The Latest Obstacles to Reopening Schools
It’s more than alarming to read, and even more shocking to consider, that the nation’s high school seniors cannot perform math or reading at their grade level. That’s this week’s headline out of the National Assessment of Education Progress and the National Center for Education Statistics, a non-political government agency that has for more than 4 decades assessed the achievement of students every couple of years in most major subjects in 4th, 8th and 12th grade.
What’s particularly jolting about this news is that, as special interests and policymakers bicker about how and whether to even open schools or improve their virtual capacity to teach, we can only imagine the relative achievement of our students coming out of a major lack of education during these many months, for most students.
As widely reported, health officials are arguing that it’s more likely our students will suffer from devastating social and academic declines than health threats if they don’t get back to where they are being educated. Whether that means a traditional school setup or some version of it is not debated. But let’s take a look at the 90% of the schools participating in the semi-annual sampling of student proficiency and whether even demanding schools reopen the same way is worth it.
Most students attend a school that is made of “bricks and mortar,” as the saying goes, assigned there by their zip code, a policy that has become inherently inequitable – and racist. According to 50 CAN’s Derrell Bradford, reporting on the FDR 1930s era home loan effort to boost the economy, “the federal government made color coded maps of every metropolitan area of the country, and described some places as desirable, some less desirable and some as hazardous. And if you lived in one of these areas, you couldn’t get one of the home loans that everyone else got. It drove down property values. Even though redlining has been outlawed, the school zones align with the map from the 1930s.”
Today, money is less the issue in these neighborhoods. First, they are heavily subsidized by federal and state governments, and have disproportionate ratios of administrators to students, in other words larger bureaucracies that impede fast turn around solutions. Second, they are assigned the least qualified educators by districts that rank them according to seniority and experience (not demonstrated performance). Newer, less experienced teachers end up in the less desirable school assignments, with less pay and fewer resources. Their parents are less likely to have graduated from High School or college, and less likely to be able to get their child out of a bad school because there are few options that are better for free. That’s why you’ll most often see inner city or rural schools failing to deliver results, and why typically scores on assessments like the National Assessment of Educational Progress are lower among poor and minority students.
But even the achievement of higher performing, more affluent students in this