The Opportunities We Lack

By: Laila Nasher

04/18/2019

The crisp clean floor sparkles with each step my feet make. As I walk through the corridors I can’t help but stare in awe. To my right is a sleek and shiny cafeteria, with fixed round tables and an open space. Looking to my left, my eyes cross in amazement at the state of the art library, jam packed with novels and study areas. I peak out back, through the sturdy gymnasium doors, to find a football field sitting in a bed of emerald vegetation.

Strolling through this alternate educational dimension, reality finally sets in-- I’m visiting a school only 15 minutes away from my own. Immediately, I’m pulled back to the reality of my school. The dread of having to sit on broken desks, in a class not of my choosing. The inadequacy of my school’s “multipurpose” room; a small designated area serving as a crammed gymnasium, lunchroom, and auditorium. The storage closet library my school provides isn’t efficient enough for the 732 students it serves.

I am reminded of the bare minimum my school grants its inhabitants in both courses and extracurricular opportunities. Each grade is served its mandatory English, Math, Science and Social Studies class with a couple of pre-chosen electives. Everything else we need to succeed is nonexistent. With only two Advanced Placement classes, no honors or International Baccalaureate  diploma, the well-rounded student universities across the nation we seek cannot be contacted.

As a young journalist, I can’t challenge my writing skills in an AP English class because one doesn’t exist in my school. Articulating my thoughts in a school newspaper is also not an option, as my school can’t afford the ink and paper necessary to create one. Artistic flare is encouraged with $5 Crayola markers at most. The absence of musical instruments leads to the demolition of interests and dreams perspective youth composers have held. These injustices flow through my mind as I walk through the halls of what my peers and I would consider a dream school, and then another thought also crosses it. This is not a school in a separate district, under a separate superintendent. No, it is our sister school. Both schools are under the same board, and operate under the same policies, yet the difference in opportunities is as clear as the glass case carrying the football team’s trophies.

Charter Schools: A Separate Evil

Within these contrasting environments lie two “charter” schools managed by the same company, that even exist within the same county. A charter school is a publicly funded, independently established school. They are operated through a written grant called a “charter”, hence the name. These time-limited forms are granted by “authorizers”. Authorizers can range from universities to locally run public school districts. Once an authorizer grants a charter, it then appoints a board (much like the school boards you’re used to, but without the election process), and that board is allowed to run the school whichever way seems fit, as long as they are meeting the requirements spelled under that charter. This often means hiring a management company to do their jobs for them.

Michigan’s charter schools are a little different than most states, and that is mainly because they have much less oversight. In Detroit, for instance, sometimes a charter school is authorized by universities far from the city of Detroit. They can open and close whenever, and wherever they choose. Some can be for-profit-- and they often are. So, you see, our charter schools may look a little different than you’re used to.

My school’s authorizer is a public university located 33 miles away from the students it serves. As I said earlier, in general, charter schools in Detroit are operated by boards who often have no connection to the communities they serve. Decisions they make may have no effect on the boards directly, and if things go down the drain, an authorizer can do the same to the school and start another one, turning students into collateral damage. Students’ wants and needs are ignored as authorizers stay under the radar, provide the bare minimum and claim to “educate” us. Charters are given the same amount of money as traditional public schools for each school from the state, but can do with each dollar as they please. The result is a corrupt environment where students are viewed as money bags instead of the future leaders of the world. All the while, just miles away under the same district, there are schools where students are given the tools to thrive.

Unfortunately, my experience isn’t uncommon. Many Detroit schools lack AP classes, teachers, and the other basic necessities of a school. Things like paper, books, desks, and technology that some students understand to be automatic, Detroit students consider a luxury. This all comes down to school funding, something Wally did a great job addressing last month. The state of our schools is a direct result of the lack of funding schools receive from the state, BUT that isn’t the only issue. Some schools in Michigan, like my sister school, often manage to still provide students with an adequate education. So why can’t mine? Why do I deserve this?

As I sift through the answers to this question, I find one difference: geographic location.

Magnetic Attraction: Allocating Money to District Eye Candy

In every school district-- traditional public, charter, private--  there are often times, if not always, a few “it” schools. The schools that an outsider can look at and think wonderful things about, and assume that it is the perfect representation of that school district. In Detroit’s traditional district, we call these “magnet schools”: a government-funded public school that offers special programs for the purpose of attracting a more diverse study body.

My district’s magnet school is described above. For the Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD), Cass Technical High School and Renaissance High School are the most prominent. Both schools offer far more Advanced Placement classes than other DPSCD education facilities; Cass has 13 while Renaissance has 12. They are also the only two schools in this district authorized to provide the International Baccalaureate diploma – Renaissance doesn’t offer this yet but it has been approved, along with its special courses. In addition are an abundance of career path programs this pair of magnet schools supply: specific engineering and science classes, architecture and design programs, business classes and partnerships, multiple forms of art and communications, award winning performing arts programs, plenty of honors courses, and STEM clubs.

Although these schools may paint a bright portrait of Detroit’s schools, it’s actually an unfair representation of the entire district. Throughout Detroit, both charter and traditional public school students complain about the few opportunities they have and rush to apply to Cass Tech and Renaissance. However, a school can only accept so many students, and both already have an overpopulation issue.

Another option students in the area have is to attend school in a separate school district, away from Detroit. When this happens, it is of no surprise that Cass Tech and Renaissance, the peak of Detroit schooling, are found to be inferior to schools in suburban districts.

Detroit Vs. Everyone

Once a student steps inside a school in Detroit, it becomes apparent that most of our schools can’t compete with those in more affluent areas. Suburban districts like Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills are the epitome of what students in Detroit can only dream to have. However, to students in suburban districts, the resources and opportunities provided are standard and the one’s given to Detroit’s “it” schools are average, at best.



 

While Cass Tech, one of Detroit’s finest schools, boasts its twelve Advanced Placement classes, which is much higher than DPSCD’s average number, this amount is the minimum for Dearborn schools. Grosse Pointe schools, just miles away, carry more than twenty AP courses. The acclaimed International Baccalaureate diploma, the one that only 1%  of DPSCD schools offer, is found in over 69% of schools – elementary, middle and high -  in Bloomfield Hills and Ann Arbor. In regards to arts and special interest programs, Bloomfield Hills owns a working farm operated by its students and is home to a state of the art radio station. Grosse Pointe yields multiple special interest clubs, ranging from Model United Nations to a sailing club.

Yet, I don’t even have access to a school newspaper. The contrasting environments that most educators, students and parents aren’t even aware of is appalling and downright unjustifiable. My peers and I, in schools throughout the city, are told to be grateful for the bare minimum and “opportunities” we can count on one hand.

The long term effects of this issue

At this very moment, thousands of high school seniors are competing with one another for a spot in a top university. Unfortunately, the youth educated in Detroit’s schools have a significant disadvantage in this race. Slots on college applications that are home to the description of extracurricular activities and rigorous coursework will be left blank. Their writing skills will be deemed lesser than students coming from more prosperous educational backgrounds.

This is not because Detroit students lack the knowledge and potential to accomplish these feats---Detroit students lack the opportunity. When students are given subpar resources, they yield second rate results. For years, Detroit students have been marginalized and have had their educations stolen by a systematic divestment in education. Even our highest rated schools are victim to this.

Our potential is dimming. My future is fading to ashes.


As I turn back to look up at the looming daydream in the form of a structure hovering above me, I realize that as a young writer in this circumstance, I will have to create my own opportunities. I will not allow my narrative, which has already been snatched and scribbled on by numerous forms of graphite, become the finalized form of my biography.

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