Standards in education blurred by resource disparity

By Boswell Hutson

Every Thursday, I volunteer to mentor a sixth grader at nearby Urbana Middle School. I come one day a week, eat lunch with him, help him with his homework and then if we have extra time left, we usually get to play basketball or computer games or do something entertaining.

Last Thursday, however, as I was going to pick up my little guy from class to take him to the cafeteria, I overheard a teacher scold a group of seventh graders in the hallway. Her form of reprimanding them was to scream, emphatically ending her statement with: “Y’all dumbasses was clownin’.” 

At first, I couldn’t believe what was going on. I thought it was a joke. There was no way that a teacher, and an English teacher at that, was yelling at this group of students in such an informal way, not to mention the grammatical errors in her speech.

In the past few years I have frequently witnessed teachers, whether it be in the classroom or in the hallways, who discipline by screaming and through anger as opposed to explanation and understanding. Many of the teachers and principals I have encountered, both at the middle school and elementary school levels, use teaching and discipline tactics that are inappropriate and lack patience.

I’m not saying that every teacher in the Urbana Public School system is bad (in fact, there are many teachers there that are among the most dedicated I have ever seen), or that the school system itself is bad. What is evident, however, is that these schools are clearly not equipped with adequate resources to support their students and teachers.

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Last year, only 42.1 percent of students at Urbana High School met their standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, compared to the 53 percent average for the state. And the school as a whole only averaged a 19.6 on their ACT tests. 

I’m certainly not advocating that all the blame for these poor numbers be placed on the teachers; there are multiple factors at work here, such as high proportions of students from low-income families (64.7 percent at UHS) and property taxes. It’s obvious that districts like the ones right here in our backyard could certainly be given more resources and allocate them as necessary, similar to New Trier High School in wealthy suburban Winnetka, where 89 percent of students meet PSAE standards.

Seeing as Urbana is part of a college town, and that the University of Illinois has an entire college dedicated to Education, you would think that the pool of talent that Urbana public schools has to hire from and the resources available to them would be stronger than they are. 

The problem, however, is that often times the top-tier talent is hired away to more affluent areas of the state that have more resources – most notably, the wealthy Chicago suburbs.

This makes sense; the taxes in the suburbs and other affluent areas of the state are higher, and as such, the public schools have more resources — particularly to pay teachers making them much more likely to pursue a teaching job away from downstate schools. 

This, in turn, lures those young and ambitious teachers away from the areas that need the most help and into the areas that can afford to pay the highest for the best teachers. It also ensures that schools with the highest property taxes will continue receiving the most resources, and those that don’t will continue to suffer. I’m not saying that top talent doesn’t deserve top money, they certainly do. But the process by which some school districts are left behind is blatantly unfair.

The problem I have with this, specifically, is that it creates a visible line of affluence. In theory, all students in the United States of America should receive a public education with the same standards. If all of the exceptional teachers are extracted from the local community, it is then left with a slew of teachers who may not be as dedicated or as qualified.

This certainly doesn’t seem fair to someone like the 12 year-old boy I mentor, who has a legitimate drive to learn, but because of a learning disability, has a hard time finding a teacher with the patience and care to help him succeed. 

Why should a student with the same disability from the North Shore, for example, automatically get access to a better teacher simply because of geographical location? That’s frankly not fair.

I’m not advocating for forcing teachers to stay in the community – of course they should choose to go where they want. I’m simply stating that it is impossible to say that the standard of public education is equal across the state. 

The best teachers are going to the best places with the best resources, perpetuating a “rich-get-richer” scenario in which many of those who need the most help get the least.

Boswell is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].