The point often made during debates by Sec. Hillary Clinton is that children should not get a poor education based on their zip code.
Most of us would agree about poverty and its harmful effects on children in school. But the zip code message was co-opted a long time ago by those who want to privatize public schools.
What I and many educators and parents find ironic, is that children living in places with poor zip codes will often find a more rigid and draconian curriculum where teachers shout directions and point and click clickers at them like they are training animals performing at a circus.
Why is there an assumption that poor children, often of color, need a tougher “no excuses” school environment? Why do corporate CEOs and various politicians support such strict schools and act like the poorest of poor students are bad people waiting to happen and in desperate need to be “shaped-up?”
I recognize that older students and even some students in elementary school might need a more structured environment if they have been identified as having behavioral issues. But most children do not need a strictly run classroom. Special education teachers, who work with students with behavioral disabilities, resort to a slightly more structured environment only upon careful planning with parents at an IEP meeting.
Part of the reason for such heavily regimented teaching in poor schools is that more untrained teachers are flocking to those areas. When you know little about teaching, classroom control is paramount.
There is also a huge effort underway to change public schooling into online instruction. Controlling students as they sit online for most of what they learn is the goal.
It is not only regimental schooling that has permeated poor public schools, it is what children in poor zip code areas miss.
- They often lose out on the arts which were cut during No Child Left Behind, and which don’t appear to be returning to poor schools anytime soon.
- They lose out on play and recess and interesting subjects that used to be a part of the total school curriculum.
- They miss huge amounts of meaningful classroom instruction due to over-testing.
- Many libraries are insufficient and rundown or closed.
- Public school facilities with poor zip codes are often run down and filthy. Remember the poor schools in Detroit?
- Children often have health needs that go unaddressed. How many of these schools have nurses?
- Poor children often have problems with lead and other environmental hazards.
- Schools in poor areas don’t get the kind of counseling services children in wealthy schools get. They don’t have enough counselors to help them get to good colleges with the best scholarships. Nor do they get counseling for difficult problems they face.
- Poor children often do not get help for the problems they face but are instead suspended from school solely for trivial mistakes.
If we want to align schools in poor zip code areas with wealthier schools, closing the gap, the aim should be for good teaching, ample resources, warm and nurturing school environments with small class sizes and individualized attention (not just online).
Poor children deserve the kind of schools you find in the wealthiest suburb, or the best private schools. This should be the goal!
I find it sadly interesting that where I live private schools advertise the arts, recess and lots of play. They know what will be a selling point to parents. More importantly, they recognize what’s important to children—what will help them thrive and be better students!
Shouldn’t what is good for rich children be good for poor children too?
Zip codes matter. Hillary Clinton is right about that.
But the schools in zip codes are currently not equalizing the kind of education students receive. They are poor and punishing schools, and, in the end, if we don’t acknowledge this, we will have rich schools and poor schools.
There should be more discussion on the campaign trail about what improving schools by zip code really means and not just a reference to it.