By Jacqueline Proshan ‘21
For countless years, the American public school system has been majorly flawed. Students from underfunded schools are not given equal opportunities to pursue their passions and succeed. This affects public schools all over America, even those in our very own neighborhood. Students in some of these schools do not have access to school psychologists, college guidance counselors, personal laptops, up to date textbooks and many more resources that help students reach their full potential.
Many big names, such as Chance the Rapper, are trying to ameliorate this issue. In collaboration with Social Works, a Chicago-based non-profit organization, Chance raised $2.2 million for Chicago public schools to achieve his goal of “mak[ing] sure there is equity and equality in our kids’ education.”
Machar fellow and former public school teacher Carl Haber explained the root of the issue: “If [New York’s] anything like Boston, the city’s public schools are not funded equally,” he said. “Much of public schools’ funding comes from property taxes. This means that if you live in a rich area with expensive properties, your school will receive a lot more funding than one in a lower-income area.”
Furthermore, Carl spoke about the lack of equity he witnessed teaching at a Boston public high school.
“All of the public schools that I was exposed to focused intently on high-stakes testing. The schools have no choice but to spend ridiculous amounts of time preparing their students for these standardized tests; they risk losing their funding otherwise. Teachers feel the pressure too because often their salaries are tied to their students’ test scores. This means that classes like art, music, and anything creative often fall by the wayside. Even if a student is passionate about math, English, or science, the classes are not geared toward creative expression and exploration, which diminishes their ability to develop intrinsic motivation to learn more about their passions.”
Finally, Carl spoke about how this issue not only affects this current generation, but many generations to come.
“You have to be rich, white, or very lucky to receive a quality education in the US. Unfortunately, that will only create a more segregated society in the future, which is the cause of so many of the socio-cultural issues we have in the US today.”
To help combat this issue, New York City has implemented many initiatives in the past few years. For instance, pre-school is now available to many more children, and there are more free after-school programs being created for homework help.
“If this [issue] feels shocking or bleak to students, I would encourage them to interact with their local public schools or kids from those schools to better understand what their education looks like and see how different, or similar, it is to their own,” said Carl.
Additionally, 12th grader Ben Gale-Platt, who has done a great deal of research on educational inequality, explained the root of the issue and the damage it causes. “Public schools in lower socioeconomic areas have less funding (mostly due to the amount of money raised through taxes, which is often less). In addition, a study conducted in 2015 cited that there is an evident racial bias in the allocation of funds to schools, and consequently, schools that are predominantly Black and Latinx receive less funding, as a direct result of their racial makeup. With the issue of unequal funding in mind, it’s also important to recognize the tragedy of the school to prison pipeline – in other words, the criminalization of Black and Brown children within the school system.”
Gale-Platt has also discovered that the school to prison pipeline is exacerbated by the presence of police in public schools. One report he analyzed, “Bullies in Blue” by the ACLU, clearly outlines this.
“With the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, the authority of law enforcement to engage youth based on assumptions of future behavior was fully incorporated under federal law. In the years that followed, programs that targeted ‘pre delinquent’ youth proliferated throughout major cities,” the report states.
“Some school districts lacked any definition of pre-delinquency. Others defined pre-delinquency by reference to behaviors—’short attention spans . . . [and] quick temper[s]’—recognized today as likely associated with learning or cognitive disabilities. This left room for teachers to label any student who misbehaved or struggled as pre-delinquent. Though many of these programs had components that sought to encourage student self-esteem, they simultaneously branded students with a ‘red flag’ that reinforced pre-judgments of criminality by teachers and law enforcement alike.”
This information is applicable to millions of students around the country and will continue to affect our future generations. Carl and Gale-Platt are raising awareness of the issue in hopes of igniting change to an unjust system.