Where a child goes to school matters
In a perfect world, public schools would all have equal and adequate funding, materials, resources, and teachers. Ideally, public schools really would be the great equalizer for all children in our country. Unfortunately, we know this is not the case. Classroom environments, teacher quality and engagement, materials provided, availability of resources, sizes of classes, facilities, extra curricular activities, etc. all vary greatly between schools, even those within the same district. School safety and discipline differ. Not enough schools thoroughly prepare children for college, the work force, or to be contributing citizens and successful adults. Since we do not live in a perfect world of equal opportunity or schools that are on the same level, the reality is that where a child goes to school matters.
If a child spends so many fundamental years in school and taxpayers pay so much towards these schools, then how can they not be living up to their potential? Over the past few decades, people have been working to come up with solutions to the problems they see in public schooling. Charter schools are a particularly interesting “fix” because they “redefine our understanding of public schools: schools open to the public, paid for by the public, accountable to the public, but not run by the government.” This means that these charter schools have the ability to create their own curriculum, rules, and make decisions without the governmental controls placed on a typical public school.
While Diane Ravitch changed her mind about the benefits of school choice and accountability placed on teachers, schools, and students, she did not change her mind about schools across the country having consistent curriculum. Ravitch points out that the real goal of public schooling is to “ensure that every student has the benefit of a coherent curriculum, one that includes history, literature, geography, civics, science, the arts, mathematics and physical education” (Ravitch, 2010). If American schools have this coherent curriculum, Ravitch says “teachers would know what they are expected to teach and children would have continuity of instruction, no matter where they lived” (Ravitch, 2010).
While I agree that curriculum matters, I think we must look at other crucial aspects of school before we can see true reform. All schools need well-trained, passionate teachers that care about each of their students and strive to make sure they succeed both in the classroom and in life. Schools matter so much because they are where a child spends most of their day, determines the people they spend their time with, and where they learn so much more than academics. If we stop thinking about school choice for a second, a national trend worth paying attention to is the “school-to-prison pipeline.” If in the wrong environment, some students are more susceptible to ending up in the criminal justice system than with a diploma. Many of these children that end up falling victim to this “have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out” (American Civil Liberties Union). How a teacher and counselor provide support and how a certain school handles discipline can make all the difference.
Where a child goes to school matters largely because school is so much more than academics. Education is extremely important and valuable (or we would not have a public school system in the first place), but students have to themselves believe in this importance and value to receive the benefits. For many at-risk students, school is more than just class. It is a safe place and the faculty can be a huge support system.
“Students who are at risk of dropping out of high school or turning to crime need more than a good report card. They need alternative suggestions on living a life that rises above their current circumstances.”
We also need to realize that while it is great that a large number of students technically meet set requirements and graduate from high school (and often go to college), many of them are not prepared for what is next. The point is, it is completely unrealistic for all schools across the country to be on a level playing field. However, we can identify what is working and what is not within the education system to come up with solutions that are reasonable for all schools in order to close gaps and educate future generations more efficiently.
American Civil Liberties Union. (n.d.). School-to-Prison Pipeline. Retrieved June 04, 2016, from https://www.aclu.org/issues/racial-justice/race-and-inequality-education/school-prison-pipeline
Lynch, M. (2015, August 27). 10 Reasons the U.S. Education System Is Failing. Retrieved June 04, 2016, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2015/08/10_reasons_the_us_education_system_is_failing.html
Ravitch, D. (2010, May 27). Why I Changed My Mind. Retrieved June 04, 2016, from http://www.thenation.com/article/why-i-changed-my-mind/