A Request to The Clam:
“Please explain the Gloucester Schools to me in the simplest way possible. I keep hearing they suck and then I hear from other people that they are good so please help.”
Ahh, the Gloucester Schools. We shall do our best.
Gloucester Schools, Part the First
Remember the ‘Mirror of Erised’ in Harry Potter, the secret magic mirror Harry found at Hogwarts? Harry saw the parents he never knew and Ron Weasley saw himself as Gryffindor Quidditch Captain because its enchanted reflection reveals that which you most desire in your heart of hearts. We had one for a while at home, but all ours showed was softcore pornograpy involving H.R. Pufnstuf, so not sure what was going on there.
The Gloucester public schools are like the opposite of that. When observed, people bolt onto them whatever they most fear and loathe. For instance, if you are afraid your kids will become soulless corporate drones then the schools are factories of mediocrity handing out 64 boxes of Crayolas, with all the crayons different shades of tan (‘’Corporate Khaki” is our fav).
Likewise, if you hate unions and think the g’vmnt is running our lives by making us eat meat that’s been inspected by red-tape spewing bureaucrats, then the schools are socialist indoctrination camps where the teachers bellow an evil, full-chested laugh as they cash their tax-bloated paychecks after a long day of reading to kids from Mao’s Little Red Book.
Of course neither of these are true, but people believe what they want to believe. On top of this in Gloucester we have some unique challenges. Let’s clamsplore via list, shall we? We love us some lists.
1. Wealth: There are 351 incorporated towns in MA. Ranked by income Gloucester is 160th. Pretty much right in the middle with a median household income of about $60K/year. Our neighbors are in different segments. Manchester is fifth, with an average household income of more than twice that. Rockport is 77th with an average household of about $80K (Rockport is both really old and really tiny, btw. It’s the 17th oldest town in the Commonwealth and has only 7K people). When it comes to educational performance income matters for reasons we’ll get into.
2. Culture: For literally more than 300 years Gloucester has been an extractive economy- meaning that any single family could scrape together a little cash and create a small concern to extract wealth from a nearby abundant resource. It’s like logging towns in the Northwest or coal towns in the Appalachians. In these environments you don’t need education nor even trade schools. In places like this you need a family that will put its backs together and you need balls made of tungsten-alloy. So it’s kind of a cultural adjustment when that way of life implodes within a single generation and suddenly your education system needs to start turning out huge numbers of people to work in the service, science, medical, financial and technology industries when just a few years earlier they were free to make a fine living catching or lumping right after high school. Cultural shifts take time.
3. Perception: This is the one that annoys the fuck out of me. Because of the ongoing cultural shift noted above, improved state standards and a shit-ton of incredibly hard and largely unthanked work, the schools now are pretty good. Ranking is really difficult, but but by most statistics used to evaluate schools Gloucester scores, not unexpectedly, pretty much in the middle (Hmmm. Coincidence?), especially once you get to the later grades and kids who started out more behind have had a chance to catch up. Gloucester tends to track with places like Saugus and Peabody- towns both regionally and demographically similar to us.
Jeez, with all the social and economic cards stacked against Gloucester schools, with many higher-performing students “choicing” to wealthier neighbors, we do pretty well. How is that? Simply it’s because we have a ton of highly dedicated educators, motivated outside advocates like the Gloucester Education Foundation [give them money!] and near-saint parents who devote untold fucktons of time to the schools. We could do a whole post just on the huge list of people who have gone way above the call of duty for their jobs or their own kids to make the schools what they are in the face of budget cuts and dipshits in all kinds of media constantly bringing them down. Because of these folks Gloucester Schools continue to be a great and successful place for kids from all walks of life. That is a fact.
You need to start there when you have this conversation. It is a very different thing to say, “Gloucester schools are on the balance, average” and then continue “I want better than average” rather than the usual bullshit from the GDT, “The Schoools Suuuuuuk!!! It’s a crisis REDFLAGOMIGOD!!!!!”
And allow us to note that this is effing Massachusetts. When people talk about “The Crisis in US Education” they are not talking about MA, they are talking about Mississippi where schoolchildren are using textbooks that don’t mention evolution mostly because when they were printed Darwin didn’t even have a shitty junior-high moustache yet.
When you look at our schools separately from the rest of the US, as if MA were a country unto itself, we score somewhere right between Finland and Japan who is behind Korea and Singapore (suck it, Lithuania!). Therefore our beloved Commonwealth is distinctly NOT having an educational crisis. Alabama, on the other hand is. So if you, like me, want to get even higher educational performance our of our schools, start with the fact that Gloucester has average schools in one of the two tip-top performing states (it’s us and Connecticut as the two top-ranked) competitive globally with the highest-performing countries.
Warning: If you start any conversation with us about the schools on the assumption that they suck we will know you haven’t actually read any of the actual data and are thus an idiot. Sorry. Facts matter. We don’t give a dingo’s kidneys that someone went to O’Maley in 1990 and it gargled balls and was like a John Huges movie but without the cool soundtrack. It’s a completely different school now. They make sail-cars. They have full classes of advanced math, an MIT partnership and amazing theatre productions. If you can’t get out of the godamed 90’s you need to see a psychiatrist. May I suggest Frasier? (that shot was far too easy and we apologize).
So, what have we learned? That the schools are average at worst. We also saw the correlation between household income and educational outcomes. Is there a causational link? Only if you choose to believe every frigging study ever done. Why look, here’s one that shows every thousand dollars in household income translates into about six percent difference on math scores from a standard deviation, with the most pronounced effects on kids from low-income families. Huh. It’s almost as if Gloucester, Manchester and Rockport fit perfectly into this model. Whad’ya know?
Here’s one thing I don’t know: How we even got around to debating this. Everyone living in Gloucester knows that this is a city right, not some ‘leafy suburb’? A lot of people who live in our city are (often stridently) not educationally-focused and there is a core of poverty with its attendant social problems and thus our schools have a bunch of kids who start from a weaker position educationally, right? Is this new to anyone?
If it is, here’s the deal: The teachers have to spend a ton of time on the kids who come from homes where there aren’t books, where mom and possibly dad are too busy trying to find the next hit or are tired out from low salary dead-end jobs or just aren’t from situations themselves where education has mattered much. That’s poverty, people. That their kids score lower on standardized tests in the third grade shouldn’t surprise anyone. That it’s going to cost more to get them up to speed also shouldn’t be a huge fucking ‘wow’ moment either.
In our personal experience we have found that even though all the scores (for what ‘scores’ are worth) get lumped together, our own kids have never suffered in any significant way educationally for having a variety of social classes represented in their schools. We think it’s made them into better people, in fact. They continue to be challenged academically, the teachers attend to their needs and we all pitch in to make sure that the kids in financial binds have rides, uniforms, fees and all the same opportunities all the other kids have. Food. Yeah, there have been a couple of times when a family lost an income and we made sure they had food. We are not Christian but that guy had a few good things to say about this particular topic if we remember our “Davey and Goliath” cartoons correctly.
And let us provide as special message to those who have been very upfront about not wanting extra attention paid to kids from struggling families: Go fuck yourselves. At the playground, for instance we have heard parents talk about how providing free meals to poor kids takes away from the families who are being “responsible.”
Metaphor time, bitches! For the purpose of this argument we are just going to skip over the accidents of birth that put almost all of us to where we are in life and simply picture all Gloucester families zipping about the harbor in generally equal quality boats. Now we all know there are responsible boaters and there are irresponsible boaters. Sometimes bad things happen to the responsible boaters and their boats sink. It just happens. And we likewise know that bad things often happen to irresponsible boaters, their boats sink too. They sink a lot more and for avoidable reasons, no argument there. BUT YOU RESCUE THE KIDS OF ALL OF THE SINKING BOATS REGARDLESS, RIGHT? RIGHT YOU SICK MOTHERFUCKERS? THESE ARE KIDS! Are there people who would honestly suggest that the children of irresponsible boaters should be left to drown in order to teach their parents lessons about responsible boastmanship? Really? And don’t accuse us of hyperbole, because we are talking about these kids’ entire futures here. If you ignore one set of kids it trickles down whole generations. This is our society, our tax base, our future nurses or prisoners. Our entrepreneurs or drains on society. We get to have a huge influence on how this turns out.
When people say, “Schools shouldn’t have to be responsible where parents fail” we agree. Yes, that is indeed true. And fire departments shouldn’t have to come put your house fire out because you bought cheap-ass Christmas lights from Walgreens and plugged one thousand things into a single wall outlet where the wiring was installed by some long-dead drunk uncle with materials he ripped out of a grounded collier. We shouldn’t, but we do. And publically-funded ambulances shouldn’t pick up people who smoked two packs a day in between buckets of KFC but they do. Welcome to living in an integrated society.
So, social issues aside as a bottom line we always help kids. All of them. The numbers show that the GPS has been doing just that and pretty darned well thank you very much. Are there things to improve and places to make improvement and problems and issues? Oh hells yes, but we believe the perspective from where you start is critical and that the people yelling “failure” are typically lying assweasels trying to divert money away from the public schools for their own purposes of assweaselism. We, on the other hand, believe in the mission of public schools as the best shot we have at a simultaneously egalitarian and globally competitive society.
Also there are tater tots.
Ok, that was ranty. In part 2 we will talk about individual schools maybe or just go off on idiots more. Maybe both. Right now we need to go drink a beer and watch Frozen again.