The Real Advantage of Wealthier Schools

I love my school and I love my school district. I love the people I know and the community that surrounds it. I love the kids I teach and the way they’ve entrusted me with their stories.

And yet . . .

I wouldn’t want my kids to attend school in my district. It has nothing to do with the teachers. I see amazing, hard-working, dedicated educators who stop at nothing to ensure that their children learn.

It has nothing to do with the facilities. I see little difference between the middle class school of my neighborhood and the schools in my district. In anything, the technology in our middle class neighborhood school pales to the flashy Macbook Airs and iPads of the district where I teach.

The real advantage of being in a middle class school is that of education policy. In my district, teachers are discouraged to go on field trips for fear of losing instructional time. At my sons’ school, they take at least two field trips per quarter. My son takes an annual test instead of spending six weeks a year on standardized testing, along with a weekly standardized test to prep for the quarterly standardized test to prep for the annual standardized test.

My sons get science. Real science. The kind that you do with your hands. The type that begins with inquiry and works through observation. In my district, they get test prep science or vocabulary-building science or science-to-support-language-acquisition.

My sons get social studies, too. Real social studies, with divergent views and critical thinking and mock trials. In my district, social studies is relegated to remedial reading in preparation for the PARCC assessment.

This might sound like a list of complaints, but I have some ideas as well:

  • Encourage critical thinking through structured discourse and student inquiry.
  • Shift to project-based learning.
  • Consider motivation instead of focusing only on skill level. Turn schools into places kids want to attend.
  • Bring back social studies and science and watch what happens when worldviews expand.
  • Reduce the time spent testing and increase the time spent interacting with the world.
  • Foster creative thinking among all students, instead of just the ones who qualify for the gifted program.

And here’s the thing: I have no idea if my ideas will work. It’s why they’re ideas and not solutions. However, scores continue to slide and the focus continues to move toward test scores until we’re teaching data points instead of children. Why not shift toward meaningful, constructivist pedagogy and see if it makes any difference?


John Spencer

John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

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