By Joseph Pazar
This is commentary on a NYTs story authored by Jacey Fortin
Back on July 4th, the New York Times Education section reported the decision of a Federal District Court Judge regarding a case brought by students and families attending schools in Detroit. These schools reportedly lack those aspects of schooling most students can take for granted, such as functioning heating and cooling systems and access to books and teachers. Reporter Jacey Fortin cites the judge as explaining “the lawsuit had failed to show that the state had practiced overt racial discrimination” (article embedded below). Hence, the class action lawsuit was lost, leaving the victims of educational malpractice without federal redress.
How long will we tolerate such inequities regarding basic access to public education and literacy for students attending schools in lower socio-economic school zones, districts, and states?
Often, conservative minded commentators will distinguish between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, accusing more liberally minded folks of championing some Khmer Rouge lite version of sameness among all people. In my view, an issue such as the one faced by students attending degraded schools in Detroit is one both sides of the political spectrum can agree upon.
Without basic access to literacy, there is no equality of opportunity, making any semblance of equity in outcome dismally rare. There should be little political debate when we fail to achieve equity in either of these domains, especially for those aspects of society ostensibly designed to be equalizers of opportunity. The only useful conversation is one based in pragmatism: how can the system be fixed?
The causes of school failure can be difficult to parse, but one principle seems abundantly clear: inadequate state funding of public schools disproportionately affects lower-income areas. That is, those areas with less local monetary resources will be disproportionately damaged during times of prolonged neglect, and the kids attending school right now cannot wait for a decade long solution.
School failure often boils down to some form of neglect, whether it be gross underfunding, school choice policies designed in a manner that weakens the public system, management from poorly informed leaders with little educational knowledge, or some combination.
Ultimately, the students of Detroit are not alone. We should seriously consider some form of federal guaranteed access to an adequate education, protecting not only groups from overt racism, but also the kind that masquerades as economic disparity across the nation.
As an educator, if there exists even a single school in my district to which I would not send my own daughter, I have more work to do.
Commentary by Joseph Pazar
NYTs Story by Jacey Fortin
Listen to a WDIW Interview with a Teacher in Protest