I’m Headed Out On a Mission to Find Who’s Really Educating Poor Kids in Florida

I’m tired of hearing about the achievement gap and the expectation gap, and the brown-kids and poor-kids left behind gap. Seriously. All I hear about are public schools failing our kids, especially kids of color and poor kids (which strongly correlates).

It just can’t be that simple. After all, I’ve seen some pretty bad private and charter schools too. So, what’s really going on? Who is really accountable?

There is obviously more to this story and I want to see it for myself. What are the elements creating success and failures in our students from low-income families? I’m interested in meeting the folks defying the odds. Those getting it done for kids who have the deck stacked against them.

So, I’m Over It and I’m Hitting The Road

I want to know where it’s working in Florida, and I’m starting in my own back yard.  Dade and Broward, I’m hitting you first.  Then, I’m following the data around the state.

Where are those schools, with all the blaring bells and alarms of poverty and race, whose students STILL perform well? And, to what do they attribute their success? Are charter schools really doing a better job of this?  What about traditional public schools? Who is really educating our children of color better?

We should be able to speak clearly about things that work and be unashamed to shine the light on areas that do not. That’s how we progress.

So, let’s set our journey up with some baseline information we know about teaching brown or poor kids in America:

Poor Kids Show Up to Learn Differently Equipped

Kids living in poverty show up to learn differently than their peers.  They are often behind in many success indicators, such as the number of words they have been exposed to, when starting Kindergarten. Families may be struggling to meet their basic needs (like food and a safe place to sleep), which impair the learning experience. Basically, someone just moved the starting line for teachers in these classrooms. They have to back up to build the basics first. How will these kids catch up, or get to the same finish line with their luckier peers?

Schools Are Segregated

Schools are segregated mainly because neighborhoods are segregated by race and class.  Yes, you can select reassignment based on some criteria, but that’s simpler than it sounds as well.  Let me give you a scenario that’s not too far fetched.

Little Joshua lives in a neighborhood of low socioeconomic status…he’s poor. His local school is held an “F’ or “D” grade for 3 years running.  Mom wants him to do well; she knows he’s very bright.  She might not have graduate high-school herself and may work a few low-wage jobs to make ends meet.  Though mom would love to transfer him, she’s a little intimidated by the whole process and feels overwhelmed.  She’s told she has to provide transportation to and from the “good” school miles away. This is not an option between her work schedule and transportation options.  There are no neighbors or friends she can ask to help as the school is too far away, and they too face the same transportation barriers.

Schools in Poor Communities Have Lower Performance

There are a plethora of reasons for this.  Two of which are listed above.  But layer onto those the fact that lower performing schools attract younger, more inexperienced teachers.  Why?  One oversimplified reason is that teachers choose where they work and principals choose who they hire. Less challenging schools with lots of parent resources get picked by tenured staff first. More challenging classrooms, further away from middle-class neighborhoods where teachers usually reside, have a harder time attracting those rock stars. The cycle perpetuates.

Finding the Unicorns

But there are ways to overcome these challenges. ALL kids are capable of learning and are deserving of the same prosperity as their peers.  I hope to break the cycle of blame and be a part of the solution: finding schools where barriers are conquered.

And, when these unicorns are found, we will illuminate their stories through the faces of students, their families, or educators. We are going to talk about what makes them tick.

The goal is that we all learn something that empowers us to hold those failing our kids more accountable, and change our conversation about all those “gaps.”

What do you think?


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