Pigs at the trough
Why is it that schools with low-income families are generally not as good as schools in high income neighborhoods? There are multiple reasons. Experienced teachers often transfer out as soon as they have the seniority. There is not as much equipment and instructional materials. The buildings are not in good shape. The parents really don’t care.
All of the above reasons are true except for the last one. The parents do care. In fact they may care more than higher income families because they know better than other families that a good education will lift their kids out of poverty. So why do the schools of low income families seem to get the left-overs in the education world.
Many years ago I was hired as the Director of Special Education for a well-endowed suburban school district in Maryland. At the time I was young and dumb. On one of my first days, the superintendent assured me that he valued special education and I would get any money that was left over. It took me a few months to realize that there was never any money left over and that the money always went to the first pigs at the trough.
Nothing has changed in all those years. The first schools at the feed trough get the money and any left overs go to the little piglets that are hanging back.
It is not that low -income parents don’t care. They just don’t know how to care in a way that gets them what they want. Just as I had to learn how to get the resources I needed for the county’s special education program, so low-income families need to learn how to work the system to get what their kids need.
Community organizers need to teach low-income families how to work the system. Families need to know how to show up at meetings and complain. They need to learn how to reach out to the media and show the rest of the population how the resources at their schools differ from those of wealthier families. This learning will not be easy. Many parents are intimidated by the school hierarchy. They are also under the mistaken impression that the school system looks out for all children equally. That isn’t true. School systems are like all bureaucratic organizations. Their first line of duty is to protect themselves. Better educated, and hence better financially endowed, families get that and will push the system to get what they want for their kids.
Low income parents need a community organizer to teach them not to be passive receivers of whatever the system is dishing out. People say that lower income families are sometimes working two jobs and don’t have the time to push the school. Fact is higher income families may only be working one job but they ae spending a great deal of time at that one job. Higher income families know where the buttons are to push to get what they want.
There are lots of piggies at the trough. We need to teach low-income families how to be one of them. They need to do so for the sake of their kids.