When we consider education inequities, many of us quickly think of inner city public schools despair compared to peer private schools — but few realize the real inequity in education is between rural schools and city schools and the main crevasse between “The Haves” and “The Have Nots” is technology caused by geography. The web.

Bandwidth acquisition and exploitation. It’s hard to get a superfast Internet connection in the middle of nowhere when there is little financial incentive for companies and utilities to invest in laying down copper wire the last mile into rural homes and schools. Wireless technology and satellite internet are helping bridge that gap in technology inequity based on neighborhood and fieldstone. The real trouble in the inner city — the Urban Core, if you will — is not caused by the lack of access to technological advances, but rather by the loss of hope and long-term understanding of how to build a future that doesn’t bleed.

Here are some alarming statistics from the Alliance for Excellence in Education that proves a definite relationship between the essence of a city and the livelihood of those expected to serve its urban core as citizens with meaning:

  • If all of the students in New Jersey who are estimated to drop out of school this year earn diplomas instead, the state could save more than $259 million over the course of those young people’s lifetimes.
  • If New Jersey’s high schools and colleges were to raise the graduation rates of Hispanic, African-American, and Native-American students to the levels of white students by 2020, the potential increase in personal income in the state would add more than $11.3 billion to New Jersey’s economy.
  • If the 13,831 high school dropouts from the Class of 2006 had earned their diplomas instead of dropping out, New Jersey’s economy would have seen an additional $3.6 billion in wages over these students’ lifetimes.
  • New Jersey spends over $96 million each year to provide community college remediation education for recent high school graduates who did not acquire the basic skills necessary to succeed in college or at work.

What’s going on here? Why is there such a minority educational bleeding in the urban core? Where have we gone wrong and how can we fix it? In Jersey City, the TRAC (Transitional Road to Attending College) program is trying to help prepare students for the rough road ahead:

Research shows that the first few weeks of high school are critical to improving retention rates and encouraging students to go on to college. This summer, over 200 Jersey City rising ninth graders have chosen to spend their summer (July 9 – Aug. 17) in the classrooms of Dickinson High School learning core academic concepts and character building, communication, decision making and goal setting skills that will help them succeed in high school and transition into college.

Does your city system provide appropriate programs to help poor and minority students prepare for higher learning and in the acquisition of a high school diploma? How can we reinvigorate the societal demand that everyone share in a fair and equitable educational system that isn’t separated by geography, made moribund by money, or sabotaged by uninspired learning prospects?

15 Comments

  1. I’ve been wracking my little brain trying to work out the best way to put down my thoughts on this without being insensitive and this is what I have come up with:
    Throughout my childhood, my mother never ceased to emphasize the importance of a good education and how the things I learned in school would be the one thing that nobody could ever take away from me. My parents both stressed that it was essential that I graduate from high school and went on to at least Rutgers if I wanted to get a reasonably good job in life. For me, taking the SAT was not an option and I was put to take practice SATs from SAT books (purchased at garage sales, of course 🙂 ) from when I was in the 9th grade, even though I wasn’t to take the SAT for another few years.
    I can’t help but think that in the case of the dropouts, this style of parenthood was just not in place.
    Consequently, it seems almost like we have to start by preparing parents for proper childraising before we go to the children. Even parents with grade school children might have to consider taking a refresher course in giving their children the proper priorities.

  2. That’s a powerful comment, Gordon, and I thank you for taking the time to make such an effective argument.
    Obviously your mother valued education and she embedded that value and a demand in raising you.
    What do we do about the cycle of poverty that includes the meme that if your parents don’t value education you won’t value education. If children are taught to respect and obey the authority of their parents then how can they not be drawn to education if the parents fail to find value in even a high school diploma? This is the sad reality of the urban core.
    Less than 8% of Black males in one Bronx high school will make it from freshman to graduate status. Is it possible to change core values — or a lack thereof — when the non-education route obviously has more of a cultural cure?
    When I taught at Rutgers there were a lot of poor students who worked and toiled and fought to just into the university and luckily, on the Newark campus, at least, there was a tremendous support system in remedial training, scholarships, work study and other programs specifically designed to keep minority students in school and off the streets. The key to making that system work, though, is finding the kids and then pulling them and making them care more about the future instead of only the immediate now.

  3. Hi David,
    I’m glad that you’re putting a spotlight on this issue since figuring out how to resolve this situation is the key to revitalizing the urban core.
    The key will be to find the way to give people hope for the future so that they will avoid short-term thinking that leads to a cycle of poverty. We need to try new strategies in the failing schools that will make them places of learning, instead of warehouses.
    Parents are voting with their feet, so finding solutions is in the best interest of the leaders of the failing schools. Schools in the urban core are losing students as parents move to the suburbs in search of better education. Others, without the resources to move, have been known to figure out ways to get their kids into other school systems by having their children live with relatives or other methods for showing residency within a particular district.
    Throwing money at the problem isn’t helping because the worst schools in my state seem to get the most money. But the money isn’t going to flow forever as people keep leaving the failing school districts. When people stop owning property in a community, they stop paying taxes to that community’s school system.
    People are getting tired of increasing property taxes and are seeking ways to avoid getting hit with oppressive tax bills. The latest step has been a movement stirring in a city that hopes to stop the flow of its tax dollars into Gary.

    It’s not shocking that people in Griffith are working up a head of steam about divorcing themselves from Calumet Township, since it’s been a pretty one-sided marriage for years.
    The township is made up of the incorporated municipalities of Gary and Griffith and a small unincorporated area between the two, and the money flow has been a one-way stream into Gary.
    Townships are mysterious things, and what they provide depends on where you are but two of the things they offer are administration of the poor relief system and ambulance services.
    People in Griffith have woken up to the fact that they have their own fire and ambulance system and that most of the poor relief money is going to Gary, leaving them with just about nothing to show for a tax rate that is about the highest of any of Indiana’s more than 1,000 townships.

    http://nwi.com/articles/2007/07/15/columnists/mark_kiesling/docafb91d8377fa485a86257319000c3515.txt
    A failed educational system is a major reason why there are so many people seeking assistance. The reality is that people aren’t able or aren’t willing to pay higher taxes. They’ll pack up and move to greener pastures, whether it is from Cook County, Illinois to Lake County, Indiana, or from the midwest to Florida or Nevada or other low tax states.
    The real change has to come from within the community and inside the hearts of the young students. We need to figure out ways to encourage people to look to the future and to plan for better tomorrows by finishing their educations.
    We need real leadership to get the word out and to spark hope for the future.

  4. There was a recent story about public housing residents in Newark, NJ seeking out better lives in Altoona, PA. that echoes the fact that people with any kind of resources — in this case the desire to move — will seek out better situations for their families and children.

    Robin Moore had never heard of this city in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, so far in distance and feeling from her home in Newark.
    Compelled by a desire to stretch her dollars and find space and safety, Moore dialed a phone number she spotted on a flier in a Newark welfare office. “I always liked Pennsylvania, so I kind of took a chance with Altoona,” says Moore, 37.
    In March, she moved with her husband, three daughters and grandson to a public housing development here.
    “I wanted to protect my children,” she says.

    Source

  5. You have man eloquent arguments, Chris, and you’re right that the urban core is decaying and shriveling in death while the ‘burbs come alive with new thoughts, minds and the want for higher learning.
    I do think we need an overhaul. Give retired teachers incentives to come into the urban core to teach. Give them free housing, lots of money and promise their security. If the quality of the schools rise and safety increases, the people will return to the historic center of their original lives.

  6. Newark is in trouble, Chris.
    Murders are up. Income is down. 70% of the business infrastructure in the city core is tax free. That means the city, many years ago, to coax business into the core, gave them 100% tax relief. So there are businesses in the core, doing well, doing international business, and not giving back anything to the city directly in collected tax dollars. Public Schools are funded mainly through property taxes. Many of those tax-free deals in the ’70s and ’80s were made with multi-year, renewable extensions because that was the only way to get wholesale commitments from established companies to move to the city.
    Some of the public schools in Newark are crumbling. A few are over 100 years old and have had no remodeling or infrastructure care since the day they were built. The windows leak air. The pipes drip. It feels like the children are doing hard time in prison rather than learning anything worthwhile in a school.
    Cory Booker is the new mayor of Newark. He has big dreams. He’s Ivy League educated, but I’m not sure he’s the right guy for the job. He’s a pretty boy intellectual who won’t get his hands dirty:
    http://www.ci.newark.nj.us/City_Government/Meet_the_mayor.htm
    You almost need the heavy-handed thuggery of a Sharpe James patronage system to get anything done in a rotting and corrupt city:
    http://www.wnbc.com/news/13666665/detail.html?rss=ny&psp=news

  7. Hi David,
    The sad thing about Gary, Indiana is that it used to be known for educational innovation.

    In 1907, William A. Wirt became superintendent of schools in Gary, Ind., where he developed a plan of school operation (progressive education) known variously as the Gary plan, the platoon system, and Wirt’s “Work-Study-Play” plan.
    This system increased the utilization of the school plant by alternating classes between regular and special teachers.
    Wirt was in many ways the father of modern education and the education this system he built in the city became a national model. Going beyond the mere basics of “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” Wirt believed in the education of the whole child.

    http://www.wirtalumni.com/waw/wirt.htm
    What we need is a whole generation of new innovation designed to increase prosperity within the urban core.

  8. That’s a great link, Chris, even though the truth it speaks reflects a current sadness.
    I agree we need to find a way to restore order and care to the inner cities. If the cities crumble, so will the rest of society because the center of the wheel is the city and if that fails then the rest of the spokes radiating out of the core have no hold and all forward progress disintegrates without purchase.

  9. Hi David,
    I would have probably repeated Gordon’s viewpoint if I didn’t work with the first generation/troubled/poor students here.
    It is easy to focus on education when there is parental guidance but most of these cases there are so many things going on both in their life and their parent’s life that “education” becomes the least priority in life.
    Lack of support is a challenge, keeping the students interested is even more tough.

  10. Hi David,
    I think the core value is more or less the same.
    Any well educated, well employed and well settled family will usually understand and emphasize the imporatnce of education – regardless of the location.
    There is a huge dropout rate in Indian education scenario too, where there is poverty and other social disturbance.
    The middle class and upper middle class covers a large chunk of total population (approx. 40%) to whom “education” is the biggest priority.

  11. Thanks for that extra detail, Katha.
    In the work you do here in the USA, how do you find the forgotten students? Are they eager to learn or do they feel the rejection and thus lose interest in participating in the process?

  12. David,
    I worked with several group of students here – and most of the kids were suffering from a broken home which made it hard for them to concentrate.
    They feel the rejection and there is a tendency to withdraw too.
    It gets tough to keep them motivated because there is no immediate result of their effort.