Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Part 3)

Hey all … welcome back to my pink room!

Grab a seat, get comfortable… we might be here for a little while. It’s a little late but I am excited to jump back into the roots with you. So let’s get started…

Yesterday in “Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Part 2)“, we began exploring the very first choice Pink Valley had to make at the onset of COVID-19, i.e. whether or not they would host any kind of public schooling. We spent most of our time trying to first just understand what we actually mean by “any kind of public schooling”(because it definitely was not what we would have meant before the pandemic). We also briefly mentioned a few factors that likely had an influence on the choice that Pink Valley would ultimately make.

Today, we are going to try and do two things (which might be slightly ambitious): (1)Begin to understand why many school districts even by Pink Valley’s standards felt unable to host any kind of public schooling and (2) Give some insight on why not hosting even some kind of public school felt and had the potential to be catastrophic. Tomorrow, we will spend some time thinking through and perhaps even praising the initial response and approach Pink Valley took last spring when choosing to create school.

Okay let’s start with our first goal and see if we can explain why school districts across the nation might have felt hosting public schooling even when boiled down to just assignments and school days was an impossible task. It turns out the answer is actually quite simple, stratified material inequality. So what do I mean by that exactly?

The United States is a society which is highly stratified or organized by race and class. That means that despite Brown v. Board, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Fair Housing Act of 1974 (all acts that on paper outlawed racial discrimination and segregation), American schools, neighborhoods and workplaces remain highly segregated on the basis of race and class. That’s why for example in Camden High School 98% of the students are Black and/or Hispanic and more than 60% are eligible for free/reduced lunch but only 20 minutes away in Haddonfield High School 90% of the students are white and fewer than 3% are eligible for free/reduced lunch.

What does this tell us? Well simply put, schooling was not created equal. But it also says something else, school buildings although not at all equalizers did more than just host students; they fed them, watched them, gave them quiet spaces, and offered them connectivity and resources.

So now think about what happens when COVID hits. If you can’t meet in person at one location, the only reasonable way to connect is online. But what is required to connect online… at the most basic level wifi and a working computer. With this requirement alone, schooling for some became nearly impossible and for others just a small inconvenience. Now add what you actually need if you are to even be remotely successful completing work at home. Here’s the first thing, well… you need a home, like a residence. You can’t be hungry. You can’t be scared or uncomfortable. You need to a quiet place to focus. You need to be able to have little to no distractions or other obligations when it’s time to do school. And as you can imagine, there was very little that many districts could do to support students who lacked the tools “to do any kind of public schooling”.

Some areas, like Camden were able to mobilize and handout laptops and hotspots to as many students as were necessary. So perhaps, some sort of schooling could commence but honestly nothing much more than that. Yet other school districts like Philadelphia as we briefly had mentioned before, at least for the spring just did not have the means to distribute enough laptops and/or hotspots that was necessary to host any kind of public schooling.

Before we move on, let’s take a moment and briefly consider something. Typically the conversation of schooling segregation centers around neighborhood segregation because American neighborhoods are highly segregated but what also tends to happen is a strict dichotomy between white wealthy suburbs like Pink Valley and poor urban centers like North Philly or Camden are drawn . But what this does is limits and sometimes completely inhibits the conversation from exposing the fault lines of class and race within neighborhoods, even the “white wealthy ones” with “good” schools. We will come back to this in just a minute but Pink Valley District although it could afford to purchase Chromebooks and hotspots for every student who need one, is very far from equal.

Alright… on to our second goal for today: why is not hosting some kind of public schooling feel so catastrophic? This one surprisingly also has a somewhat simple answer, it feels so catastrophic because it is.

Recall what we said at the end of yesterday’s chat, I will quote it here for you in case remembering is not your gift, “Parents want their children to procure the best possible resources to allow their child to not only prosper but often outperform them”. Why is this crucially important?

Well what won’t parents do? Here is one thing, parents will not intentionally keep any available opportunities towards academic success from their child. We would think it absolutely crazy, if let’s say a parent said to their child, I am going to throw out all your school books because students in X place don’t have access to the same kind of school books you do. In fact, it wouldn’t be far off to imagine that parents intentionally chose that location and that school so their kid could get those exact books. So here’s what happens during COVID and a school shutdown: parents who have the resources to privately provide schooling for their child, will.

And I am not just talking about fancy computers and Kahn Academy, I am talking about private instructors coming to a child’s home and giving private lessons in math, reading, writing etc. If you are getting 19th century governess vibes then you are on the right track. Some students have private tutors and governesses teaching them the skills they will need to not only move forward but also excel in the next grade while other students don’t even have a computer.

Since March, there have been extensive predictive models about the crisis that is school aged learning loss ( I will link one interesting article here). Although learning loss appears to be a crisis that does not discriminate by class nor race, it does appear to be particularly more devastating for Black and brown children across the nation. Why would a school district like Pink Valley care about this?

Here is another thing we didn’t really talk about and that is the national conversation around so called “achievement gaps”. These are the documented gaps between Black and lower class students and white and upper middle class students on standardized test scores. These gaps have a huge impact on the access that Black and working class students will be afforded in the world beyond school from jobs to health care outcomes. And these obvious gaps are only expected widen as long as there continue to be differences in access to quality education.

If Pink Valley, who chronically suffers from these so called “achievement gaps”, did not attempt to host some kind of publicly accessible schooling then they would find several students left severally behind and risk even failing students entirely. And again, this is concerning unfortunately not because of the goodness of their administrators hearts but right now “achievement gaps” are expensive. They are costly to schools who want government funding and high ratings.

Okay, okay I won’t keep you all any longer tonight. That’s all for today, tomorrow we will talk about Pink Valley’s initial response and plan when faced with reinventing school. Join me back here tomorrow in the pink room.

Till then!

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