Tags: children/youth, class, education, inequality, race/ethnicity, the wire, 00 to 05 mins
Length: 1:31; 1:48
Access: YouTube clip 1; clip 2
Summary: Public education is meant to be the "great equalizer" and the cornerstone of the American Dream. But the reality is that the US has the greatest educational inequalities in the developed world, and in many ways, our educational system reproduces inequality rather than lessening it. These inequalities are largely rooted in how public schools are funded in the US. Most countries fund schools centrally and equally, but in the US, schools are largely funded through local property taxes and the wealthier your neighborhood, the wealthier the school (on average, wealthy schools spend 2-3 times more per pupil than poor schools). The impacts of these inequalities have been well documented in Kozol's (1991) classic study, Savage Inequalities, in more recent work (e.g. see "Structured for Failure: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement" by Linda Darling-Hammond, 2010); and they are illustrated throughout season 4 of The Wire. For example, schools in poorer districts cannot pay as high for teacher salaries and have a harder time attracting good teachers. In the first Wire clip above, the Principal and Assistant Principal discuss the teacher shortages that they have in science and math, and how the teachers took jobs in suburban schools. Roland Pryzbylewski (Prez) enters their office (after dealing with the schools' deteriorating infrastructure) in search of a job, and while he still lacks his teaching credentials, he is hired to teach math. Poor, low-achieving schools are five times as likely to have unqualified teachers, and this impacts teacher quality in the classroom (Darling-Hammond 2010). Schools in wealthier neighborhoods offer much higher salaries, more educational resources, and have fewer disruptive students, thus attracting better teachers to teach children from wealthier families. But the principals are happy to hear his past job was a police officer, given the severe behavioral issues Prez will face in the classroom. In the second clip, Bubbles helps his friend Sherrod return to school. Sherrod stopped attending school in the 5th grade, and is now 13 years old, which is a typical age for an 8th grader. But due to a lack of resources for students to repeat grade levels and a view that if they place the older children in the younger classes, "it us unfair to teachers, who are responsible for maintaining order." Accordingly, Sherrod will start off attending the 8th grade. This policy of "social promotion" effectively guarantees that Sherrod will not be prepared for the academic material taught in class. These types of inequality are also much more likely to impact students of color. Viewers would also be interested in this experiment on Oprah, where students from poor inner-city school traded places with a wealthy suburban school, which reinforces the examples above. You can also view other clips from The Wire that are useful for teaching sociological concepts.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
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