Public education is a system of failure in America; it’s a system that no longer holds any true promise to a great future that one can build on. Over the past few decades its capabilities has seemed to have narrowed and its structure has seem to falter to the point of near catastrophic collapse. However, there is a large majority of people out there who believe that the American education system is working fine and that those who wish to sound the alarms have no idea what they are talking about. I’d dispute that assertion with my last breath though because the system has failed me before and I know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it’s failed many other deserving children. This system has become unconcerned with providing education to every child like Horace Mann envisioned and it has become disconnected from those who depend on it .Instead it has become entangled in the dance of politics, bias profiling, and stereotypical behavior that has essentially demoralized it from the bottom up.
I say these things about public education in America not to just say them, not just to have something to complain about, not just to bash a system that generations of great (and bad) teachers, principals, and superintendents have worked to build.
I say these things because some teachers, administrators, and principals within the education system have literally lost hope for their students, they have decided to take the cowardly way out by only choosing to educate students seen as the marginally smart to the distinguishably exceptional.
I say this because I have attended schools who decided to push me by the wayside because of some computer program called Accelerated Reader and some standardized test scores based on standards that are more redundant and inadequate than the national average. I say this because once I was identified as high risk I was ignored in the public education system because no teacher wants to waste their time trying to teach a high risk black kid when there is a moderate risk white kid sitting right next to him. The bad part about this is that it’s not even the tip of the iceberg as to what I’ve experienced inside the classrooms of traditional public schools.
See, I was a product of the Cleveland Public School District (now Cleveland Metropolitan School District) where schools were secretly encouraged to weed out their best performing and to “take care” of their worst performing. When I was in the district there was no broad expectation that every child was to succeed regardless of circumstances that existed outside of the home. Then (and now) the district was only interested in making sure that there were enough “smart” students enrolled in each building so the school could meet the “Continuous Improvement” status, which when translated into letter grades is no better than a C.
My school, O.H.Perry was the beacon school of that practice; the school was located in the then middle class neighborhood of N. Collinwood, directly bordering the better performing Euclid City School District. At O.H.Perry, I was being cheated out of an education and I knew it. I had been declared “At-Risk” and had been called “special” by my teachers and was sent to the special education classroom even though I didn’t have an I.E.P or a 504 plan because they didn’t want to spend the time to properly educate me. I would feel academically inferior to the other students as I would be forced to walk pass the other classrooms where students were being engaged and actually seemed like they enjoyed being there to a dimly lit room where the teacher just gave us worksheets of 2nd grade math and sent us to sit at a desk.
At the end of that school year, I had been promoted to the 5th grade even though my grades were all horrible and that’s when I finally had enough, I knew I had to get out of the Cleveland school district, if I was ever going to be as smart as I felt I could be. It was then when I found a charter school in the neighboring district that was operated by the big chain EMO National Heritage Academies and I pounced on the chance to be freed from Cleveland schools. I took the initiative to enroll myself via the EMO’s online enrollment system and that following school year Pinnacle Academy became my new school.
However, my joy was short lived because during the previous school year I was a 4th grader but this year I was 6th grader and there was no official paperwork to justify my grade jump, but the interim principal was fine with it. He however, left just weeks after the school year began and didn’t inform the new principal and halfway through the school year NHA did an internal audit and figured it out. So there I was a struggling 6th grader who was in the wrong grade and a school in trouble with the ODE because of me. I never felt bad for that though, I knew I did what was right for me, but the school had to make an example to its sponsor out of me so I was forced to do 2 years of 5th grade, which actually benefited me.
Nevertheless, I left the school after my second run of the 5th grade and ended up at another charter before being expelled for missing At-Risk Saturday school because I was out of state. I ended up at another Charter operated by the CMO Lighthouse Academies that was truly “open door.” It was there that the principal made it his initiative to make sure that I learned 4 years worth of schooling in just one year. Needless to say that he succeeded and even though the school was forced to close due to financial issues most of its students is now a part of the city’s best performing public magnet and charter schools.
No child should have to go through what I went through before we find equitable education. Every child deserves to be equally educated, regardless of zip code, race, political connections,or standardized test score and no student should ever be pushed aside like a broken piece of equipment. No child should ever be told that they are defective, special, or remedial and no teacher should ever lack so much morale that they feel the need to encourage that. It’s that behavior that causes stagnation in education and leaves children behind in academic promise and ultimately leads to a system that’s left in dire despair.
This is the reason I dispute any assertion that the public education system is not broken and that its some false story cooked up by a few individuals that want to profit. The system is broken and the longer we stay in denial the worse it will get. I don’t think that anyone can honestly say that education isn’t failing unless they live in wealthy districts because it’s hard not to notice.
However, the education system can’t and won’t be fixed unless those whose voices matter the most stop worrying about what charter schools and vouchers are doing to students and start worrying about traditional public education. If all the time and energy that is spent trying to discredit charter schools is spent on developing innovative policies and practices for traditional public education than there would be no need for charters or vouchers to even exist. If districts find ways to stop the wasteful spending, the appeasing of union leaders, the leakage of morale, and rid themselves of ineffective curriculum’s, teachers, and leaders than more children would be granted access to equitable education than even 500 charters or 15,000 vouchers could ever do. Until this is done, than children will continually be left by the wayside and led down the side street toward destructive and unproductive futures.
This post was written by Jay Chisley, a 17 year old virtual high school student/activist/coalition owner who has had it with the public education system in America. Who believes that if the education system is going to be reformed than students must put themselves at the epicenter of the reformation and demand actual change and foreseeable results.