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Monday, April 11, 2011

A Digital Divide in Urban Schools

In today’s society, many Americans believe that urban schools are consistently failing to educate the students that they serve. Despite the fact that some people think schools are doing a sufficient job of educating today’s youth, there is a growing number of those who strongly believe that the conditions in certain schools are appalling. Due to various observations, case studies, and research reports, society’s perception of urban schools is quite saddening. Students in urban schools are presumed to achieve less in school, attain less education, and encounter less success in the labor market following their schooling. In many cases, researchers as well as educators tend to associate this professed performance of urban youth to home and school environments that are failing to foster educational and economic success. Nevertheless, it is important to realize outside factors do not necessarily determine the path in which students take. Influential as they might be, the growing challenges and obstacles that urban students face outside the classroom are not the only factors that shape academic success. One must first consider the question: Are schools the problem, or the solution?

In America, social class affects one’s life chances across a broad spectrum of social phenomenon. Generally, social class typically refers to wealth. As outlined by Jean Anyon (1980), “one’s occupation and income level contribute significantly to one’s social class” (p. 254). In America, a person’s social class often plays a significant role in one’s success and achievement. For example, the more money a person has access to, the more opportunity they have for higher education. Accordingly, the higher the education they achieve, the better the career prospects are. Thus, the better the career, the more money they will make, and the cycle continues. Unfortunately, many urban schools in today’s society are perpetuating this reproduction social inequality. In fact, Jean Anyon asserts that “public schools in complex industrial societies like our own make available different types of educational experience and curriculum knowledge to students from different social classes” (p. 253). Essentially, there are differences in classrooms with contrasting social class backgrounds, and urban public schools are usually the ones receiving the shorter end of the stick.

When thoroughly planned and used in transformative ways, technology implementation can definitely prove to be an effective teaching tool. Nevertheless, technological resources are very scarce in today’s urban schools. Of course there are free Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts that teachers can use inside the classroom to engage students in learning activities that foster 21st century schools. However, these free tools still require access to an efficient computer along with internet access. In the book, Leading 21st Century Schools, Schrum and Levin (2009) report that “schools with high poverty rates and those in rural areas that have access typically have slower connections to the internet…This can have a significant impact on the types of activities that students are able to accomplish” (p. 169). Hence, even though teachers and students are not restricted from using these tools due to financial circumstances, they might still be unable to access these resources because they have poor internet connections and outdated computers. These are just some of the concerns I have as a prospective urban educator. There is so much you can do with technology today, yet and still many students never get a chance to experience the benefits.

I remember visiting an urban school for one of my projects in my Urban Education course in college; I will never forget the conversation I had with one of the Social Studies teachers. During my first conversation with this teacher, she told me “these kids just don’t get it. They can’t do Google Docs; it’s just beyond them.” I was shocked! She had such low expectations for her eighth grade students and it was sad. How do you expect a group of students to excel at anything if they have never been exposed to it? Is it their fault that this is the first time they have ever heard of Google Docs? They have never the experience! This is the reason why it is so important to expose students to various technological tools and engage them in lessons and activities that require them to use technology. We are the teachers. If we do not take on the responsibility, then who will?