Solving the Problem (Setting the Stage)
Fixing a failing school district requires thoughtfulness and understanding much more than empty rhetoric and theorizing. So, I wonder what brings a journalist to only explore the world of education on a surface level. According to the Hartford Courant, Windham Public Schools are headed in the wrong direction. At first glance, there may be some truth:
"Connecticut Mastery Test scores have declined in many areas. The dropout rate is twice the state average. Only half the students are proficient in reading. And the school district has the largest academic achievement gap — the persistent disparity in academic performance between poor students and their more affluent classmates — in the state."
Today's political climate, with all of the teacher bashing, might suggest that such scores are simply an output problem. Teachers must care only about seniority and retirement packages; yet, the comprehensive study finds that:
"Despite the school district's challenges, observers say Windham schools have many strong teachers, and most are dedicated and genuinely care about their students."
So then they must simply be incompetent, right? Well, the same study found that "Teachers try to meet the needs, but they just don't have the resources..."
And, truth be told, those needs are daunting:
"In one barometer of poverty, 74 percent of students qualified for a free or reduced-price school lunch last year, a rate that shot up from 57 percent five years earlier."
Add to that, "A third of Windham students now come from homes where English is not the primary language," and a clearer picture begins to take shape. Not only does the district face economic and language challenges, but those very same issues affect the parents. The study also found "limited parental involvement in the schools."
For most districts with similar stories, the combination would be devastating unless the local municipality prioritized education and made serious efforts towards reform. But in addition to a lack of parental involvement and socio-economic challenges, Windham also faces the burden of a community that doesn't act much like a community:
"Despite the population shift, most decision-making power in town remains in the hands of white residents. The state's audits found the Hispanic population has little or no involvement in local politics and government."
The divide is compounded even further by financial differences within the community:
"Town residents have balked at education budgets and whittled them down. And alienation has worsened between town officials and the school district and between the community's urban and rural taxpayers."
Certainly the public has a right to know what is happening within the public schools. Yet, I wonder what the end result of such an article will be. Does it promote thoughtful discourse? If the comments are an indication, probably not. Does the article then promote more unintelligent bashing of teachers?
In the end, I'm not sure what the purpose of the article is. The writer clearly tries to cover a vast expanse of educational issues, leaving everything written at the surface level. What some writers use an entire book for, the Courant has tried to condense to only a few pages. The result is an inflammatory title and little analysis. If the Courant wants to dive into the realm of education reporting, it could at least try to imitate the New York Times or the Washington Post.