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Homeless Kids: Public and Charter Schools

Oct 16, 2017 by

The number of homeless students now attending New York City schools exceeds the population of many good-sized towns. Given the exponential growth of ruptured lives, that figure may reach that of a city before long.

Almost all the nearly 12,000 dislocated students are registered in public schools. They are more than one-tenth the total on register in the largest school system in the nation. This tally includes kids on rosters of charter schools, though  the percentage of their representation is statistically insignificant.

Kids housed in shelters or other temporary accommodations must be especially emotionally resilient. They must also have superior street-survival skills as they struggle to get by and sometimes to get away.

They learn the hard way that when you own nothing, you must take ownership of your own life. There’s no algorithm for that. Neither is there an applicable framework that can be handed down by a schools chancellor.

Homeless kids are under exceptional stress. Often they have witnessed and borne the brunt of domestic and other violence and been party to the indignity of eviction. These doesn’t make them bad people or poor students, though schoolwork may not rank high on the list of coping demands. Still, such kids often become inspiring productive adults, but they must live in the present and they can count the two strikes that are against them.

Their plight may make them confused, restless and resentful, but most public school teachers have the sophistication and empathy to realize that such negative energy is not usually directed against them personally. They also can see why proficiency in bubbling ovals on standardized tests may be delayed.

They may be harder to manage in the classroom and appear resistant to learning and discipline. Maturity and world-wisdom is being thrust on them and few youth seek that kind of precocity.

Many clueless members of the public who believe the anti-public school guff from charter school pushers and other fans of privatization, don’t want to accept the fact that public schools must educate, and welcome the challenge gladly, even kids in hardship. Public school teachers are far more likely to encounter students who are handicapped or otherwise hindered by dire situations than are charter and other private schools.

Public school teachers are also more likely to have developed strategies for helping these kids, because they are subject to policies that reflect an institutional philosophy of caring for the whole child, rather than exploiting them for purposes of self-promotion and data-enhancement. Public schools don’t run on a business model and instruction or therapy for them is not a business decision.

Public schools have no reason to be jealous of charters, although they have cause to envy the often adulatory coverage they get. Public schools include; charters exclude, especially when kids are without a roof or bread on the table. They are part of the lifeblood of the public school family, not a burden put on notice on their the first day.  The public school is their community bosom.

The number of homeless kids in public schools is dramatic, but overall the educators get the job done to a high standard. The public needs to soberly survey and appraise what public and charter schools are up against and judge realistically and respectfully.

Ron Isaa

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