Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Dream (Continuing to be) Deferred

A Dream Deferred
By Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Recently, I came across Time Magazine's Top Ten Underreported Stories of 2009 (,28804,1945379_1944495,00.html). The number one story? The continuing de facto segregation in our nation's inner city schools. This might be surprising to us to live in the 'burbs but for anyone who has taught in the inner cities, this story rings true. The fact is our inner city schools are currently more segregated than they were at the beginning of the Civil Rights period. African American and Latio students are especially at risk and dropout rates for these two groups are nearing the 50% mark. In a country founded on the democratic principle that everyone can and should have opportunities to learn, what has caused us to go astray?

The fact remains that as far as we think we may have progressed as a society, we still are very tribal in nature. If given the choice we prefer to be with people who look like us and think like us. There are also push and pull factors at work. Immigrant communities are often family centered with the extended family coming to a specific area to get their feet off the ground. Refugee areas are established within a certain radius giving us areas like the now famous Little Havana in Miami. Cities throughtout the country have their China Towns and Little Italys. The great myth of America as a melting pot continues to prevail, even though it is obvious that many groups have chosen not to submerge themselves into mainstream American society.

This de facto segregation causes various issues in our nation's schools. The simple truth is that the more affluent areas receive more money per pupil. This leaves the less affluent areas (read: inner cities) with less funds per pupil. These schools often have students of difficult backgrounds who have been part of generational poverty. What these students value and how they see education varies greatly from their teachers who most likely come from middle class, white-collar communities. Many immigrants can be found in the inner cities and public school teachers today may be teaching in a class with as many as five or six home languages being spoken. Young teachers face immense difficulties and often have high expectations placed upon them my administration and this leads to higher turnover in inner city schools. All of these reasons: motivation, language, and teacher turnover, lead to a difficult school environment. Yet, thanks to NCLB, these schools that are faced with these conditions must do just as well on standardized tests as the affluent school district next door.

How do we solve this? This is one of the most difficult questions in education today. Forced busing has been tried to integrate schools, but has been shot down by the Supreme Court (see Milliken v. Bradley). Therefore, we must realize that our schools are unlikely to be integrated anytime soon. We must then find a way to improve our inner city schools instead of closing them down for low performance, which is exactly what NCLB does. I suggest a way to provide funds to failing schools. These are the schools that need help the most. When someone is struggling to learn how to swim, we don't let them drown in the deep end. We give them the support they need, no matter how long it takes. We as educators, need to enlighten our local officials that NCLB is increasing, rather than decreasing the national drop out rate. Because of this, we are losing out on a generation of talented students who, due to socioeconomics, haven't had the same opportunities as everyone else. It's time to stop deferring dreams and to begin to think about what the true purpose of education is.

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