That’s the question Matt Yglesias asks in this Atlantic article.
My interest in education policy focuses on civl rights, segregation, urban education, and general school reform, so this struck me:
Poor kids, in other words, aren’t just stuck in low-performing school districts as some kind of coincidence. They live in them because that’s where it’s cheap to live.
After litigating equity funding…
- Urban schools are still vastly underfunded when compared to their suburban counterparts – even though many urban districts do receive more in educational funding at the state and national level (suburban schools tend to receive more funding from their town tax base, so state fund equalize the funding between districts and federal money (Title I mostly) helps aid the poor students that are more likely to attend urban schools in greater numbers than suburban schools.
- Urban schools simply have more needs than their suburban counterparts because their children are coming to school less advantaged than their suburban peers. Think about it – Billy from Andover started Kindergarten after having gone to a high-quality day care since he was a baby and attending pre-school since age 3. His parents have enrolled him in child swim lessons, mommy and me play sessions, and t-ball. They read books to him every night and engage him in all of those little child learning fads. Johnny from Roxbury is starting Kindergarten after having been home with his older siblings for the past five years. His parents have tried to provide all that they could for him, but they’re struggling to to keep jobs, pay the rent, and put food on the table. Billy is going to come to school with more knowledge off the bat than Johnny simply because of differences in socioeconomic status.
- So yes, urban schools need more because the socioeconomic makeup of these schools is drastically different than most of their suburban counterparts. Urban schools provide more social services, food, healthcare, psychological counseling, mentoring, and tutoring than their suburban counterparts because the families that attend these schools cannot provide these services themselves. And these services cost more.
- Do these urban kids deserve these services – absolutely, because every child in the nation deserves a high-quality education. But, in the end, the urban schools after having spent their money just to provide their students with food, clothes, school supplies, counseling, and tutoring, are left cutting gym class, remaining in crumbling buildings, and cutting out art and music programs (never mind science labs and field trips). The urban schools are still left lacking.
Yet, as it is often said, money will not solve all of our educational problems. Charter schools traditionally operate on smaller budgets than their public school counterparts in the same districts (because most charter schools have to pay for their facilities, whereas PS 102′s school does not have to pay taxes or rent for their building). And some charters are posting impressive results. Charter schools have shown that much can be done with only a little – but that “much” comes from the excessive dedication of the staff, teachers, parents, community, and students. At the way charters are moving, their model is not quite replicable at a large-scale.
Back to the point, urban schools suffer most of their defects because they are fighting an uphill battle against poverty, drugs, crime, and a system that punishes the underclass. This exemplifies “the civil rights issue of our generation” and something needs to be done.
However, Yglesias leaves a qualifier and some food for thought at the end: “If urban neighborhood schools improve, will poor families actually be able to attend them, or will educational progress be a further driver of gentrification and displacement? “