That’s the question I hear often. And there may finally be an answer. I am indebted to two friends, both educators, from families of educators, who shared the link to an Open Letter by educator Krista Taylor, the 2015 Dr. Lawrence C. Hawkins Educator of the Year. [accessed February 17, 2017, http://angelsandsuperheroes.com/2017/01/09/1112/] My friends Fiona Hickey and Susan Tipton, shared a link to her letter, otherwise I would have been unaware of her excellent argument for improving our nation’s schools.
But I want to highlight a particular local factor to which Ms. Taylor’s letter led me. Even within the Intermountain Area, the disparities in both the perceived and measured effectiveness of our elementaries have been marked. Comparing many statistics between the Burney Basin and the Fall River Valley, some of us have struggled to determine what socio-economic factors contribute to such different outcomes. Most of the statistics are close enough between the two communities to suggest that there should be no appreciable difference between these similarly-sized schools, the only two elementaries, in the same district, drawing on the same pool of resources, and ostensibly led by the same administrative philosophies and personnel.
But Ms. Taylor's letter (well worth the long-ish read, in my opinion) addressed a statistic I had not specifically investigated. She noted the correlation in measured performance with the percentage of children living at or below the level of poverty. Where there are more children living in poverty, the measurements of the schools' effectiveness reflect poorly (pun intended) on the performance of educators in those schools.
There are, as Ms. Taylor points out, problems with the means by which "effectiveness" is being measured, and I agree with her on this. But there is another key point I believe merits consideration here, especially with regard to our educators in the Intermountain Area.
Her letter prompted me to reconsider my previous research. During my studies I have looked repeatedly into the statistics regarding the two ends of our district--specifically, the immediate Burney area and the Fall River Valley. Not only does each comprise roughly 3500 in population, almost all other statistics have been practically identical. But today, I realized that the statistics I had relied on applied to the entire population. Ms. Taylor's statistical focus, however, emphasized not the total number of people living in poverty (which I had studied and dismissed previously as a potential for such marked differences), but the percentage of children living in poverty.
So, I looked it up. The stats are available at http://www.city-data.com/.
Why is there such a difference in the perceived and measured effectiveness between our two elementaries? If we follow Ms. Taylor's logic, and I do, this is a major contributor to the disparity:
The poverty rate of children living in Burney is 52.1% higher than the rate in Fall River Mills.
Leave that statistic to sit before your mind for just a little bit.
Then, when you've let the faces and names and homes and jobs and other visions of the impoverished families you see every day within our diverse communities wash through you...come back for Part 2: What do we do about it?