By Bryn Lauer
According to the 2015-16 census of data.nysed.gov, 5,491 students from kindergarten to 12th grade attend Binghamton Public School District, with 75% of those students considered economically disadvantaged. This comes with no surprise as, according to 2019 data, 1 in every 3 persons in Binghamton are below the poverty line. Even roughly 50% of kids enrolled in nursery school are extremely disadvantaged. Off the bat this lowers Binghamton student’s chances for success. “Poverty reduces a child’s readiness for school because it leads to poor physical health and motor skills, diminishes a child’s ability to concentrate and remember information, and reduces attentiveness, curiosity and motivation,” notes data from childfund.org.
But no worries! The ever-generous state of New York will come to the rescue! Sure, the taxes amassed on citizens might be burdening to some, but when the children are at stake, the ends justify the means! Thus, it comes as no surprise that nearly double the national average amount of money expenditures are spent on Binghamton students. Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, no. If only we could fix all of our problems with money. Despite an expenditure amount per student of $23,565, as shown by nces.ed.gov, multiple sources cite poor performance among students. According to Niche, the academics are rated at “C”, with health and safety ranked at “C-”. Not a single school in the system has a rating above “4/10” on GreatSchools.org, a website which ranks a school’s performance on many aspects. In fact, three of the schools ranked at “1”, and the high school was a “3”. Only 64% of students graduate from the high school, compared to the state average of 80.4%, and national average of 84.6%. U.S. News reports that the high school earns a ranking of 45.19/100, with a math and reading performance that rank among the 30th percentile. Moreover, the college readiness calculator scores Binghamton a lofty 20.7/100. This then begs the question – with so much money funneled into the system, why aren’t the results something worth selling? In other words, with an education so valuable, why is the quality so cheap?
The answer lies where money has no worth. It is a basic Psychology 101 concept that parents affect childhood development substantially. The less supportive parents are, the stronger the likelihood of “negative emotionality” emerging, cites researchers Richard Slatcher and Christopher Trentacosta. The stronger the negative emotions, the more a student will struggle with “higher order cognitive processes (such as problem solving, memory, and strategic thinking),” claims Carlos Valiente, Jodi Swanson, and Nancy Eisenberg. It is not difficult to note the link between less supportive families and worse academic achievements. In fact, Waterford.org explains that “The best predictor of student success is the extent to which families encourage learning at home and involve themselves in their child’s education.” While I am not here to make sweeping accusations about the welfare of Binghamton’s kids, it cannot be ignored that the more funding a school has, the better it supposedly performs, according to The Economics of Education Review. With money ruled out as a variable in poor performance, we must assume that something is awry at home and in the halls. Something must be broken in the family dynamic, where kids lack the support they need to reach their academic potential. However, to fix the psychology of thousands of families is intangible. To lift kids out of the varying degrees of crime, poverty, and family insecurity, would require a systemic change that is out of the government’s control. Binghamton public schools need a structural and behavioral change in order to better its students.
Take for instance a massive study conducted by Anna Maier Julia Daniel Jeannie Oakes, which outlines “Four Pillars” needed for high-quality education outside of the curriculum. To summarize, schools need integrated student supports, expanded learning time and opportunities, family and community engagement, as well as collaborative leadership and practice. Kids need to be pushed, and high expectations cannot be withheld for fear of underperformance. This by no means insists that kids should be pushed to their breaking point, but by God, give students an incentive to work hard and they realize the value of learning. Parents and the community are expected to be involved as well, providing relationships where kids know they can trust their parents and town. Lastly, students need role models, whether in their own self-government or through outside influencers. Research has found that a foundation on such pillars will lead to improvement not only academically, but socially, even for impoverished students with social and environmental barriers.
I acknowledge how much sweat and tears goes into educating children, but if we give money back to the taxpayer, some burdens that this community faces will be lifted. Binghamton should have the guts to trust its citizens by cutting a few thousand dollars from expenditures, as doing so will reap the benefit of allowing people to utilize their own money. We must incentivize the school district to build upon positive behavior so that students will improve their academic standings and graduate. Someone has to do something, because while many things we are not capable of controlling, this is an achievable dream. Those students deserve someone to fight for them. Not all of the factors that hold them back can be fixed by money, and while Binghamton City School District has the foundation to build a potentially far-reaching education system, the extra push will have to be changed solely by human will and intention.