chil­dren or the­se schools. All that feels like scape­goat­ing the real prob­lem, which is per­sis­tent pover­ty and racism. 

So I like my son’s school for how it’s taught me to have a more com­plete view of the cur­rent state of edu­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca, espe­cial­ly in the cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate that’s often hos­tile to the dis­ad­van­taged and mar­gin­al­ized. I’m hap­py my son has some teach­ers and stu­dents who look like him and some who don’t, even if this means I have to explain for the umpteen­th time that we can’t fly to the Philip­pines like his class­mate is doing to vis­it her fam­i­ly.

The­se teach­ers have a tough job to meet the needs of kids from such var­ied back­grounds, espe­cial­ly when rat­ings sum­ma­rize their work and the stu­dents they care for as fail­ing.

What’s not been great? 

My major com­plaints with the school are there’s not enough free play, and I hate the behav­ior reward sys­tem. How­ev­er, the­se are issues I have in gen­er­al with edu­ca­tion, and they are not lim­it­ed to low rank­ing schools. 

Also, I know that the aca­d­e­mic dis­tance between chil­dren with more and few­er resources grows as the chil­dren age, so I can’t speak to send­ing an old­er child to such a school, but I know that not only has my son’s knowl­edge improved but the diver­si­ty in his life has as well.

Schools are com­pli­cat­ed, and their val­ue can­not be summed up fair­ly in a let­ter grade. Chil­dren will have bet­ter out­comes if par­ents are involved at school and home regard­less of what the school rat­ing is. 

To judge a school rea­son­ably, you have to look at how your speci­fic child will do in a speci­fic class­room. Not every school is for every child, even the high­ly rat­ed ones. Writ­ing off schools and teach­ers with­out giv­ing them an in-per­son glance and look­ing at the whole pic­ture what’s going on in and out­side of the class­rooms is short-sight­ed. If you’re the least bit curi­ous about what’s real­ly going on at your local schools, go vis­it. You might be sur­prised with what you see.

About the Author:
Ali­cia is a Louisiana-based writer and edu­ca­tor who works in high­er edu­ca­tion. Her inter­ests include nat­u­ral liv­ing, reviv­ing com­mu­ni­ties, run­ning, trav­el­ing, and par­ent­ing.

Ali­cia is a Louisiana-based writer and edu­ca­tor who works in high­er edu­ca­tion. Her inter­ests include nat­u­ral liv­ing, reviv­ing com­mu­ni­ties, run­ning, trav­el­ing, and par­ent­ing.

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4 Comments on "I’m a Black Mother Who Gave My “Failing” Neighborhood Public School a Chance, And I Don’t Regret It"

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SH Harris
Thank you for this arti­cle. My hus­band and I decid­ed this past year that we would to this also — - so, we took our son out of pri­vate school and are learn­ing that our son is get­ting a great edu­ca­tion at our neigh­bor­hood school. Logis­ti­cal­ly, it allows us to spend more time with our chil­dren and that in and of itself aids in his per­for­mance and over­all devel­op­ment. We’ve cho­sen to sup­ple­ment in areas that we feel can be expand­ed and with­out a pri­vate school tuition bill, it’s def­i­nite­ly much eas­ier to do so. I don’t know if we’ll… Read more »
Fufu Oware

This is inter­est­ing. How­ev­er, num­bers don’t lie. Why exact­ly is there a cor­re­la­tion b/t low income and stan­dard­ized test scores?

Black Girl With Long Hair
Because chil­dren who are raised in work­ing poor house­holds do not have the same expo­sure to lan­guage and learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties than chil­dren who are not. And it’s not just about a lack of finan­cial resources to provide the­se things, but also a lack of time. If a sin­gle mom or dad is work­ing 50 to 60 hours a week in low wage labor, or work­ing odd hours (night shifts, etc) what time is there to read to kids, engage with them, etc. I am not say­ing this as an excuse but a legit­i­mate rea­son. This also goes beyond the work­ing… Read more »
The Natural Haven
This was real­ly eye open­ing. I real­ly hon­est­ly nev­er con­sid­ered the pos­si­ble mer­its of a fail­ing school. I have always been of the opin­ion that a school that excels in aca­d­e­mics is the best place. It was def­i­nite­ly an agen­da that my moth­er had and all the schools I attend­ed were select­ed for this rea­son. I do like the idea of being inclu­sive espe­cial­ly at an ear­ly age when learn­ing is more about fun and self devel­op­ment. I would how­ev­er prefer a very strong aca­d­e­mic school in the tran­si­tion to high school as the focus changes to crit­i­cal think­ing and… Read more »
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