Follow Author at Twitter Mary Johnson@mjadvocateI am a single African-American female raising three boys and one girl in a neighborhood where most students drop out of school by the ninth grade. This story is about my experiences and struggles to create quality schools in Lynwood and South Gate. These two cities are located 3 to 5 miles from Watts and Compton in California. Watts and Compton are always in the newspapers for their low standardized test scores. The same is true for the neighborhoods on the boundaries of these cities. American schools have failed children of color due to a lack of resources, such as, books, high expectations, and a rigorous curriculum. All across America children of color are scoring the lowest on standardized tests as compared to Caucasian and Asian children. The residents of my neighborhood are African-American and Hispanic. Most of the parents work in the service industry or perform physical labor for minimum wage and most have little or no formal education. Every morning adults walk to the bus stop to catch the bus to work as maids and car washers in cities where they can’t afford to live. Folks from my community clean expensive hotels where we can’t afford to stay and wash cars that we can’t afford to buy. The majority of our parents complain of lower back pain because of the physical labor of bending and lifting. We work hard to make a better life for our children. The outside world classifies our community as a ghetto, but we call it home. In our neighborhood, you will see advertisements for liquor stores, but never a child reading a book. There are also advertisement posters from big sporting companies programming our children to believe that the only way out of our neighborhood is through sports. The first gifts we buy our boys are footballs or basketballs because in our hearts we feel that our earnings won’t allow us the opportunity to send our children to college. Society has forced parents of color to send our children the wrong messages. There isn’t one bookstore within a 15 miles radius. In the local schools there are no book clubs on the school campus. There are many barriers that parents of color must overcome. In many schools, children aren’t being taught to be critical thinkers, so they aren’t able to challenge the conditions they face. This is one of the main reasons that our children do badly in college. College success is based on critical thinking. Critical thinking ensures that our children will be better prepared for a higher level of learning. However, when students of color display critical thinking, they are looked at as being disrespectful. When our children challenge a teacher in the classroom about educational issues, they often are sent to the Dean’s office for disrupting the class.To be critical thinkers students must have access to learning materials. It seems that our State and Federal governments give monies to local school districts, but ask for no accountability for the use of that money. State laws require that every child has a book for each subject matter. In our neighborhood we get copies or dittoes of books. Books are needed for homework and for test preparation. Children in affluent schools and communities have two sets of books, one for the classroom and one set for home. Many children of color work with books that are outdated or with pages missing. Many school districts have failed to purchase books and materials. It seems year after year there are fewer books than in previous years. Many young teachers lack experience and depend heavily on books as a reference for teaching. There is a high percentage of uncredentialed teachers in our neighborhoods as compared to affluent neighborhoods. Many teachers are teaching out of their subject matter. Some children have a different substitute-teacher every day. Research shows that most uncredentialed teachers are teaching in low-income to high unemployment areas. This is probably the main reason that standardized test scores are lowest in neighborhoods populated by people of color.
The environment that our children go to schools in is second class. Our children are forced to go to schools where the classrooms are overcrowded. Most classroom ratios are forty students to one teacher and no aide. There are not enough open bathrooms. There is also a lack of toilet paper and hygiene products. Some of the schools we visit have lead poison in the water, exposed chips of lead paint, rusted pipes, water damaged ceilings, and holes in the walls of the restrooms. Some classrooms have no heat or air conditioning. Our president came up with this wonderful bill, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This law was another politician’s way to fool the people again. NCLB gave false hope to people of color that they would benefit from school reform. What a joke. We thought that NCLB would bring changes long over due for our children. All we wanted was to even the playing field for quality education for our children. NCLB was an overrated flop. The president promised the money on one hand and with the other hand, took it back. Again the politicians have let our children down.
The public school system is in need of being revamped to meet the needs of all children in the system. Now the government is trying to blame a failing school system on our special needs children. The government is trying to revamp the ideas that protect children’s rights who have learning or behavior problems so these children can secure an education. African-American black males are overrepresented in special education. Special education children have been overlooked and have the lowest expectations from most school district officials. Most special education programs are a joke. There are extra monies allocated for special education, but these classes have no materials. Most special education classrooms have a revolving teacher all year round. If you are lucky enough to have a regular teacher, most likely the teacher is not credentialed in special education. We have teachers in the system that degrade students and take away the children’s self-esteem. Teachers are expected to teach children with multi-disabilities with one aide. Children aren’t being taught according to their personal IEP. Teachers are using the same method of teaching for whole classes. The graduation rate for children in special education is very low, because the system is taking the money allotted for special education and using it for other school uses. Most of these children have never tasted success, only failure. We must find ways to help these children to feel good about themselves. For our children to be able to relate to teachers in the classrooms, we must get more teachers that live or have lived in our community. All over America we see new teachers with no experience coming into schools with good intentions but very little understanding about how to teach our children. New teachers that are coming into our schools often have no experience with children of color, or little knowledge about how to use our children’s culture as a resource in their learning. The majority of new teachers in our neighborhoods are white and liberal and want to save the world. Teachers come into the community with pity or apathy for our children. But what our children really are in need of is caring and a rigorous curriculum. It’s seems like the local districts are afraid to empower parents with skills to help their children be successful in the classroom, because it’s about control and not sharing. The local districts have failed to enlighten and provide parents with what to look for in good teaching. Parents are excluded from the training that would help them understand school systems and policies that effect or govern their children’s education. Most parents don’t know what courses students need to go to college. Parents are excluded from training that would teach them about the allocation of school funds and where the money should be spent. Section: 11118 of the No Child Left Behind Act states that parents should be trained on subject matters that are aligned with standards that schools are teaching. This is not happening.
As parents of color we must ask questions of administrators regarding why our children aren’t making the grade and how they are planning on fixing this problem. People of color must start to pull together and go back into the neighborhood to work and live and play a major part in rebuilding. Our coalition must include people of color that have been successful and moved on to other communities. These individuals need to come back and teach our children and be mentors. The more questions we ask, the more pressure will be put on administrators to perform. We must stop going to administrators as individuals and start going as a group. When we show up in numbers, we send a message that this is a community problem. Parents must learn to outreach outside their communities to look for resources, such as, data and research that match their school conditions. We, as parents, always knew what the problem was, but didn’t know how to present the evidence to back up our statements about the conditions. It’s very important for parents to seek out resources that help parents gain the skills and the methods on how to organize. In the last three years a group of parents from South Gate and Lynwood, California have started a 13-week parent project to teach parents state standards, policy, and research methods to educate parents about the school system. Parents are taught how to develop a survey and analyze the data regarding school conditions. In the 13 weeks, parents learned how to navigate and advocate for equal access for quality education for all children. We must remember as parents that we are our children’s first teachers. As the first teacher you must learn your rights as a parent and your child’s right to be able to advocate for her or him. You must learn to hold the school system accountable for educating your child. We, as parents, must stop blaming our children for not making the grades and start pointing the fingers at the system. Parents must look for resources to help our children to improve in academics. It is very important that parents know what the State and Federal law says that their child should be learning in each grade level. We must all ask ourselves why the U.S. constitution does not insure all children equal access to a quality education. Then we must acknowledge that our constitution was written by white male elites. This system is built to leave children of color behind.