A Broken System: What A Lack Of Resources In High Poverty Schools Actually Looks Like

August 28, 2019  |  

Female teachers looking away while holding documents in classroom

Source: Maskot / Getty

America is in the midst of an education crisis. Sadly, this deeply fractured education system is hurting students of color the most. Throughout our series, Broken System, we will highlight some of the most pressing issues impacting Black students today.

During my first year working as a teacher, I spent close to $500 on paper and ink for my at-home printer. At my school, teachers were not permitted to make their own copies. The school secretary had apparently been trained to act as guardian of the paper and ink supply and had the authority to approve and disapprove copy requests. As a result, securing the copies needed to effectively execute certain lesson plans was a tremendous source of stress for teachers, which often resulted in frustration and teachers seeking other, sometimes less effective, methods of delivering instruction to students.

As an English teacher, I found the copy struggle to be particularly discouraging. It’s nearly impossible to train students to actively read when they’re not permitted to mark up and interact with the texts that they’re reading. We did not own enough class novels or textbooks to lend students their own copies. So after one too many altercations with the office secretary, I accepted defeat and begin printing copies for my 90 students at home.

My story is not unique. In fact, it gets much worse. Schools across the country, primarily those in high-poverty neighborhoods, are struggling to provide students with the essential resources they need to be successful as a result of unfair distribution of funding across the public education system. It is not uncommon to hear stories of classrooms with more students than desks, 40 students to one teacher, leaky ceilings, and rodent-infested school buildings — all conditions that significantly hinder learning.

In 2018, the United States Commission on Civil Rights published a report titled Public Education Funding Equity: In an Era of Increasing Concentration of Poverty and Resegregation, which highlighted the fact that residential segregation directly contributes to disparities in education quality. According to the report, when communities are segregated, the result is often high-income communities with predominately white school districts and higher local tax revenue for their schools versus low-income communities with predominately Black and Hispanic school districts and less funding for schools. In the end, this means fewer resources and educational opportunities for students of color, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

“Low-income students and students of color are often relegated to low-quality school facilities that lack equitable access to teachers, instructional materials, technology and technology support, critical facilities, and physical maintenance,” said Catherine Lhamon, Chair of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights.

Despite the challenges, teachers show up to school each day and try their hardest to do right by their students and give them a fighting chance in this inequitable world, but no educator is an island and the burden can’t be placed solely on the necks of teachers to reverse the cycle of poverty.

“Many students in the U.S. living in segregated neighborhoods and concentrations of poverty do not have access to high-quality schools simply because of where they live,” the USCCR report states. “The reality of American schooling is fundamentally inconsistent with the American ideal of public education operating as a means to equalize life opportunity, regardless of zip code, race, economic status, or life circumstance.”

To combat education inequity, the USCCR recommends the following:

  • Congressional incentives that will encourage states to “adopt equitable school finance systems”
  • Increase federal funding to supplement state funding of public schools
  • Monitoring and evaluation of school spending data to determine how funds are most effectively spent to support student outcomes
  • Federal, state, and local government development of incentives that “promote
    communities that are not racially segregated and do not have concentrated poverty.”

Of course, these pie in the sky recommendations do nothing for the teacher who is about to open her classroom to students in a few weeks but is short on essential supplies. However, there is something that we all can do today. Thousands of teachers have turned to crowdfunding platforms, such as DonorsChoose.org, to ensure that their students don’t go without necessary supplies and resources. To find out what students in your area need, you can simply log on and click “Find a classroom to support.” From there you can search teachers by subject, city, state, or zip code to find a classroom or cause to donate towards. You can fund entire projects or donate as much or as little as you’d like to make a difference in the lives of children and the educators who serve them.

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