What does unequal educational opportunity look like in many schools serving low-income and minority students?
For starters, unqualified or under-qualified teachers; inadequate or nonexistent books, science labs, curriculum materials and technology; huge class sizes; rundown buildings. Then there’s the curriculum. In the modern school reform era, curriculum itself has been dramatically narrowed in many schools to allow extra focus on the two subjects for which standardized tests are given — math and English language arts.
And so we can see what unequal educational opportunity looks like through the class schedule that one Newark eighth-grader just received at the start of the 2015-16 school year (which I am publishing with permission).
Frankie Adao, the student’s father, published the class schedule on his blog: Chronicles of a Modern Dad. Noting that his son is an honor-roll student who has studied Chinese for several years — only to have the program abruptly ended — Adao wrote:
It is only the completion of the first week of school and I am already on Defcon 5 with the way things are going…. Let’s start from the first day of school. As normal the conversation at the dinner table went something like this …
Mom: How was your first day of school today?
Me: Just okay? It was your first day of 8th grade! Nothing exciting going on for the year?
Son: Nah! Not really.
Mom: Do you like all your teachers? Did you get any handouts or anything from your teachers?
Son: I got my schedule.
Dad: Go get it and let’s see what you will be doing this year.
This is what he pulled out of his newly organized book bag:
Adao, who attended the very same school as his son, wrote that the schedule did “not seem to be” suitable for an eighth-grader getting ready for high school, and he posted the schedule on a Facebook page for educational activists, Save Our Schools New Jersey. Other parents posted their children’s schedule, including this one:
“I know in suburban and better off communities the resources differ from district to district. Hell, Newark, is fighting to keep schools open! Never mind having courses like Ceramics and Google Hacks. Ceramics, by the way is a course I did have in 8th grade at the very same school my son attends but no longer is available. The stark differences a child revives in education from district to district is an amazing and stark reality of how different and uneven the educational playing field is for our children.”
Julie Larrea Borst, a parent and New Jersey education activist, wrote a post of her own about this on her blog, Education Lessons From a Sparkly District. Borst (who gave me permission to republish) said:
Newark Public Schools have been under State control since July 1995. Twenty years. In that time, the citizens of Newark have had no say in what happens to their schools. They have watched their neighborhood schools close. They have watched as District money is funneled into charter schools. They have listened to the politicians in this state criticize the very District they are responsible for. Frankly, twenty years later, anything that is not working in Newark Public Schools is squarely on the State’s shoulders.
Have you ever wondered what a student’s schedule looks like? After all, New Jersey Department of Education is laser-focused on standardized test scores and being college and career ready. How does New Jersey translate that into the lives of the young citizens of Newark?
A Newark dad shared his child’s schedule. To my suburban friends, can you ever imagine your child bringing home a schedule that looks like this? Or a superintendent selling this to you? No? Me neither. This is outrageous.
ELA = English Language Arts. SS = Social Studies. It’s not possible to tell how often Social Studies will actually take place, but given that it’s not currently tested and used to condemn students, teachers, and schools, one would presume more time will be given to ELA. By the way, what the heck is a STEM class? In a 30-period week, they already have half devoted to STEM.
We hear a lot about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Really, we should be hearing more about STEAM (A = Arts), but I digress. Should any student be subjected to so narrow a curriculum? And in 8th grade no less!
Where are music? Chorus? Art class that’s more than one period a week? Languages? Gym that’s more than two periods a week?
College and career ready is all we hear about from the US Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Education. They haven’t bothered to define what that is exactly, but from this schedule, for kids in Newark, it means ELA and Math to exclusion of all else that makes life interesting, worth living, and generally makes for a well-rounded person.