“if it snows, she’ll be released from pain”
The Ballad of Narayama, 1983
Poverty, race, ethnicity and language are significant barriers for children. The data is stark: lower graduation rates, higher placements in Special Education, higher pregnancy rates, higher rates of incarceration, and recently, higher foreclosures. Poverty and school success are inexorably combined.
In a school system that defines school success by “progress,” schools have learned to be wary. Every principal knows that the path to success, defined as an “A” or a “B” on your Progress Report is having the “right kids,” and that grade depends on your student body.
I was standing in the office of a high school, a parent was speaking with the school secretary. The placement office had assigned a student to the school, it was his fourth year since entering high school, his third school, with only a handful of credits. The secretary spoke on the phone and told the parent the school had “no seats available.” After the parent and child left the counselor told me, “If we take him into the school he counts against our data.”
Very few schools want to deal with the most fragile kids.
Bushwick Community High School, a transfer high school, accepted students with no credits. An extremely caring and dedicated staff, one of the few schools that accepts kids on the edge of dropping out. The State Ed Department response: placing the school on the SURR list for “low graduation rates.”
PS 27, the Agnes Humphrey School might be the only pre-K to 12 school in the City. The school serves the Red Hook projects, 12% of the students are ELL and 31% are children with Special Needs. 97% of the students are Title I eligible. The school received a grade of “proficient” on their October, 2008 Quality Review. There is no question that the school is struggling with issue of academics on both the City and the State Reports.
Principal Sara Belcher-Barnes and the teachers have chosen to work with challenged youngsters in a very poor community. Rather than chasing away “difficult” students they have welcomed them. And, hanging over the school is the full implementation of Fair Student Funding in the 09-10 school year, and a 1.1 million dollar budget cut!
Does the Department congratulate the school and assist them? No, they close the school and scatter the kids to the winds … many of the high school kids will simply drop out.
The current Department philosophy reminds me of a 1983 movie, The Ballad of Narayama, in a poor rural Japanese village the aged are lead up above the snow line and abandoned. What happens to challenged youngsters … no one wants them, and most schools twist and squirm to avoid them.
The funding formula should provide additional funding for children at risk: children who live in housing projects, who live in foster care and group homes, are coming out of incarceration, or are chronically absent, and extra credit on Progress Reports for moving these youngsters.
The real world for too many children is cold and cruel enough without the Department adding additional obstacles.