Sunday, January 12, 2014

Equity and the Yellow School Bus

Education Week: The Yellow School Bus: A Model for Equity

Peter W. Cookson Jr., researcher, teacher, and author wrote a thought-provoking piece in the January 8, 2014 edition of Education Week titled "Looking for Equity on the Yellow School Bus." It's based on his research of high schools at various socio-economic levels and the impact each has on the students who attend there. You should read the article or his recent book (Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools, Teachers College Press, 2013) to get the full measure of his argument.

In short, he claims there are a number of factors that "contribute to how high schools reproduce our class system." He goes on to identify four in particular but he concentrates his essay on what he refers to as "social-class rites of passage" which are more or less the "deep curriculum of high schools" that tend to perpetuate social-class distinctions. You'll understand better what he is talking about by reading the complete essay.

In the end, Cookson comes back to where the essay started: the yellow school bus. He uses the bus as a metaphor for our common concern, regardless of income or geography, about the safety of our children and their ability to attend school and be educated. Nationwide, we all acknowledge the yellow school bus and we know precisely what we should do if one is off to the side of the road boarding or discharging it's passengers. We don't only stop when its one of our kids on the bus or just for children from our neighborhood or social status. We do it for all, rich or poor, neighbors or strangers. So why is it so difficult for this country to recognize the inequity of our school system and provide similar economic supports for classrooms, teaching, and learning?

Cookson points to four issues that would lead to extending the equity of the yellow school bus to the rest of the educational experience for all, regardless of wealth or skin color. I'll just briefly summarize them here:

  • Stop the trend of spending more to educate affluent students than poor children.
  • Our curriculum needs revamping to cut across social classes and draw connections between them.
  • We need to put education back into the hands of teachers who know their students.
  • End the current test-craze that serves primarily to perpetuate class divisions.
The last two points are probably the most important. As Cookson puts it, "Finland did not become the No. 1 school system in the world because it spent precious resources paying corporations to manufacture tests that are intellectually questionable and perpetuate these class divisions. Finland became No. 1 by liberating teacher creativity."

A favorite saying of mine fits here: Better sameness is not the answer.

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