Housing and Education Inequality- Again

Research tells us that socio-economically and racially integrated schools are better schools. But if we want truly diverse schools, we need equally diverse housing.

At my public school in a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn we are fortunate to have a uniquely diverse student body. About 40% of our students are high or middle income and mostly white. Around 60 percent of our students come from low-income Dominican, Puerto-Rican or Mexican families. The resources of our upper middle class families gave us a music program, after school programs, art and science supplies, a school garden and unlimited free trips. Our Spanish speakers make our dual language program possible. At the same time, all of our students benefit from engagement with children and families of different means as well as cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

But every few days, I hear about another student who is leaving the neighborhood to move to the Bronx or Queens because they can’t afford to stay in the area. The students who are leaving are almost all recently immigrated, low income, native Spanish speakers. There goes our diversity and there goes their education. Going from a warm, nurturing and resource rich environment in an integrated public school in Brooklyn to a “failing” school or network charter in the Bronx does not bode well for their future. We know what schools they are headed for and we know that they are underfunded, overcrowded and either slated for shut down or newly privatized.

This is yet another reminder that the real issues in education today are poverty and inequality and that the worst facets of education reform disproportionately affect low income students of color. Nothing will get better for these children unless we address housing inequality and give ALL schools the resources they need to cultivate successful, critical, happy and healthy students. Every neighborhood needs affordable housing and every public school with a segregated, low-income population should be getting triple the funding of schools in high income neighborhoods.

I’m going to miss my students who abruptly left after years in our community. I’m worried about them and hope they land somewhere with teachers who can see how wonderful they are and the potential they have. I hope they get to do more with their days than ELA and Math. I hope they are not made to feel like failures. They are not failures and neither are their teachers- the only failure is a system that punishes the poor for being poor and recklessly allows corporate power into children’s lives.

New York already has one of the most segregated and unequal school systems in the country. If we don’t tackle housing soon, it will only get worse.

Donors Choose and Teacher’s Pockets: Who Really Subsidizes your Child’s Education

At first glance, Donors Choose seems helpful. It is great to get the supplies you need, or to pay for a special trip or resource that the DOE would never provide. But something is wrong with a system that depends on teachers to act as fundraisers and grant writers for basic supplies like books, art materials, and even classroom furniture. Not only do we not have the time, but when teachers and families privately and quietly subsidize education, it allows lawmakers to pretend that schools don’t need more money and resources. It also allows them to continue to funnel education funding to testing companies like Pearson and Kaplan instead of putting that money toward supplies that teachers actually need on a day-to day basis.

One sneaky facet of education reform has been shifting the conversation in education away from income inequality and funding to presumed teacher inadequacy. With teachers and families on defense, we’ve stopped talking about how schools in high-income neighborhoods can have millions of extra dollars at their disposal when compared to their low-income counterparts. Not to mention charter networks raising millions each year. We’ve stopped talking about how the state and federal government are underfunding schools. We’ve accepted the dearth of resources so much so that fundraising has reached into every classroom and teachers and their families are quietly subsidizing our education system.

For those of you who don’t know, donors choose is an organization that allows teachers to fund raise for supplies, (while taking a substantial cut for operational costs.) Teachers write mini-grant proposals and then share their “projects” with friends, family and school community members.

This year, I have spent about $1,000 of my own money on my classroom.  Additionally, I have raised around $3,000 through Donors Choose for supplies. That is $4,500 of supplies that I needed, that I had to pay for or fund raise for myself. My parents, my friends, and parents of my students all contributed to my projects.

Every teacher I know does what I did this year- spend substantial amounts of their own income and fund raise through donors choose or other similar websites. Teachers use donors choose across the country. In fact, exactly 226,181 teachers have written projects on Donors Choose to raise more than $310,000,000. Yes, teachers have privately raised more than three hundred million dollars nationwidefrom their spouses, their parents, their friends and their students.

For many teachers, the reality is that we will continue to raise money for our classrooms and continue to spend our own money on our students. Because we want to give them the best experience possible. But at least, let’s not do it quietly.