I changed the name above as I move into the borders of confidentiality.
For months, we have prepared for one girl’s move to another school district. Her dad came to tell me she was leaving. He wanted to make sure she did not fail 7th grade since she will be leaving school early to go to Mexico and the family plan was to move to Naperville when she returned.
Dad wanted to be closer to work (his commute’s over an hour) and he wanted better schools and a better neighborhood for his kids. The house next door got shot up in some gang-related drive-by shooting. I wished him well and we planned a pizza party to coincide with her departure, the end of the Constitution test and the near graduation of the 8th graders.
But Marni’s not moving, although she will go to Mexico and this somewhat sickly girl will miss yet more school. I know what happened. Dad discussed the problem with me. He liked Naperville, but he was stunned by the housing prices there. He’s been searching for a house for months. He can’t find a place for his family in his price range.
This week mom had Marni pick up the registration form for next year. She’ll be back. Dad will be spending somewhere around three hours in his daily commute. I’ll likely have this girl in my 8th grade classes next year.
The educational problem attached to this post: Our poorest neighborhoods have our poorest schools, for the most part, and we offer these families no alternatives. Even those families who are able to move often can’t find housing in a good school district that they can afford. When everyone was working on blackboards and writing in notebooks, this difference mattered less, especially since school discipline worked much better in our past. In this technological age, though, Marni just suffered a real loss.
Our computer lab was not even working until mid-winter this year. There are no student computers in the rooms. My class has one day a week in the lab when it is working and available — a time better measured in weeks this year since I’m not sure that lab was accessible for even two months — and even when the lab is working, we’re often frantically using those ancient computers to do school testing before the system crashes again. (I keep intending to take my old floppy disks into the lab to see if I can get some useful old stuff off them, although the fact that the lab printers hardly ever work makes that more complicated. I may be able to move some stuff to a flash drive if the software meshes.)
I spent much of April and May without internet in my classroom. I could not even get my district mail. My students asked repeatedly if we could do the social studies constitution tests available online. The answer was no, of course. I didn’t even have the internet in the classroom and when they got the computer lab up, they tried to use it for MAP testing of the student body. The lab has continued to crash. It’s almost June. We’ll see if the student body manages to finish the MAP test. I wouldn’t put money on it.
The technology gap is only one problem that Marni faces by being unable to move.
Where am I going with this? I’d like to point out that these situations occur all over America and form a fiercely strong argument for a voucher system. We can’t solve the affordable housing issue. Market forces will always make some areas unaffordable to lower-wage workers. But we could begin to address the issue of those children who are forced to live in an area with poor schools. If Marni’s dad received vouchers to pay for an education, he might be able to find a school near his job that would better help to prepare his kids for the future.
My district has many excellent educators and motivated administrators. But that does not change the fact that our test scores are hugging the bottom in the educationally-illustrious state of Illinois and nothing that requires real money or infrastructure works very well here. In another district, Marni’s dad could go online to look at his daughter’s academic progress. In the land of no email and no internet, however, we don’t even have a standardized grade program, much less one that a parent could access from outside the school. Hell, for some weeks this year, even our district website didn’t work.
P.S. The situation improved somewhat the next year and then improved dramatically the year after that when the state effectively took control of the district.