Schools are not Equal

I taught and administered my entire career in high poverty rural schools. The things most parents take for granted were not possible at ours. In Schooling Ourselves in an Unequal America, Rebecca Strauss discusses the divide between what we as a nation spend to educate the poor vs. what we spend on educating the wealthy.  The statistics are alarming, a worthwhile read even if it does push the tired old (and untrue) mantra of failing American schools.

I thought perhaps I'd share what unequal schools look like from here:

Things we never had (in my thirty years):
  • Elementary Music
  • P.E. Specialists
  • Orchestra -- at any level
  • Competitive Band
  • Intramural Sports
  • A Stable Teaching Staff (10 - 30% turnover every year)
  • College Guidance 
  • Theaters or Performing Arts Centers (at any of our three high schools)
  • Social service providers
Things we lost (years are approximate but give last date in any of our 15 schools):
  • School Librarians (1990)
  • Foreign Languages other than Spanish (2002)
  • Advanced Spanish (2010)
  • Free After School Sports (1997)
  • School Psychologists (1990)
  • Agriculture and Woodshop Classes (2000 and 2004)
  • Teacher Prep Periods (2008)
  • Home Economics Classes (2010)
  • Career Guidance (1995)
  • Field Trips (2000)
  • Textbook Renewals (US History text had Bush, Sr. as president) (1996)
  • Closure of six elementary schools (1983-2013)
Special funding and programs for poor schools that can't be spent on any of the above:
  • Title I
  • 21st Century Grants
  • Gear Up
What ate up our money:
  • Daily busing over a huge rural area
  • More school buildings rather than being able to consolidate (distances too far)
  • Special Education costs
  • Personnel benefits, especially medical insurance and retirement
Yet, we can be proud of what we did, even without things most of you reading this would insist upon for your kids. We increased AP courses at the high school, had some of the highest reading and math scores at 3rd grade in the state and (until the recession hit in 2009), continued to offer a fair selection of electives at the high schools.  But our kids didn't perform like your suburban kids, didn't have someone in their corner setting high expectations for them and only about half enrolled in higher education, primarily community college. But they deserve more, damn it.