“Zip codes and demographics must no longer be educational destiny for our students.”
- Robert Carreon, Executive Director of Teach for America – Rio Grande Valley
“[It was the ] biggest social injustice that skin color and zip code determined a child’s education and future opportunity.”
- Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst
“Our goal is easy to articulate and hard to get there. It’s to make sure every child in this country has access to a world-class education. Race, social and economic status, zip code, neighborhood shouldn’t matter.”
- Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education
“A child’s ZIP code or street address should not determine their destiny.”
- Mick Zais, South Carolina Superintendent of Education
“Destiny should not be determined by zip code.”
- Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey
“For far too long, a child’s zip code determines destiny.”
- Mark Bounds, South Carolina Deputy School Superintendent
“Most of our students enter our schools below grade level in reading and math. With hard work and determination, they close the gap, proving that their zip codes do not determine their destinies.”
- KIPP: Chicago
“Because of the Zip Code Education policies that predominate today, poor families are restricted to failure mills in their neighborhoods, while middle class families (especially those who are minority or the first in their generation to achieve such status) are often restricted to warehouses of mediocrity whose shiny new buildings hide laggard instruction and low expectations for poor white, black and Latino kids. “
- RiShawn Biddle, Editor of Dropout Nation
I agree wholeheartedly that every child should receive an authentic, personally meaningful education of lasting value to herself and her community. I also support school choice; however, I think school choice means something bigger than moving students from school to school.
I think school choice means increasing families’ educational options within each zip code. I think school choice means offering enough types of public education so that every child, regardless of where she lives, can find and enroll in a school she loves within the support network of her home community.
I think school choice means that school divisions get real about the horrible, obvious obsolescence of a grinding, incessant decade and a half plus of content delivery and begin some serious catch-up R&D in portfolio divisions and customized education. We have to stop treating teaching like a guided missile strike meant to hit its target and wipe out all resistance.
I think school choice means that a family can choose to enroll its daughter in community-based classes and apprenticeships for credit. I think school choice means that school divisions learn from home-schoolers and unschoolers in designing learning spaces and experiences.
I think school choice does mean that we experiment with new kinds of learning spaces under the purview of the public education system which, when it’s not navel-gazing and awarding competitive grants to yes-folk, can reach an extraordinary number of youth and impact them positively.
School choice needs to begin in every child’s home zip code – and here’s why:
We are in a gut-wrenching stand-off. Schools that fail to meet testing benchmarks are not being given the flexibility to be anything other than schools trying to meet testing benchmarks. These schools are labeled “dropout factories.” They are sanctioned and sometimes closed without being given any opportunity to be something else.
A school that doesn’t meet testing benchmarks doesn’t have to be a dropout factory. A public school can be an amazing place without ever giving a test.
In fact, if given meaningful waivers and freedoms from testing, these schools might be brilliant farms, movie studios, or recording labels. They might consumer-testing labs, small-business incubators, or game development shops. They could be the headquarters for children and adults committed to reclaiming neighborhoods from generations of conflict.
If “dropout factories” could be any of those things, would we care whether or not their students even took a standardized test?
Let’s fund these schools with grant programs that reward true innovation, like the DML competition does. Let’s let private partners support schools that are pipelines to their industries, new and old. Let’s authorize the hell out schools kids could love. The Ford Middle School for Automotive Design? Hell yes – and I can’t even change my own oil, dear readers.
We have to find the political will to re-invest in “dropout factories” as new kinds of schools. They are not generating the pass rates we want, anyway (right, #edreform?). We should use these schools to revitalize public education in the United States and prove to their communities that we care more about them and their children than about their children’s test scores. Until we do so – until we care for kids where they live over scores where we move them – we will be caught in wretched conflict of interest that fuels the standardization industry and the frustration we transfer to students through our hierarchical, pervasive, and sometimes grossly punitive control of their lives.
While we like to assume some correlation between failing test scores and dropping out of schools, I suspect that our schools themselves turn our students against them much more than any set of standardized test scores ever could. In trying to meet our mandates for adult performance, we have created schools geared more toward patently inhumane sorting and scoring by standardized measures than toward civic care, inquiry, and learning in community.
It’s true that child’s zip code should’t be her destiny. It’s also true that a child’s new zip code should’t be her destiny. We educators should not be in the business of managing kids’ destinies.
We should be in the business of helping children decide their own fates in relationship and communion with their neighborhoods and worlds. We are the stewards of stewards, not the teachers of students.
When we move children from their neighborhood schools, we keep from them the problems we have caused, the righteous indignation they might have felt, and the solutions they might have found.
When all of a zip code’s schools are closed, who will move there? Who will invest there?
What is our destiny, as educators, working with the kids we are failing?
Where are we called?
Will we go there without being told?
These are the questions I ask myself.
I am worried that I will fail, so I share them with you in hope that we will succeed together in igniting a renaissance of public education in the United States. The rebirth of our schools will be the rebirth of a shared self-determination and promise to preserve it held between schools, their students, and parents.
There’s no way to promise a child that her schooling matters until we are doing the work that matters to us, our sleeping neighborhoods, and our shuddering country.
Wake me up, America. I am ready to work in your new schools.