Part 1—The Washington Post pretends: The city of Pittsburgh is full of good, decent kids. Mya Alford, a high school student, is one of those good, decent kids.
Alford is a junior at Pittsburgh's historic Westinghouse High School. According to the Washington Post, she wants to go to college and study to become a chemical engineer.
That sounds like a great idea, but the Post says Alford has faced a problem in recent years—a "disadvantage." Nine days ago, Emma Brown described the problem at the start of a lengthy, front-page report you've never seen discussed:
BROWN (12/5/15): Mya Alford dreams of studying chemical engineering in college, but the high school junior is at a disadvantage: Last year, her chemistry teacher at Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Academy quit just weeks after school started, and the class was taught by a substitute who, as Mya put it, "didn't know chemistry."As she continues her lengthy report, Brown describes this as a common problem in the nation's low-income urban schools. According to Brown, "it is not uncommon for classrooms to churn with substitutes as teachers leave in large numbers each June, or quit midyear, and principals struggle to fill the positions."
The year before, there was no permanent biology teacher until December. Students at Westinghouse, a high-poverty school in one of Pittsburgh's roughest neighborhoods, often see a rotating cast of substitutes, Mya said.
"You're looking at test scores," Mya said of the school's low performance on state standardized tests in math, science and reading. "But we didn't have a stable teacher."
Brown provides some statistics about the teacher shortfall in urban districts. (At present, "Detroit needs 135 teachers—more than 5 percent of its teaching positions.")
She provides occasionally euphemistic explanations of the reasons why teachers leave urban districts—explanations which sometimes border on darkly comical.
(One teacher had to leave a D.C. high school "after she started having anxiety attacks and chest pains that she attributed to job stress." According to Brown, this teacher "was known for her strong relationships with students"—except, apparently, for the students who were throwing objects at her head and otherwise making her "find it difficult to maintain order.")
Decent, impressive kids like Alford can get caught in the waves of confusion. Personally, we were saddened by this passage from Brown's report:
BROWN: Just 27 states require substitutes to be certified teachers, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. The council's database of teacher-related policies in 118 districts—including the 50 largest and the largest in each state—shows that just 61 districts, about half, require subs to have a bachelor's degree. Eleven require no more than a high school diploma or GED, and eight have no policies addressing substitutes' qualifications.We don't doubt Sapp's good intentions. His lawsuits may have merit.
"It's the elephant in the room," said David Sapp, director of education advocacy and legal counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, linking the issue to "persistent chronic failure at certain schools."
The ACLU branch has brought several lawsuits related to public schools' teacher churn and heavy use of substitutes. "There are a narrow set of schools where this happens all the time, and until that gets really unpacked and resolved, there's only so much that can be done to close the achievement gap," Sapp said.
But can the shortage described in that passage really be the "elephant in the room?" The notion strikes us as utterly silly. It reminds us of a million such massively simplified claims which we've read in mainstream reports over these many long years. And when did it fall to the ACLU to serve as the nation's experts concerning our public schools?
Brown has produced a perfectly reasonable report—a reasonable report which does include a few shortcomings. We'll visit a few of those shortcomings in the course of the week.
That said, nothing will turn on Brown's report, whatever its merits may be. This is the first you've heard of Brown's report since it appeared on the Post's front page. Trust us! This will also be the last you hear of Brown's report.
Ten years from now, some other reporter will write a report about a similar shortage in low-income schools. We'll guess that someone wrote a similar front-page report back in 2005!
Why will Brown's decent report produce no further discussion? Because of a simple, fairly obvious fact—no one actually cares about the schools lives of students like Alford!
The mainstream press doesn't seem to care. It occasionally offers reports like this as a way of pretending.
The liberal world doesn't seem to care. You'll watch Rachel and Chris for years on end without hearing a single word about good decent kids like Alford. We're sorry, but on the corporate level, the Mya Alfords doesn't sell.
What will you hear about instead? Random comments by figures like Justice Scalia. As you know, the liberal world leaped into action last week, shrieking and wailing about one such wayward remark.
In our view, much of our liberal reaction was embarrassing to watch. By way of contrast, the Alfords tend to come and go with barely a word of concern.
Mya Alford's missing teachers v. Justice Scalia's wayward remark! We'll discuss these dueling topics during the course of the week. With respect to one of those topics, you'll see us liberals excitedly denouncing the Very Bad People found Over There in The Other Tribe. With respect to the other topic, you'll see us in our usual stance, ignoring the shortfalls which get dumped on many good decent kids.
At least for today, we'll close on an upbeat note. At the end of Brown's report, she offers a bit of good news.
According to Brown, Alford says that "her school has been transformed under the leadership of Principal LouAnn Zwieryznski, who is in her second year" at Westinghouse.
"We have teachers here," Alford is quoted saying, describing the current state of play at her school. "Every class is a steady teacher. You come in, and it's the same person."
Alford, who is 16, is junior class president this year. In this news report from the New Pittsburgh Courier, you can see a photograph of a good decent kid who's wearing a sweatshirt which says this: "Westinghouse Pride."
What happens to kids like this in their schools? On balance, nobody cares! Or have you seen such topics discussed on the One True Liberal Channel, whose millionaire hosts prefer to laugh and entertain you as they stage back-to-back segments about people who wet their pants after getting extremely drunk?
(For a good time, click here.)
In our view, those segments were a gong-show, the latest insulting disgrace. On the bright side, clowning like that almost surely helps pay some very large bills.
Tomorrow: Heart attacks over Scalia