Every Building Tells a Story
I like to drive by schools when I visit a new town. It’s a way I get a sense of a community. Last weekend, I visited Eastern Oregon for the first time. Our hosts own 20 acres, which they farm for alfalfa that they sell to Japan. The have chickens, goats, a large garden. They both have full-time professional jobs. In short, they are financially secure. One of our hosts bristled a little when I asked about the schools. “They’re fine,” she said. She added pointedly, “I went to them.”
Amidst a glorious landscape, I saw a more complicated story.
Here’s what else I saw.
I took a quick trip through the statistics I could find. A big caveat: I distrust what test actually measure. But for an educator doing a driveby, they offer some clues.
82% of the district students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
In the last testing year, in the upper elementary school
26% were considered math proficient. State average: 42%
43% were considered ELA proficient. State average: 55%
74% were considered science proficient. State average: 63% (Go school!)
7% of disabled students were considered proficient in math; 18% in English. State average for disabled students statewide is 42% and 18% respectively.
Breaking it down by race is interesting.
68% of students are Hispanic; 29% White.
Level 4 is the state target. You may not be surprised to learn that about 52% of the White kids achieved Level 3 in ELA; about 30% of the Hispanic kids did. Holding their own at Level 1 were disabled and ELLs.
In math, 40% of the White kids were at Level 3; 21% of the Lations were at Level 2; solidly at Level 1 were the disabled and ELLs.
The number of students in the district who take the tests in high school is significantly lower than the number who take them in lower grades. I bet the other kids have been enrolled in private schools.
I started to try to find rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment– to me, those are the natural outcomes of such dismal education numbers. But I realized I wouldn’t be able to draw correlations or even get a whiff of causality, so I stopped.
What do I make of all this?
The research about rural access to the internet shows that many families have none, either because they can’t afford it or because there is no infrastructure to enable it (wires and cables). I’m betting school is the place where many of these kids can access the wider horizons of the World Wide Web.
My ideas about education are woefully inadequate and inaccurate when it comes to rural American. Bottom line, it is colored by my white privilege, including my East Coast perspectives.
Betsy DeVos needs to visit Indian Reservations and rural farming communities before she starts touting her vision for American schools.
The state of education in Oregon overall really is abysmal.
There are many topics we need to see represented in nationwide discussions about education.
Finally, it’s not only urban teachers who need our support. Teachers in rural school districts are just as important, just as deserving, and maybe more likely to be flying solo simply because of our ignorance.
It’s time for that to change.
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