Mike the Mad Biologist

I’ve written before about the effect poverty has on educational performance. From the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, PA, we read this heartbreaking account of the violence many poor kids face in the classroom:

A yearlong Inquirer investigation found that young children – from kindergartners to 10-year-olds – have been assaulting and threatening classmates and staff members with increasing ferocity and sophistication.

A number of the attacks had sexual elements – there were 187 morals offenses during the last five years in schools with grades no higher than fifth, and 1,118 in all elementary schools, including K-8 buildings. About 60 percent were classified as indecent assault.

Children 10 and under account for nearly 18 percent – more than one in six – of all students committing offenses reported in the entire district, according to 2009-10 data submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education and obtained by The Inquirer.

For instance:

At Southwark Elementary, a K-8 school in South Philadelphia in October 2010, a 10-year-old boy “body slammed” into his teacher with such force that she suffered a concussion as she fell to the ground.

In June 2009, a Douglass Elementary student issued a startling warning to a second grader at the K-8 school in North Philadelphia whom she was choking: “I know where you live, and I will burn your house down.”

In April 2008, in a third-grade classroom at Taylor Elementary, a K-5 school in Hunting Park, one child held a knife against a classmate’s throat and threatened to cut off his head if he snitched.

At the K-8 Morris Elementary in North Philadelphia in February 2008, an angry 9-year-old punched his pregnant teacher in the stomach.

In December 2007, on the playground at Richmond Elementary, a K-5 school in Port Richmond, a 10-year-old girl’s classmate forced her head down to his groin.

We can cope with this, but it’s expensive–you have to hire more personnel and pay them:

“We really don’t know what to do with second graders whose first instinct is to throw punches,” she said. “Everyone thinks they’ll outgrow it.”

Conner said that in the past, she had repeatedly asked for more help with the boy. It was only after the attack that an aide was assigned to shadow him during the entire school day.

“I honestly believe the School District, as well as other districts, needs to take a look at the whole student, the whole body of needs from mental health to behavior, and employ the proper professionals to help,” she said.

A school psychologist should be readily available, she said, but her school had to share one. And the school’s counselor was strapped for time, filling in for regular classroom teachers, a duty counselors are routinely drafted to perform.

Because this is what these kids deal with:

Schools, too, particularly in urban and poor areas, must recognize that many students suffer from post-traumatic stress because they have been exposed to violence…

She cited the case of a first grader in Pittsburgh public schools who hit her teacher. The child had been raped repeatedly by a male in the home since she was a toddler….

But schools can’t do it all, said Williams, of Drexel’s violence prevention center.

“Parents are not doing what they need to do to prepare these kids, to manage their behavior, to manage expectations,” he said. “Far too many parents have completely abdicated their responsibilities as parents.”

…Tabitha Allen admits she wasn’t on top of her children’s lives the way she should have been, especially after her grandmother got sick and an aunt died.

“I took my mind off my kids,” Allen said.

Allen, a high school dropout and unemployed, had all five of her children before she was 25. Two of her teenagers she describes as “Bonnie and Clyde.”

“They don’t know how to walk away from stuff. They don’t know how to let stuff go,” she said….

Allen struggles with her own anger. She said it comes from “life. Period. Me growing up in a neighborhood like this, seeing all the drugs.”

She pointed to her front door.

“I got a whole hooker row right here on the corner,” she said.

I’m sure value added testing will solve these problems. Busting teachers unions too. Maybe even a speech by former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Seriously, the ‘reformers’ base their views on schools that are like the schools they attended: middle- and upper middle class schools. But the problems facing schools with a lot of poverty are very different, and the reformers don’t seem to recognize that.

Comments

  1. #1 nichole
    March 31, 2011

    I guess a little reality’s good for one, even if it is terribly depressing…thanks mike, I’m gonna go cry now.

  2. #2 Rob Jase
    March 31, 2011

    Mike, if the reformers recognised reality they’d have to admit it exists. Unacceptable.

  3. #3 CC
    March 31, 2011

    But. Value-added testing will fix these ills. It will show that the school isn’t meeting the needs of these children so that the building(s) will be converted to charter schools where the same staff (most likely the admin anyway) will be hired back at a fraction of the cost (accept for the admin they’ll make more…it’s tough running a school).

    See everything is fixed now that the students aren’t in a public school.

  4. #4 phisrow
    April 1, 2011

    Unfortunately, clueless reform optimists, while useless, will probably end up being among the least-bad people looking into such a situation.

    For anybody less optimistic or more callous than they are, this sounds like precisely the sort of “poor people are violent animals, why build schools when we could (overpay contractors to) build prisons and Keep Them Off the Streets(tm)?” fodder that plays beautifully with team Law and Order… It even ticks the “unwed, unfit, mother with an ethic name” checkbox.

  5. #5 anandine
    April 1, 2011

    By the time they are 3, rich kids have heard several times more words and more different words than poor kids and have a larger observed vocabulary than the poor kids’ parents.

    By the time they reach kindergarten, the difference between rich kids and poor kids is more or less insurmountable. We need to do something like fully fund Early Start (an infant version of Head Start) for really poor families.

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