‘Good schools’ or ‘affluent schools’?

What do we mean by “a good school”?

Is it a school where all children are loved and respected and made to feel safe and valued? Where trained and caring educators know all students can succeed and work hard to help them reach their potential? Where children smile and laugh when they walk through the doors and enjoy being with each other and their teachers?

Or is it a school where most of the students are middle- or upper-class and at least a clear majority are white? Where families can provide their children with healthy food, a comfortable home and enriching after-school activities. Where average test scores are high, and GreatSchools ratings are near the top.

Most of us would probably say it’s the former. But how often do you encounter people casually using the terms “good schools” or “better schools” to refer to the latter? I see and hear it all the time, from ordinary folks, from elected officials and political candidates, and even from smart journalists writing about diversity, equity and social justice. A couple of examples:

In a New Yorker profile of Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, Sheelah Kolhatkar tells about Warren’s research on how economic pressures were forcing  middle-class families into bankruptcy. “The cost of raising a child — of paying for groceries and health care, and especially of buying a home near a good public school — was rising sharply,” Kohatkar writes (emphasis added).

And in an excellent New York Times story on school segregation, Emily Badger recounts how neighborhoods have become more racially and economically stratified as “higher-income families pursue the neighborhoods that come with the best schools.”

Now I know these are throw-away lines. The writers aren’t trying to make pronouncements about school quality. But by adopting this widely accepted shorthand – using “good” and “best” to mean the “most affluent” schools – they are buying into a harmful stereotype that schools in wealthy neighborhoods are, by definition, good, and schools in poor neighborhoods aren’t.

Language matters. It shapes how we think about schools and society, like it or not. Journalists and editors owe it to their readers — and we all owe it to each other — to use it carefully.

3 thoughts on “‘Good schools’ or ‘affluent schools’?

  1. I’m volunteer in a good school. I’ll start my eighth year in a couple weeks. How do I know it’s a good school? Simple, I know the Principal, Vice Principal, Social Worker, Behavior Specialist, Behavior Therapists, Speech Therapist, Inclusion Teacher’s, numerous Instructional Assistants, and the majority of the classroom teachers. I see them arrive early, stay late, get involved in after school activities, and most important of all, I see the teachers when they are standing in the front of a classroom.

    Unfortunately, others don’t see it my way. These others, who to the best of my knowledge, never stepped foot in my school. All they know are statistics and it irritates the hell out of me. Who are these others? The lowest life form of all, the politician, and all of those pointy headed intellectuals with a PhD’s who studied a spreadsheet and declared my school an F school.

    So, how can my good school be labeled and F school? Because a third party, not mentioned so far, failed to do their part and here is an example of this third party failure. I met this scholar in the second grade. I worked with him from the second grade through the fourth grade. When this scholar moved on to the fifth and sixth grade I did not see him every day but I did see him often.

    On the last day of the sixth grade, graduation day, I saw this third party, the scholar’s parents for the first time in five years. They sat in the very back of the gymnasium during the graduation ceremony. As soon as the ceremony ended they stood up were leaving the school. Their son, seeing them leaving, had to run to catch up with them as his school day ended after the graduation ceremony so he could go home.

    So what makes a good school? Parents matter the most and if the parents are involved in their child’s education you will see a lot of good schools no matter how much or how little money these parents make.

  2. After the Indianapolis STAR published annual rankings of the “best” schools – all of which were in the wealthiest neighborhoods or were schools for gifted students – my former boss said the secret to high test scores was evident. “Let’s make every child RICH.”

    Since that won’t happen, government and charitable organizations could provide the services that level the playing field for students in poverty such as free pre-school to make sure kids are kindergarten ready; before and after school care, tutoring, and supervised recreational activities; school-based health care clinics with free inoculations and medications; social service ombudsmen for easy family access; food pantries so that kids have food on week-ends; a closet of extra clothes and shoes for children in need of either or both; computer classes for parents with additional instruction in building a resume, interviewing for jobs, and how to start small businesses; summer school similar to camps to provide enrichment opportunities to students; free music, art, and sports instruction, equipment, and activities for students; etc.

    If we can’t make every child rich, let’s at least fill in the gaps to provide equal opportunities.

  3. My elementary school.

    Free PreK – yes.
    Before/after school care, no.
    Tutoring, some but not a lot.
    Supervised recreational activities, yes.
    School based health care clinic, yes.
    Free inoculations, yes but not one hundred percent sure.
    Free medications, for headaches, fever, yes. Beyond that no, liability issues.
    Social services ombudsman, we have social workers, behavior specialists, and therapists.
    Food pantry, yes. Food for weekends, yes, Free food available when school is out, yes.
    Free fruit or vegetable snack every school day, yes.
    Extra clothes, yes. Extra shoes, yes.
    Computer classes for parents, yes. Then ended, no interest.
    How to build a resume, no.
    How to start a small business, no.
    Camps, yes. Camp Belzer and Camp OPP.
    Free art, yes. Free music, yes but not now. Free sports equipment, yes.

    Free, free, free. Robert D. Lipton, in his book called all this free help Toxic Charity. Despite all the time and effort put in by the certified and classified staff we have been an F school for three years running. Maybe it is time to reduce some of the free stuff and focus on the real problem, parents. Parents matter most and at my school the parents that care the most are far outnumber by the parents that care little.

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