I’m also a teacher and its so disheartening in the US for teachers to be blamed for failing students. As for public schools having a wider range of demographics, I disagree. I can’t speak much for my new home as I haven’t been here long enough to develop an opinion but I can speak very clearly about my home state.
In that state, parents can get vouchers to send their kids to private school. So, if you have parents that care, chances are, you aren’t at a public school at all. Also, the parents that can afford it, just won’t even try public school. The result is that in most school districts in my home state (If memory from a semester ago is doing me justice the statistic is 68% for 2009 and 72% for 2010) serve households at or below the poverty level ($23,000 for a family of four). That means public schools have become the schools where the poor kids go.
Also in that state, school districts are drawn geographically and their funding is supported by property taxes. Short story, poor neighborhoods yield less property tax and have less funding although they usually have more students. So, poor districts have less money per school and even less money per student than their richer counterparts. This sort of socio-economic segregation is the new form of racial segregation.
The average school wide in my home state is 50% of students on free or reduced lunch. But when you adjust for districts, you’ll learn that my home county, the highest property taxes in the state has 30% of its students on free or reduced lunch, but the neighboring extremely low and extremely impoverished district has more than 90% students on free or reduced lunch. Really good teachers tend to work in higher paying districts, while younger less experienced teachers are left to tough it out in low paying, low priority districts.
The cycle for public school is really tough when you consider how many disabilities are present in my home state. Nearly 80% of students in public school in my home state are labeled with some sort of special need!!! Is it really likely that 80% of all kids have a disability? Well, part of the issue is that for each “special needs” student, the school gets more money. Teachers are working with insurmountable ratio difficulties, so if I child starts falling behind, the only way to get that child some one on one attention is to label them with a disability.
Then there are the physical problems. In those poor districts, many students come to school with less than 5 hours of sleep and no food in their bellies. So, even if they may perform on level if well fed and well rested, they definitely won’t without. The chances of abuse and neglect are much higher in these regions. When is Maslow’s Heirarchy going to make its way to education politicians?
In Florida, 1 in 155 child is Autistic. I don’t know how this number is so low (and its really not) because when I was teaching with a group of 27 other teachers, most of us had an Autistic child in our class. Our ratio averaged 1 teacher to 20 students. I know that definitely 9 teachers had at least one Autistic child in their class, 1 teacher at 2, and 1 teacher had an Autistic child. That’s 10 students in 560 students or 1 in 56. That’s A LOT! Is that just our district, I couldn’t tell you?
But, I can tell you that in that state the C-section rate is 4 out of 10 births. The March of Dimes lists C-sections (especially due to birth inductions) is the highest cause of preterm and premature birth in the US. We do not currently know what impact this is having on learning a few years down the line because its yet to be studied. But, considering the highest risk you can be for having a c-section is socio-economic status, and in the public school settings I worked in, the highest indicator of being test and found to have a learning disability would be socio-economic status, there may be a link there. I’m implying correlation, not causation.
In addition to the overwhelming c-section and lack of food/sleep risks to the low socio-economic students, there is the risk of a real disability. Miscarriage rates across the nation are 3 in 20 pregnancies. I know of much higher incidences in Florida and Mississippi. The physical proximity to large commercial dumping sites yield higher miscarriage rates, as high as 1 in 4 pregnancies (5 in 20 for you fraction challenged peeps). THAT IS HIGH! So what does it mean for the children that are born in those communities? They are at a higher risk for a defect.
When whole communities are seeing education problems, lack of funding, lack of legislative support, lack of quality educators, and overworked quality educators…the powers that be ought to look for the source of the problem. In this case, I fear that teachers are being given a stacked deck and punished for losing. How can a classroom with such high chances of having economically disadvantaged, physically drained, unsupported, and physically disabled students and almost NO FINANCIAL RESOURCES be expected to compete with privatized programs where the wealthier healthier students have the freedom to thrive?
I do believe the culture of narcissism has something to do with it, but I also believe there is a lot more at work. There is a cycle of punishing the poor for being poor. What is it Thomas Moore said in Utopia? “Who are the privileged to first make thieves and then punish them?” Who are the top tier to first create an untouchables class and then ridicule them?