Friday, June 11, 2010

Today's Education Week article, Districts Equipping School Buses With WiFi describes a program in Vail, Arizona where busses will be equipped with WiFi so students can access the internet on their bus ride to and from school. A worthy venture, no doubt. However, this article, and the money this district has for such programs enrages me as my own district struggles to keep the doors open and the lights on.

My comments posted at the article:
The inequity in public education in this country is appalling. While some districts are struggling to keep their doors open, to simply provide transportation for students at all, districts like this are able to give their students WiFi access on the bus?

I teach in a rural district in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Our district covers over 1,000 square miles (larger than the state of Rhode Island) with only just over 800 students, K-12. Our students ride the bus up to 2 hours to AND from school, not total. We have a population density, in the primary county of our school district, of 8 people per square mile. We bus students from 4 counties to our school. Vail School District in Arizona is a megapolis compared to us. The nearest traffic light, Walmart, and town with a population over 10,000 is over 65 miles away. Our students are isolated and for the most part, poor. They do not enjoy the luxuries other places and schools provide.

Since our students do not have school issued laptops, and many of them cannot afford personal laptops, providing WiFi would be just another way to waste taxpayer money. Outside the village limits of the one small town in our school district, there is no access to internet other than through a dialup connection or satellite.

Good for Vail, good for its students. This is just one more indication that public education in this country is for the wealthy, not all Americans. We talk a good talk about equal opportunities, but in reality, the divide between the haves and the have nots in this country continues to widen each day. It is sad to see my students miss out on the opportunities afforded children schooled other places simply due to geography.

Until we even the playing field of education, providing truly equal opportunities for all students, I fear for our future, as we create generations of children unprepared to compete globally.

This saddens me deeply, thinking of my students, many who are economically disadvantaged already, coming from homes where education is not valued, where college is not even considered an option, and thinking of the great divide between districts. It simply is not fair. It starts my students out in the world behind those in other districts. It sets them up for failure before they graduate high school. I simply do not understand why we allow this to happen in our country?

Good for Vail. Good for all those districts that have money to spend on great ideas like WiFi on their busses! Why can't it be that way in EVERY school? Why aren't MY students just as worthy as those other places?


ckennedy said...

I have mixed feelings about your opinion.
First Vail and Keller; I think it is an intriguing idea. I can't put myself back in high school, but if I was riding a bus for any length of time right now I would like to have internet access. If the district has the money to blow on this, go for it. And, I would consider it a luxury not something that is necessary for education. A perk, if you will, for the students of the district. My child does not attend the district that we live in, I transfer her to a school that I believe can / does provide her more opportunities / a better education. I shop my child’s education for what I believe is the best value.

That being said… I’m not sure how you would go about evening the playing field of education. Texas has tried that with a “Robin Hood” program that requires districts with more money than other districts to give away part of their money to districts with less. This was put in practice in 1993 and has been a failure. It did not achieve a level playing field. There are still very wealthy and very poor districts.

I would argue that a large part of the problem would be the homes not placing a high value on education. I don’t feel that because your kids do not have internet access on their bus ride it sets them up for failure or prevents them from being able to compete globally. I would argue that a lack of home support is a much larger handicap than money. I do not think that throwing money at this portion of the problem will solve it.

Are your students less worthy? Probably not. Are families that place a high priority on education willing to pay more for their child’s education? Probably so. Am I going to willingly increase my tax burden to increase funding for other places given the current system? No.

I feel that education overhaul would be a good thing (of course I would want a heavy hand in the overhaul process myself).

cossondra said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree with you that money isn't a cure all. All the money in the world cannot make education a priority for some families, some students. We need a huge paradigm shift in our society as far as what we value.

My point though was that ALL schools deserve the 'perks' if you will, the luxury items. I visit other schools that are new and shiny, with gardens and Smartboards, science labs and robotics labs, furnaces that work, tables in classroom that actually have 4 legs attached securely, and I shudder at the school I teach in. The divide is appalling, and the saddest part, my district is by far the not the worst in this country, not even close.

I don't want to take money AWAY from the wealthier districts, I just want funding to be adequate across the board.

Where I live, we don't have the luxury of having our kids go to a neighboring school. We are too rural, too isolated. We can't shop around.

Our taxpayers tend to be supportive of school bonds. We just passed one this year for new busses, new computers, and a new heating system upgrade, all long overdue. However, we will never pass one to build a new school. We don't have the tax base necessary - we don't have the people and the people we do have, don't have the money.

It just isn't fair that some students in some schools do without. They start out disadvantaged and the divide widens each year.