BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - There are 76 schools on this year’s list of so-called “failing schools” and they’re spread all over the state, in both rural and urban areas, some are very diverse, others hardly at all.
There is one thing all of these different schools share: most of their students are on free and reduced lunch, one of the simplest ways to measure how many students are living below the poverty line.
“We have problems in our society we continue to grapple with on are children ready to learn,” says Dr. Autumn Cypres, Dean of the UAB School of Education. “And the question of are children ready to learn then seeps into issues of are they fed, are they dealing with stressors in the home directly related to poverty.”
In fact, we researched each of these schools and all of them have more than half of their students on free and reduced lunch. The average for the entire list is 71.5%.
“Poverty in one area would mean a certain number in one area, poverty in a different area could mean a different number,” Dr. Cypres says. “So you have to think about these are larger issues about basic needs and readiness to learn. What we see is when we look at zip code, that’s where we see the correlation with poverty play out in relation to where people are living. Poverty is what affects a student’s ability to learn. Until we solve the issues as a society of how do we address the issues of poverty, you will always have schools that are serving poverty and until we think differently about how we measure the success of schools and whether schools are failing, you’re always going to have that bottom of the list."
Dr. Cypres says solving this problem starts with changing our expectations for schools that serve poor populations and recognizing that success isn’t one size fits-all.
“I think it’s about understanding that different schools have different purposes and the understanding that you can’t have an expectation that the teacher does it alone,” Dr. Cypres says. “It’s a shared effort.”
Birmingham city schools have the most schools on the failing list, but aren’t looking for excuses for their students.
“We expect our kids to reach the same goals and have the same aspirations as anyone else,” says Dr. Jermall Wright. “We can’t lower our standards because of environments or poverty impacting our students. It just means they have a harder hill to climb but they can climb that hill with our support. Poverty is not the sole determiner for a student’s life trajectory. It does impact it, but it does not have to define it.”