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Academic Disparity

How does academic disparity occur? Why do kids in urban and poorer districts receive worse education than more wealthy, suburban districts?


I live and work in the city of Rocky River. Rocky River is in the same county as Cleveland. Rocky River public schools are some of the best in the nation. It's one of the main reasons we moved here. Cleveland Public Schools are some of the worst. The pandemic hit our county hard in March and shut down schools across the State of Ohio. Acts of God are equalizers when it comes to things like food, shelter, and education. Rocky River children struggled to pay attention to video classes and figure out what school work they should be doing. Neighbors told me that multiple children in one house in multiple grades and attending multiple video classes put a strain on technology and internet use. It was especially hard since parents were now working for home and using up bandwidth to do their jobs. Everyone had to compromise to make sure everything got done. Parents who ran the household took on the majority of education and logistical work, and worked themselves ragged. Summer was no break when vacations and summer camps were canceled.


Cleveland Public Schools were also hit hard, but in a much different way. For many children having enough computers was moot because they did not have internet access. It was reported that many children simply stopped going to school and missed about 1/3 to 1/2 of a year of education. In addition, many children who depended on school breakfasts and lunches never got that food. I have no idea how or what they ate. The Cleveland Public Schools are about 5 miles from the Rocky River public schools.


Rocky River public schools recently proposed a plan to get kids physically back in school in late August. Students would begin by attending half-days (mornings or afternoons) and do part of their education in the physical classroom (and especially the fundamentals) and the other half at home and online. Splitting the students in half allowed schools to achieve adequate social distancing. Transportation services would have to do double-duty, and more educational support professionals would need to be hired to manage the doubling of the number of classes taught. Rocky River redirected funds to make this happen. They also moved around money to install advanced air filtration systems in all buildings that will not only help with the current virus but will ostensibly reduce the chances of spreading other viruses, like common colds and flus. The investment just made sense for the sake of reducing absences for children and staff alike, even post-pandemic. Based on what I was hearing from parents, if the school had taken up a "send your child back to school" collection, most parents would have been happy to donate. Kids should be in school.


Friday the Rocky River schools announced that the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, the Board that serves both Rocky River and Cleveland, is recommending all schools in the County start the year with distance learning. Rocky River parents freaked out. Granted, as of this writing, no decision has been made. Rocky River School Board will hold a meeting later this week to discuss the recommendation of the Board of Health. As of this morning a petition is circulating to parents to insist to the School Board that kids be allowed to go back to school in person, as planned. The explicit message of the petition is that Rocky River, as a city, is doing a good job managing virus transmission in how schools are preparing and how people are complying with rules. The subtext is that other cities in the county may or may not be doing such a good job-we don't know.


Here is the dilemma: do I sign the petition supporting the notion that we should be treated as separate from other districts in the County (such as Cleveland Public) when it comes to schools resuming in person? Schooling from home would put significant stress on me and my family, and especially on my child's education. Last spring was terrible for my family because my one school-aged child was home. I never want to repeat that and I hope I forget that experience as soon as possible. But I cannot deny that this would intensify the disparity between my family and the average family in Cleveland who will have another indefinite period of time with limited educational contact and even possibly limited access to food.


In my experience, this is a common cause of educational disparity-people with influence and means making reasonable decisions and demanding high quality education for their children. I wish it were as simple as choosing between a good and bad thing, but few situations in adulthood offer that luxury.

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© 2020 by Andrew Schlegelmilch