Thursday, October 1, 2009


Parents at high-poverty schools have to fight a lot. That's just the way it is. The odds are stacked against our kids in lots of ways. Sometimes, these battles make me want to laugh. More often, however, they just make me mad.

Battles of perception

Perceptions about schools like ours boggle the mind. Before we went to Shamrock, we conducted a neighborhood survey about the school. The responses made it clear that some people believed that the school was frequently visited by unsavory neighbors (even though Shamrock sits in a white, middle-class neighborhood!), and that kids with weapons roamed the halls (of an elementary school!). That's one battle.

Other challenges of perception are more subtle. Because we are a high-poverty school, the federal government sends us lots of books. Most of them are terrible! They have no plots, no characters and no thematic development. All they do is teach basic words and concepts, over and over and over and over again. Clearly, some folks in high places do not believe that our kids are capable of learning anything more.

Battles of resources

In a large public school system, schools have to compete for resources, and parents often play a significant role. This puts high-poverty schools, where parents generally have fewer resources and less political clout than those at low-poverty schools, at a considerable disadvantage.

Last year, for example, CMS decided to realign its magnet programs. When staff and board members suggested closing or moving several popular, low-poverty magnets, parents turned out in force to protest. In the end, most of the eliminated magnets – and the resources that went with them – were taken from high-poverty schools.

Battles with the "experts"

Education today is rife with studies and "data." Unfortunately, these studies (despite being appallingly expensive) can contradict the experiences of schools and teachers. Class size is one example. Almost any teacher at Shamrock will tell you that in her experience smaller classes make for better instruction, and higher levels of teacher satisfaction (a key point in hard-to-staff high-poverty schools). However, many "experts" have recently been citing a California study that suggests that small classes don't do much good if they're headed by bad teachers.

Since small classes are quite expensive, school district leaders would prefer to eliminate them, if possible. So now class sizes are creeping up, as district officials turn to stressing teacher quality. The most effective combination – good teachers and small classes – is thus becoming a "luxury" we have to fight for.

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