Inner City schools – the perfect storm

About ten years ago I read, or started reading, the book by….on the plight of inner city schools. After two or three chapters I was so angry that I couldn’t continue reading it. One of the things I wanted to do was get elected to Congress and introduce legislation that denied Federal Education money to any state that allowed too great a disparity in funding poor and rich school districts. It was a pipe dream of course.

Minnesota once led the nation in ironing out the funding differences between rich and poor school districts when it passed the Minnesota Miracle. I’ve written about this before but it was a golden age that soured when school district’s across the state started spending like the Greek Government knowing someone else (the state legislature) would get all the blame for tax increases.

The legislature has been putting the genie back in the bottle ever since. Still, Minnesota is not a state whose inner city schools have been financially neglected and that includes Duluth. We have enjoyed a million extra dollars a year to deal with helping minority students. Our Deseg program is not without faults but now that we are throwing it out to everybody in the District it will be one more reason for the state to kill all its future desegregation funding.

The problem is that even when inner city schools get lots of money they don’t use it effectively. Kansas City is a case in point. Given $2 billion by the state under court order they managed to let their District get worse and worse so that today they are closing half of all the remaining schools in the face of millions in annual losses.

I would point to a number of overlapping causes.

1. A greater concentration of poor children with dysfunctional homes.
2. Reduced funding from states more inclined to spend ed money on the well to do suburban schools.
3. the loss of prestige of education which draws less capable folks to the classroom.
4. Minorities seizing control of the big city political machinery and using their power to protect minority employees whose skills might not be up to snuff.
5. Teacher union contracts which make all inner city school jobs sinecures. (that’s fancy talk for guaranteed lifetime jobs) Ambitious administrators who attempt to achieve accountablity will simply burn out like their teachers in impossible classrooms. Criticism of poor black teachers is especially difficult because of a long history of blacks feeling they have to defend their own at any cost. This is changing as black leaders begin to confront the reality of the desolation their schools are causing minority students.

Side note: Historically teaching was one of the few professions available to ambitious African Americans. Consequently black schools, as inferior as they were, cranked out well educated blacks routinely. Such teachers were held in high esteem and they in turn had high expectations of their students for the good of the race. Ironically integration has slowly offered the best and the brightest other opportunities leaving inner city schools with much less able and overwhelmed teachers.

Side note 2. Ironically Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas did no favor to black educators in the public schools. In Topeka black teachers in the all black schools took a terrible hit after integration. The District gave preference to white teachers throughout the District which probably saved lots of money just as the Red Plan is meant to. There was probably very little help from the white controlled teacher’s unions for the laid off black teachers. I presume the same thing occurred in other cities that integrated their schools. It meant that blacks would have to be grateful for any black faces in their children’s schools. They probably weren’t all that particular about who got the good secure public employment.

On of my heroes in public education is the new Superintendent of schools in Washington DC. Michelle Rhee. There is a good, albeit far too short, article about her in Newsweek too.

One of her backers is the Mayor of Washington DC and his support is part of the evidence of black leaders demnding accountability for their schools. Another supporter is President Obama who is in the face, politely but firmly, of the teacher’s unions. Its one of many reasons I’m glad to have him as our President. His push for charter schools will undermind the union’s former stranglehold on shoddy, inner city schools.

I should add while I’m at it that I over generalized about the timidity of Duluth’s teachers. Some have spoken out although they have often felt a need to cover their backside when doing it. I posted an email from one concerned teacher last year sent to the school board pointing out flaws in the Red Plan. He then sent a second email to the School Board vociferously condemning me for misinterpreting his email. Of course, I don’t think I did but I knew quoting him in my blog might get him in dutch. I can’t blame him for taking a whack at me.

I was just forwarded another letter from one of the magnet school teachers who coincidentally made the same point to the School Board that one of my recent posts tried to make. To wit: that spreading deseg money out to all schools at the same time as Duluth concentrates minority students ever more in Grant and Nettleton will cause great harm to minority students. That takes some guts considering the ruthless management Dr. Dixon has imposed on our school system.

Its easy for me to criticize Dr. Dixon. I’m not dependent upon him for my job. If this teacher is canned in the big fill I wonder if Frank Wanner will stick up for her? I wouldn’t bet on it.

About the author