School board and community members debated redistricting and differentiated funding as a means to reaching the goals of the district diversity policy last week.
No doubt redistricting will be required to make substantial changes in the demographics of the district’s schools and differentiated funding might help improve academic achievement, depending upon how it is used.
However, it seems to me that there is something inherently unfair about shifting disadvantaged kids around only to keep doing to them in their new school buildings what wasn't working for them in their former school buildings.
That is, if shifting kids around is all we do, we may achieve something approaching equity on paper—school buildings with less variation in demographics than we had before—but we’ll fall short of equity in practice, which will require not just a disruption in the status quo about which kids are assigned to which buildings, but also a disruption of the status quo of universal curriculum and instruction.
Admittedly, this will be an uncomfortable conversation in a district where we like to say that all of our schools are excellent—without specifying for whom—but if diversity and equity are truly a priority, we are going to have to dive in and have this conversation, not just now, but as a part of the conversation around ongoing decision making about day-to-day operations of the district.
Apparently, it offends local sensibilities to offer comment or criticism without having a detailed solution in hand. Frankly, I have more questions than answers, but in the interest of starting the conversation I offer (without endorsement) the following ideas about what equity in practice might look like.
Equity might look like more art, music, and physical education. But not in math class, where equity might look like more explicit instruction and Singapore Primary Mathematics.
Equity might look more like Core Knowledge reading and less like balanced literacy.
Equity might look like a reduction in special education services (due to improved effectiveness of universal instruction, not through ignoring the needs of students, please!).
Equity might look like increased diversity in extra-curricular activity participation, even at the high school level, which means equity might require reinstatement of 4th grade strings and 7th grade football.
Equity might look like rethinking technology use and internet filtering practices at school.
Equity might look like an acceleration policy that serves kids in regular education classrooms through appropriate subject matter and whole grade acceleration rather than in exclusionary pull-out programs at the elementary school level.
Equity might look more like the low-SES school described by Kitchen Table Math commenter palisadesk here:
However, I’ve never seen the attitude that seems to prevail in upper-SES schools, even in my district, where responsibility for kids’ learning the basics is offloaded to the home. It was hammered into me from the get-go that it was MY responsibility to teach kids the things they needed to learn, not the parents’ responsibility (which in many cases they did not have the resources to do anyway). It helps that the families in general support a more instructivist stance and expect us to be hammering the foundation skills. We allocate 20 minutes daily across the grades to structured practice of math skills. Counting, math facts, metric conversions, fractions, formulae—depending on the grade. Our math results are better than those in some of the middle-class schools, which I find interesting. We are doing something right.And here, in response to another commenter’s hypothesis that low-SES students in high-SES-area schools should be worse off than those in low-SES schools:
Even so, it is an uphill struggle because many kids need far more instructional time than we can provide, and issues like absenteeism, frequent moves, family crises and hunger do affect kids’ learning no matter how well we can teach them. But I haven’t seen the following in any of my schools for over a decade:
1. movies shown during instructional time
2. “art” projects in reading or math. No dioramas, foldables, posters etc.
3. “discovery” learning. “Guided discovery” is a bit different—in a science activity, students might be led through a series of steps to “discover” something (really, to observe it) and detail their observations, but they aren’t turned loose with stuff and expected to “discover” something.
4. “group” work with the exception of leveled groups for reading and math; when not directly taught by the teacher the groups will have individualized seatwork or follow-up assignments.
I think this may well be true, for several reasons. As Allison explained, the low-SES kids don’t have the outside tutoring/afterschooling etc. that higher-income families routinely provide, and they tend (this is a generalization) to respond poorly to unstructured learning situations, which much “group work” and “exploratory learning” seems to be. They haven’t got the resources at home or school to do artsy projects, may not have access to a computer or the Internet (or even a telephone!) at home, may have other responsibilities after school, not be able to afford field trips and school clubs/sports etc..
A previous school I worked at was in a neighborhood separated by a large city park from a very wealthy area of manicured million-dollar homes. The school for that neighborhood served these very affluent families, who comprised most of the enrollment, but on the edge of the neighborhood, bordering a freeway, there was a smallish public housing project. The children there also attended this school. So you had the very poor and the extremely rich. The school got allocated some extra special education staff for the “project” kids, but both socially and academically those children were isolated and tended to be academically unsuccessful. A top teacher from my school transferred there a few years ago and tells me that the great divide is still present, and the school does not have the kind of supports low-SES kids need.
For example, at my school the library has been kept open after school for parents and children to come in and use the computers for research, skill practice, homework and so on. Even though math facts are taught, many children need much more practice than can be given in class; we recommend some online sites for practice and pay for some sites where children can practice reading skills online (about 40% of our students have internet at home). Teachers also proved tutoring and support over the lunch hour and run academic clubs like math clubs and spelling clubs to reinforce basics in an engaging way.
Upper-income schools don’t, in my experience, provide this kind of thing. Their students are leaving after school for Little League, swimming, horseback riding and gymnastics. Our students are leaving to care for younger siblings or help mom and dad at the bakery.