FIGHTIN' WORDS

WHY DUVAL KIDS CAN'T READ

And why there's not much an extra hour will do about it

Posted

About four decades ago, educational theorist Jean Anyon posited in her essay "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work" that public schools existed to reinforce social class parameters through the "hidden curriculum" — a constant reminder of one's place in the world. Working-class (and below) students were trained in things that would prepare them for mechanical and monotonous labor. Students from better circumstances would be trained in critical thinking, on up the ladder to learning actual leadership skills.

I find myself thinking of the education of those farther down the socioeconomic ladder, and the lives it prepares them for. Duval County Public Schools is a district with some very high performers, a tenuous middle class of college-ready potential, and then the rest, a miasma of underperformance.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti's tenure ultimately will be defined by whether he's able to even the odds for the underserved students — a long-shot bet. Expanding the school day for 52 Duval schools (in response to the state deciding that the 300 worst-performing schools needed an extra hour of reading instruction added to their day) is yet another attempt to get this done.

The state required 41 Duval County schools to commit the extra time. Vitti added 11 more. He justified his decision this way to WJXT: "Although there are parents that are not happy with the idea of extending the hour, there are other parents that think that this is a good opportunity for their students that are below grade level or that want their school to improve in general."

Note the use of passive voice.

Having attended a crap school or two, I can only imagine being cooped up in one for yet another hour. I can imagine what that will be like for the teachers; the kids clock-watch as it is, and another hour acting in loco parentis might make both teacher and student loco themselves.

Will more kids learn to read? If it's done right, sure, maybe. Extended-day programs have driven instructional outcome gains in Massachusetts in recent years. Closer to home and across the country, the KIPP charter-school program has shown positive results, but at a price. KIPP burns out teachers faster than Wacko's does day-shift talent. And Duval teachers aren't setting longevity records anyway. Half are out of the game before the five-year start-date anniversary.

The most callow teachers dealing with the toughest student population for 180 hours more in a school year is a recipe for burnout and churn out. While first-year implementation allows teachers to opt-out if they don't want to work that hour, we all know how plans can change.

I went to an elementary school with a bunch of kids who had trouble learning to read. I didn't have that problem; I'd learned to read as a toddler, as my parents modeled the behavior. Those poor kids learning to read as they hurtled toward puberty — clearly they were taught too late. And an extra hour a day wouldn't have helped, as their world was outside those walls.

Therein lies the larger problem: Especially for boys in some city neighborhoods, reading facility is not equated with masculinity. How does DCPS counter that?

In a time when some school districts teach grade-schoolers how to write code, it staggers me that our local culture is so debased that reading is something that parents wait for government schools to teach their kids. The kids learn how to use smartphones and TV remote controls from toddlerhood. Why aren't they learning the rudiments of our written language before they learn Call of Duty or the Kardashian app?

What other responsibilities are these parents willing to cede to the schools? Did they imagine that the government would take such an active role in shaping their progeny into adults? Did they reckon they'd rely so much on the state?

Tags: ilovejax, duval, illiteracy
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