Urban Teacher Visits Suburban Schools

The other day I wrote a post about measuring schools with test data. Short Massachusetts history: absolute scores came first, then feds required subgroup data (by race, poverty, etc), then a few years later came growth data (September to May gains).

Allison teaches 3rd grade at Edward Brooke Charter School. She lives in Boston but considered a move to the suburbs. In the comments section from a couple days ago, Allison wrote:

In nearly all of the suburban schools I looked at, low income kids and kids of color performed no better than they do in the Boston Public Schools. And upper income kids in Boston scored almost exactly the same as upper income kids in the suburbs.

So I realized MCAS scores weren’t giving me that good a sense of how the schools were doing. Then Paul and I went out to look at actual schools. We didn’t think the teaching was any better in the suburbs than in the city. The level of discourse was higher, but the teaching was sub-par in most classrooms with a few standout great classrooms in each school.

I was in one 45 minutes "Writers’ Workshop" in which a total of 5 minutes were spent on writing. Most kids didn’t write more than a sentence. That didn’t seem all that different to me than the city schools I have been to.

And when the suburban teachers heard that I teach low income kids in the city, they gave me a sympathetic look and commented about how hard it is to teach METCO kids (these are typically black kids from Boston who take the bus to suburban schools) . There was a lot of blaming parents, home life etc.

If we had wanted to have a bigger lawn or lower crime rates, it might have still made sense to move to the suburbs, but since we love the city and were only thinking about the suburbs because of schools, it just didn’t seem worth it.

I did find one school in the suburbs that has a large number of low income kids and they outperform most schools in the state with those kids. And not surprisingly, there was some great (real life) stuff going on in that school. So when we look at city schools before entering the lottery, we will look for schools that help low income kids perform better than would be predicted by their SES. That’s where I think the really great teaching is happening.

I asked her for a couple examples and she wrote:

School 1. The suburban class with with the example of "45 minutes of writers workshop, only 5 minutes of actual writing" was totally ridiculous. They had brainstormed a list of possible writing topics the day before with what seemed like no limitations. Then they shared their lists with partners to pick an actual topic. Then they each shared out with the class what they had picked.

And the worst was when the one African American kid in the class said he wanted to write about wolves, they told him he didn't know anything about wolves. They didn't give him a book about wolves. They told him to write about basketball. Talk about stereotyping. I've seen similar stuff in other suburban schools.

School 2, with pretty decent results for low income kids had some positives. But the way that they divide classes is crazy. They put all of the French immersion kids (all white and upper income) in one class. They have an inclusion class that has 7 special needs kids (mostly black) and then the 7 highest non-immersion kids (all white). Then there is the class of all the leftovers. The tones in the three rooms on any grade level were immensely different.