Inner city public schools, whether in Kansas, Massachusetts, or somewhere else – just by mere mentioning it already brings a sense of gloom for some. After all, these schools are stereotyped as problematic and not an ideal place for students who want to obtain quality education.
It is a sad fact of life that educational inequality is present, and those schools found in the inner cities bear the brunt. If parents and students alike want top-notch education, they should look elsewhere. But for those living in inner cities, that is out of the question; either they send their children to inner city public schools or not at all, even if there is no guarantee of proper education for children.
Sadly, this situation has been prevalent for a long time, and still seems to have no end in sight. The situation even gets worse because the number of students in inner city public schools seem to be increasing, but the resources given to them are decreasing.
This is also just the tip of the iceberg of the situation; the problems that plague inner city public schools are not limited to a handful of schools but occurs in majority of them.
Whether or not you studied in one of these schools, you should still get a better picture of the whole situation to understand its seriousness.
What Is an Inner City School?
Before we dig deeper on the subject, we should first define what an “inner city school” is.
The dictionary definition of an “inner city” explains it as an older and central location within a city that is more populated compared to other areas. The downside of this is that it is also known to be a generally poor neighborhood because more people are in competition for limited resources, such as jobs, and is known to be unsafe.
Informally, an ‘inner city’ is a term typically used to described urban neighborhoods that are not just poor but also home to immigrants, especially blacks; its geographical location is irrelevant. Popularized sometime in the 1960s, it focuses more on the demographics and general financial situation, that is why any poor neighborhood dominated by blacks is often casually referred to as an inner city.
Inner city schools are those found in such neighborhoods, which means it is primarily catering to students belonging to low-income families. And because these schools are in a densely populated area, they tend to have a lot more students compared to private or suburban schools. People stereotype these schools as problematic, which is unfortunately quite true.
Why Are Inner City Schools Failing?
Given the condition of a typical inner city, it is not surprising to see why the schools catering to them are failing, with all their bad conditions. However, why it happens is not just because of a single reason; there are multiple factors involved and them being unresolved permanently until now aggravates the entire situation.
Lack of Funding
Inner city schools greatly depend on government funding to function, but they are known to receive less funding compared to their suburban counterparts. In particular, the funds they receive mostly come from local property taxes. Because of this, increasing the funding allotted to inner city schools will require increasing these taxes.
We all know that increasing taxes never sits well with anyone, much less those who are living in poverty. Even temporarily raising them just to increase funds, which is a practice done in schools found in more affluent communities, is not considered.
And if in case a tax hike to fund these schools is approved, the people must pay huge taxes in order to get the amount needed for them to be at par with other schools. With families already having financial difficulties, this means an added burden to them. This is why raising taxes in inner cities is rarely considered. As a result, these schools can only get available funds from the taxes collected, which are often insufficient to meet their needs.
Required Standardized Testing
Due to the requirement of the federal government involving standardized testing, teachers are under extreme pressure to ensure that students will obtain high scores in those tests. This is because their performance in these tests, which were designed to only test if the students are capable of the basics involving literacy and mathematics, is seen as a reflection of the quality of education the school offers.
A school whose students performed poorly in those tests is put at risk. This casts doubts on their teachers’ abilities, that is why their funding may be affected and a budget cut may be looming in the horizon. Or worse, the government may have an excuse to completely shut down the school, which is sometimes the case. Poor quality of education becomes poorer, or students must transfer schools, which adds more burden to them, especially financially.
Insufficient Number of Teachers
Inner city schools are hardly an ideal teaching environment, that is why it does not attract a lot of teachers. Complicating the problem is the insufficient funds available to compensate them; even if they can recruit these teachers, they are unable to provide the salary they deserve. These schools are stuck with only the number of teachers they can afford to pay, which are insufficient given the number of students enrolled.
Teaching in an inner city school is also known to be stressful, that is why not all who work there stay for long. As a result, turnover rate is high not just for teachers but also for administrative staff, including principals. Even those who volunteered to teach there do not stay once their contract is finished, and those who remain often complain of being overworked.
And in some cases, teachers even quit before the school year ends. This affects the education of the students, since they must deal with substitute teachers every now and then and on short notice
This lack of stability also affects the quality of education they get, even if the substitutes follow the prescribed curriculum, since different teachers have different teaching styles. As a result, students have a hard time keeping up with these varying styles and this affects how well they understand lessons.
Facilities Are in Poor Condition and Lacking
While not all these schools can be considered rundown, it is understood that many of them are. These schools primarily cater to low-income or depressed areas and receive little funding at the same time, which means everyone must make to do with what is available.
In a study made years back, it was discovered that majority of school facilities in the US already need repairs, and a small percentage of them are even unfit to be used; it is not surprising that most of these schools are found in inner cities.
The study also revealed that there is a direct relationship between poor and incomplete school facilities, such as gyms, laboratories, and sporting equipment, and the performance of students and teachers. Those coming from such schools are revealed to have poor performances compared to those from suburban schools, in terms of both academics and extra-curriculars.
Students’ performance is not the only aspect tied to deteriorating conditions of inner city schools. It can also lead to poor health of students and teachers alike, since they are frequently exposed to poor air quality, mold, and pests, and lack of potable water and hygienic toilets that many of these schools are known for. This is one of the many reasons why students frequently get sick and need time off in in these schools.
And if the building dates to earlier than the late 1970s, it is even a lot riskier due to the possibility of lead paint being present and in an already damaged state. While all these schools should ideally be checked for lead, their limited resources prevent them from doing so. Fortunately, there are cheap lead paint test kits that can be used, instead of going for the more expensive traditional lead inspection. Kits to test for lead paint in bulk should be used to cover all surfaces in schools possibly having such paints.
Lead testing is a matter of urgency for schools catering to young children, since they are known to place whatever they can get their hands on in their mouths. Toxic lead dust is invisible to the eye, so they may touch it unknowingly and ingest it. Because of this, it comes as no surprise that children are the most vulnerable to and frequent victims of lead poisoning.
Issues with Decision-Making
One of the major factors preventing inner city public schools from making large-scale changes has to do with decision-making of school officials. Because public funds are involved, decisions involving the school and how to use those available funds are made by various officials who often have clashing views.
This is why public schools are plagued with the negative effects of bureaucracies. Instead of easily making decisions that will hopefully benefit the entire school, they often end up stuck with their current conditions because of opposition from various stakeholders. To complicate matters, different organizations, including unions and politically affiliated groups, also need to have a say in any decision involving these schools. As a result, public schools remain stagnant.
Poverty is rampant in inner cities, but what sets these neighborhoods apart is the fact that it is intergenerational. Despite attempts to improve the situation, the opposite happens – the poverty gap worsens.
Students of these schools are the most affected. It is not unheard of that there are students that go to school hungry all day because there is no food available at home. Older students tend to doze off in class because they had to work at night or take care of their siblings. These kinds of scenarios have a great effect on the concentration and comprehension of students while in class.
There are so many other similar situations, but what ties them together is the fact that poverty often makes education not a priority. Despite going to school in hopes of graduating, as they see it as their ticket to better lives, reality does not happen that way. The number of students who graduate in inner city public schools are less than those in suburban schools, and poverty plays a big factor in it.
Unlike in affluent neighborhoods, race plays a big role in inner city public schools. Because these communities have a diverse and multiracial population, it is common to have students who have little grasp of English, have restrictions in food, clothing, and even in terms of field trips they can join, and many others. This poses a problem for teachers, as they are tasked to make their lessons applicable to all their students regardless of race but are unable to do so due to various limitations, such as language
Racism may also indirectly play a part in terms of funding inner city public schools. This is because it was discovered that these schools receive less funds compared to schools found in districts where the people are predominantly white.
Despite the ethnic diversity present in these schools, teachers are required to follow the curriculum set by the school district and must not veer away from them. The curriculum is a one-size-fits-all type, and does not fully meet the needs of all students. Instead of teachers adjusting their lessons and style to meet student’s needs, this restriction limits them from doing what they can to help make students understand their lessons better.
This makes learning a challenge, especially for students who have yet to master the English language. As a result, they end up lagging in terms of education compared to students of the same age but study in private or suburban schools.
Problems Involving Peace and Order
Inner cities are known to have high crime rates, and this extends to their schools. Ensuring that peace and order is present is a major problem for school authorities, that some install scanners in the entrances of the schools to prevent students from smuggling in any object they can use as weapons.
Violence is prevalent in inner city schools, and this is not limited to acts between students. Teachers also end up becoming victims of problem students. Disruptions, mainly fights between students, are a regular occurrence, and these disturbances greatly affect students’ concentration.
Students in inner cities are generally considered at-risk and vulnerable to negative influences, including drug use, gang membership, and criminal activity. Violence and other problematic behaviors even extend outside the schools, especially for students who are gang members.
Unfortunately, these public schools have inadequate support available to address students’ issues, that is why problematic students remain as such.
These are the major factors that can explain why inner city public schools perform poorly compared to their suburban and private school counterparts. The good news is that there is still hope, as shown by different inner city schools who have managed to turn things around despite the odds. The bad news? There is still a long way to go until all other public schools experience the same thing.
Urban Education Issues
It goes without saying that the quality of urban education is affected by the various factors highlighted in the previous section. Problems involving the schools itself have a domino effect when it comes to the kind of education that the students from these schools get, that is why resolving these issues is a matter of urgency.
Among those issues that need to be immediately addressed are:
Ratio of Students to Teachers
It is a fact that there is a large discrepancy between inner city schools and suburban or private schools when it comes to the ratio of students to each teacher. Teachers in inner city schools often handle as much as double the number of students compared to their suburban or private school counterparts.
To be precise, a teacher in an inner city school has an average of 35 to 45 students in each class, while those in suburban and private schools only have an average of 15 to 20 students. The ideal student to teacher ratio is said to be 15:1 and suburban and private schools easily meet that number, averaging just 7:1; on the other hand, inner city schools have a higher ratio.
Because a teacher handles many students, it is challenging for them to check on each student’s progress and address their needs. They are unable to give them the attention they may need to help them catch up with the lessons and acquire skills typical at their grade level. That is why some of their students seem to fall behind compared to their peers, even if they belong to the same class.
The difference becomes even more pronounced when comparing standardized test results between these schools. It is no longer surprising to see results of students from inner city schools showing that their skills are way behind what is expected of them at their current grade level. When an eight grade student is discovered to have the knowledge that is only at par with those from the sixth grade, people are not surprised when they discover that the student comes from an inner city public school.
Availability of Resources
In an ideal world, public schools fully provide all the school necessities of their students. But we all know that this is far from reality – there is severe lack when it comes to the availability of resources needed to properly educate students.
Students are in dire need of school supplies that will aid them in learning, that teachers purchase these necessities and pay for it themselves. They know that asking help from the school to provide these is a futile endeavor. Teachers should not bear the burden of providing these, but they end up doing so anyway to help students.
Public schools are known to cater to financially strapped students who can barely afford even basic school supplies, like papers and pens. They only rely on what the school can provide for them, so they do not have anything to use in class if a school is incapable of giving them what they need for their studies. When this happens, students experience difficulties in understanding the lessons, resulting in their poor performance.
And if there are resources available, such as books, expect them to be limited or severely outdated. Because of this, students get obsolete information from them. If the number books is not enough, students end up sharing them, which makes learning difficult for them because they tend to be distracted by each other. Adding to this problem is the policy of some schools prohibiting students from bringing home these books, that is why students can only learn and understand textbook information in school.
Anyone who is often exposed to poor conditions will experience health issues. And because this condition is prevalent in inner city public schools, students frequently get sick and miss class. Sadly, chronic absenteeism is the norm, but the cause of it is not only because of a student’s illness.
Poverty and unsuitable environments play huge roles in preventing students from going to school. If they suddenly become homeless or need to take care of other people, going to school is the last thing they will think about. And if they have very little money, they would rather spend it on their daily needs like food, instead of bus fares to get to school, as well as to purchase their school necessities.
The not-so-ideal environment of these schools contribute to the problem of absenteeism. The problem involving peace and order in these schools can also be traumatizing for both students and their parents, that is why they may opt to skip school until they feel safe to go back.
Missing a day’s worth of lessons can be manageable for students but being absent for some time, which is the norm in inner city public schools, means missing out on a lot of lessons and resulting in academic setbacks for these students.
Quality of Teachers
You are probably aware that teachers have different skills – some are mediocre, while others can be considered as great. But with limited funds available, the quality of teachers employed in inner city public schools is affected.
Because teachers know that working there will likely involve a lot of financial sacrifice on their part, they are hesitant to obtain any offers to teach there. For those who are incapable of doing so, they will typically choose to work in private and suburban schools with a higher pay and a better environment; rarely will they sacrifice their pay to teach in inner city public schools.
If you know the saying, “you get what you pay for,” you need to know that sthis also normally applies to the recruitment of teachers in schools in inner cities. This is because the low pay often only attracts those who are only starting out and are after the work experience.
You might recall in an earlier section that we mentioned a high turnover rate for teachers in such schools, and getting substitute teachers on an already regular basis is an effect of it. Unfortunately, not all substitute teachers are fully qualified to teach; many of them do not even have teaching degrees. Schools authorities hire them just to make up for the lack of teachers, and these school authorities even overlook their qualifications when they are desperately in need of teachers.
While there are still great teachers present in inner city schools, they are fewer in number compared to those hardly qualified to teach. Students suffer because of this, since teachers play a major role in the quality of education they get. This means that if they have a bad teacher, the quality of education they get leaves a lot to be desired
These issues we presented are the most rampant. There are so many problems plaguing inner city public schools, and any measures to solve them seem to have hardly made an impact. Adding to the complication of finding long-term solutions is its being a multifaceted problem, which means people must look at the bigger picture because any possible solution they can come up because it affects other aspects of society.
It can even be said that these schools are a microcosm of society. The problems that society faces, like poverty and peace and order, are also reflected in these institutions. And since society has yet to figure out how to solve these problems for good, it is not surprising that school administrators, and even the government, have yet to find a permanent fix for them.
The silver lining to all this is the fact that a few of these schools are a living testament that it is still possible to improve the situation. If these schools can do it, it is also possible for others to follow suit, no matter how long it takes.