Introduction and uphold the educational level of their student

Introduction

            While there
are many controversial debates evident between
educational policy and educational practice, the funding discrepancy and
fluctuation of scholastic achievement within urban schools has remained constant
in contrast to more affluent institutions. Despite various federal education
reform efforts targeting schools with high concentrations of poor and minority
students and their lack of adequate funding, why does academic achievement fail
to meet state benchmarks and uphold the educational level of their student
communities?  

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The National Center for Education Statistics External
classifies urban school as city schools. All schools are then divided into four
categories based on their location and population density in relation to a city
and size. This is also referred to as an “urban-centric” classification system.

The four categories within this system are city.

suburb, town and rural. Furthermore, urban schools are then divided into three
subcategories based on the Census Bureau’s definitions of urbanicity: large
(city with a population of 250,000 or more), midsize (city with a population of
250,000 or less), and small (city with a population of less than 100,000). To
make this topic relative to my everyday world, I choose to focus on large urban
schools (more specifically, public charter schools housing 6th-12th
grades) located in cities with populations of 250,000 or more.

 I myself being a first-year teacher, my
initial perception of urban schools was concerns of how their underwhelming
performance was relative to unqualified (and underqualified) teachers in the
classroom as well as students experiencing a wide range of issues to include
language barriers, truancy, undiagnosed learning abilities and more. Likewise,
I have chosen to analyze a relatively new law (new version of the No Child Left
Behind Act (NCLB)) signed by former President Barack Obama in December 2015
titled the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The goals of policies
such as this and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) are to
improve educational opportunity for the poor yet a significant positive impact
remains unseen. Unfortunately, it appears these efforts have steadily increased
the inequality they were created to cease.

This analysis focuses on the causes of the inability of urban public-school
systems to uphold the educational level of their student communities, due to
funding, staffing, and other various factors. Will there ever be a “just right”
policy to assume all responsibilities of bridging academic achievement gaps
within these inner city urban schools, more specifically preventing the
practice of disproportionally targeting vulnerable
students and their schools while setting them up for success and providing
the skills needed to attain higher education? Better yet, how can we help to
equally support these targeted students in these environments as well as our
educational leaders who educate them?

Background  

According to the US Chamber Commerce Foundation report
(2016), most students in the United States K-12 classrooms are of color, and
half of them come from low-income families. With the
odds predetermined and stacked against them, the cost to overcome inequity and
poverty is often too high.  Education
policy experts have expressed concern for equal distribution and utilization of
resources to public schools. In addition, members of Congress have directed
their focus to creating solutions of vast improvement. Yet the question seems
to remain. In what ways will public education policy counteract the various
barriers presented so that all children regardless of background and
circumstances may attain a high-quality education?

 

            Education
in America has remained prominent and provides the most probable path to social
mobility and opportunity. However, a student’s access to receiving a quality
education is usually not left to them; instead their socioeconomic status or
perhaps even their race determines their outcomes. “Black children are more
likely to be born into poverty than white children; but they are also less
likely to escape” (Reeves, 2013). This may lead to a cyclical pattern of little
or no education lasting for multiple generations. The efficacy of charter
schools continues to be debated among educators nationwide yet their ability to
create equitable access to high quality education is evident in the communities
they serve. Research suggests that “charter schools are particularly effective
in raising the achievement of low-income and minority students in urban areas”
(Croft, et al., 2010). On the contrary, conditions in
these schools prevent maximum potential in scholastic achievement due to
limited assets that more affluent institutions may have an abundance of. Former
Secretary of Education John King revealed once that ensuring equal access to
education has been an ongoing challenge for the country, and that when it comes
to issues of equity, the United States (U.S.) has a complicated history. “We
have a set of principles on which the country was founded around equality of
opportunity, and yet from the very moment of the founding there has been a
tension between that aspiration and the reality of American life,” he said
(Camera & Cook, 2016).

The ESSA is the seventh reauthorization of the previously
mentioned landmark ESEA, initially implemented in 1965 as the education law and
outstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. It is the first
reauthorization since 2002 when NCLB became law. The ESSA works to hinder
NCLB’s extreme testing regime while laying a flexible new path for school
accountability. Also reaffirming the original vision that a child’s home
environment should determine the quality of his or her education. In addition,
the law provides federal grants to educational agencies of the state improving
elementary and secondary education quality. ESSA includes provisions set up to
ensure the success for students and schools advancing equity by “upholding
critical protections for the nation’s most disadvantaged and high-risk
students. ESSA’s support for charter schools reflects a philosophy that favors
autonomy, this may be implemented through privately run public schools, or less
federal regulation” (“Why Every Student,” 2015). The authorizers of these urban
charter schools will be ultimately held responsible for their marketing,
expansion and continuation. This will be significantly important for
determining and establishing the quality of these institutions.

            There are many factors in relation
to the low academic achievement found in these urban schools. Maintaining exceptional public schools with up to date
technology to serve the low-income population is challenging within itself. Unfortunately,
this is occurring as most if not all public resources are steadily declining.

In fact, “unsanitary bathrooms and physical decay have been defined as ‘stressors
that undermine students’ ability to concentrate, and this has proved lack of
concentration, or poor ‘on-task behavior,’ with the students directly affected.

Decreased motivation and engagement in students has also resulted from these
stressors” (“Education and Urban Schools,” 2013). In contrast, intellectual
support and resources from academic institutions produces significant academic
growth and development as they expand upon their individual abilities. For
example, “providing laptops for urban adolescents has increased achievement and
engagement when computer use moves beyond rote skill practice” (“Education and
Urban Schools,” 2013). It is evident that well-equipped facilities with up to
date technologies and adequate resources provide the desired benefits necessary
for the development of all students’ intellectual abilities.

            The minimum wage and/or increasing
the Earned Income Tax Credit have also been thoroughly examined while policy
makers have attempted to remove some of the above mentioned educational
achievement barriers with hope to benefit and significantly impact the
financial income of the parents in these low-income households. By increasing
the Earned Income Credit to provide substantial support to low-income working
parents and/or reconstructing the minimum wage, this initiative does not
address the scholastic programs or school infrastructure, more so enabling
academic achievement as long as the family isn’t struggling for survival at
home. Likewise, this is easier said than done.

            Early childhood education investment
is another policy initiative that was mentioned in president “Obama’s 2013
State of the Union Address.” Students who attained high quality early childhood
education developed significantly greater in their intellectual abilities and
academic growth in contrast with their more affluent classmates. This also
decreased the possibility of children in low income homes becoming cyclical in financial
hardship and making ends meet once they reach working age and begin to have
families of their own. Though leaders in education have attempted to solve and
bridge the disadvantaged gap within this population, students still fall short
of the desired achievement.

            The last controversial policy
initiative I mention examines hiring practices for professionally qualified and
more effective teachers being placed in high-poverty institutions. Teacher
assignments, evaluations based on student test scores and merit pay are among
the various topics consistently debated across the political spectrum. As a
result, typically the most qualified teachers are found in more affluent
schools opposed to schools of high poverty. Methods to bridging this gap
include increased professional development, greater support services centered
around teachers (educational staff), increased pay, alternative pathways (certifications)
into the profession, and finally, enforcing an applicable policy initiative.

The teacher shall remain the primary point of contact when structural
improvements for schools serving this population are discussed. More importantly, educational leaders should strive to
implement efficient learning environments that demonstrate exceptional educational
instruction for students, despite their socio-economic status and negative
correlations between their financial circumstances and academic achievement.

This can be successfully completed by emphasizing equity as the foundation upon
which student success is built.

Literature Review

            After reviewing relative research studies, results vary as
to whether the ESSA is accomplishing what it is destined to do. More
specifically, the answers range widely from most definitely to an apparent no. “Although
the law criticizes test and punish strategies resulting in creative vital
programs, it emphasizes K-12 accountability over root cause of inequality. This
oversight leads some to think that less responsibility from the federal
standpoint is a good thing for these vulnerable populations” (“Why Every
Student,” 2015). Thus, decreasing the likelihood of preventing the practice of disproportionally
targeting vulnerable student population institutions. For example, “when
Chicago closed 49 elementary schools, African-American students were the
majority population in 90 percent of those schools. Nearly 60 percent had a
high concentration of special needs students” (“Why Every Student,” 2015).

            Relative research studies have
focused on the factors determining the overall academic achievement within
urban schools and why they consistently fall short in contrast to suburban area
schools. More specifically, they address the funding gaps within local school
districts and viable solutions. Interestingly, major funders (such as the Gates
and Walton foundations) have worked to expand K-12 education philanthropy. Since
2000, these organizations have increasingly given grants to districts in hopes
of improving funding patterns across the board. The sustainability of these
reforms remains in question though alternative methods of improving these
funding pattern improvements continues to be thoroughly examined. Funding
however has not been limited to the few mentioned foundations. There have been
multiple large philanthropic contributions from other various organizations throughout
the most recent years (since 2000) targeting sustained reform efforts within
these urban schools. Yet the question remains, how are these targeted sites
that contributors commit to producing change and is there a significant impact?
If so, specifically what are these changes and how are they being implemented?

Further effective research should detail points of action to
alter this tale and improve the learning outcomes and produce the positive
results that most seek from urban schools. Schools must continue to monitor the
academic performance of vulnerable groups, including products of poverty
stricken families. States will still be responsible for testing 95 percent of
children and intervening in the lowest performing schools. “Ultimately that
means ESSA will likely not disrupt the NCLB pattern of targeting vulnerable
children and the low performance of the schools they attend” (“Why Every
Student,” 2015). As a result, academic achievement gaps will continue to exist.

Analysis of the Policy

            In general, the consensus from educators appreciates the
fact law grants significantly more power to the state while maintaining the
requirement that schools report on the capabilities of their students. As a
result, state legislatures play a decisive role in determining implication for
each state’s institutions. “States must work with local stakeholders and
districts as they design perhaps new and improved assessments and
accountability systems. They must also follow through on identifying and
filling perceived opportunity gaps” (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). State
and local stakeholders have developed consolidated state plans to implement
these new obligations.

 In contrast to the
prior template, there is a significant reduction in requirements relative to
supporting qualified staff because of the regulations that were repealed by
Congress “required specific data and information regarding how low-income and
minority students in Title I, Part A schools are not served at disproportionate
rates” in terms of unexperienced and underqualified staff (U.S. Department of
Education, 2017). As a result, these state plans must only produce the
statutory description based on the applicable school level’s data. Previously,
additional data requirements included validly calculating, reporting and
addressing any differences in educator equity rates at the student level. Lastly,
there are three new requirements in the revised template:

“How each SEA will assist eligible entities in meeting
long-term goals for English language proficiency and challenging State academic
standards; How each SEA will award sub grants to local educational agencies
(LEAs) under the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment program in Title
IV, Part A of the ESEA; and third, how youth will receive assistance from
counselors to advise and prepare for college under the McKinney-Vento Education
for Homeless Children and Youths program” (U.S. Department of Education, 2017).

In
all, the primary objective is for educational staff in these urban institutions
to be provided with the adequate skills and training needed to provide the
students within these vulnerable populations the same academic tools as their
affluent counterparts throughout their academic tenure.

 

 

Conclusion

            The gap between suburban and urban
achievement is critical and the trends in academic achievement produce even
more cause for alarm. One must differentiate; are funding efforts within
suburban and urban school unequal or are suburban schools just doing an
outstanding job while urban schools are failing their student population? Can
the schools do more? Are they willing to
do more? Can they make educational outcomes less dependent on socioeconomic
factors? “A democratic society functions most effectively when it provides
schools that are capable of teaching all its citizens at least the basic skills
of reading, writing and math” (West, 1985). But if all schools aren’t
considered equal, society will undoubtedly fail to thrive.

Furthermore, when the academic foundation is not established
in the student’s early years, students will lack readiness as they approach
their middle and high school years as well as postsecondary education. The
policy agenda must be reexamined and refocused towards bridging these
achievement gaps and promoting positive school climates, especially in high-poverty
school who need it the most. It is my hope that the
new state consolidated plans will meet the ultimate mission of America’s
education system which is “to continue to promote student achievement and
preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and
ensuring equal access for all students” (U.S. Department of Education, 2017).

Unfortunately, this is not an overnight process and will take time.