Is the class system thriving in public education?

TSA PreCheck versus general security screening. Priority boarding versus general boarding. First class versus the holding tank of the main cabin. Our world is organized into the “have’s” and “have not’s,” with the class system most certainly alive and well.  Let’s look at two of the places where it sticks its ugly nose: our schools and airports.     

I’m thinking about this in particular since I’m currently saddled in seat 16B of a Delta A320, typing on my computer with scrunched up T-rex arms due to my close proximity to the reclined seat in front of me. And I’m thinking about the cattle-like experience as we lumbered onto the navy blue cloud surfer. Combine this with a brief chuckle and a conversation in the security line with one of my new favorite NBCTs, Joyce Loveless, and the wheels began really turning about how this relates to education. It started as more of challenge and joke between two teacher passengers, but the analogy really fell into place about 10,000 feet up in the air.

First, the experience of security. I am not TSA PreCheck special (yet!). But those who have the time, know-how, and a little extra money can streamline their security process, shooting through a much shorter line and bypassing security hassles such as taking off shoes, schlepping out your laptops, and sprinkling out every item that includes some type of liquid. Instead, the PreCheck elite traipse on through, unencumbered by the normal anti-productivity blips and bleeps that the rest of us have to experience. As we have our shoes off, walking barefoot (eeeek!) over a worn out carpet that has seen thousands of traveling piggy toes a day, PreCheckers cruise on through—feet protected by shoes left on, safe from all airport funk. An example of when time, money, and know-how pay off.

Next, the private rooms for those who are members of elite mileage clubs and programs. I’m all about comfy lounges, open bars, and free snacks, but what does it take to get into these elite spaces? I totally understand the motivation of loyalty programs, but it seems to promote a separate (and not equal) space for those who have put forth the money and can afford it. I may have a bit of Sky Club envy here, but it’s going somewhere…I promise.  

Now it’s time to board the plane. We sit and watch first class passengers (it’s even in the name!) board, walking down a red carpet to their cushy, comfy seats in the front of the plane.  When it’s time for general boarding, we line up in two zones, zone one with a small crowd of about 20, then zone two consisting of a mass exodus of everyone who is left. And we don’t walk down the same red carpet, but we must walk on the other side of the separation rope, down a dingy, what-used-to-be-blue-but-now-is-gray depressing mess of a carpet. As we head through first class to the main cabin, our eyes get to peak around at those lucky passengers who are in their spacious seats with their already-in-hand free drinks sprinkling condensation on us as we pass, on the way to our by-the-can seats. During the flight, we can hear the clinking of their dinner plates and silverware over the sound of our crinkling pretzel packets. Just another reminder that money does move rank within the airplane class system.

It seems like those who can (pay), do. The class system is alive and well in America’s airports.       

And it’s alive in America’s schools as well.

I’m thinking about schools funded by local property taxes, with some districts having more money for instructional positions, resources, and supplies due to the enormous size of the house and property down the block.

I’m thinking about an article I read about two New York schools housed in the same building, and the discrepancies in funding that caused students to walk by classroom doors, longing for the resources inside and not understanding why they didn’t have the same educational opportunities.

I’m marinating on our abysmal retention data, especially at schools with the highest poverty. At how so many amazing students don’t have access to equally amazing teachers due to the fact that we can’t build strong enough work places or supports to keep great teachers in our most challenging schools. We have students who don’t have access to the stability and necessity of a wonderful teacher, but live life with a bevy of subs rotating in and out of their impressionable lives.

Like first class passengers and the general cabin passengers, money impacts experience.

I’m even thinking about schools I have worked at that were deemed “struggling” due to low test scores, which then equated to decreased creativity with teaching, and increased scripts and military-like learning for the vulnerable students. The strangling of teacher autonomy leads to a suffocation of true, beautiful learning.

Like TSA PreCheck and general passengers, some students have an easier time with their educational journey due to processes that are, or aren’t, in place.

It’s educational down and out. We have built systems that seem to hold people down, without helping them out. I think we are continuing to feed a class system monster with our youngest learners, without fully recognizing it. I think it’s time to jump the rope and allow every student to walk down the red carpet to a first class education. What about you?