When persistently failing schools try to explain that there are factors beyond their control for their situation, they are accused of making excuses. But I ask critics to consider the growing number of homeless students before leveling that indictment (“New York City Is Failing Homeless Students, Reports Say,” The New York Times, Mar. 16).
While it’s true that every large city has its share of homeless children, New York City is in a league of its own. According to two new reports, there were 111,500 in the 2016-17 school year. That compares with 100,000 in the previous school year. They miss an average of 41.6 days during a 178-day school year. How in the world can teachers do their job when they face such odds? Family-assistance workers who are responsible for helping the 32,243 students in city shelters have an average caseload of 293 children each.
The closest I came to teaching a homeless student involved a young man in my first-period senior composition class. Several times each week he asked if he could go to the school library. When I asked why, he told me that he worked on the waterfront late into the night and needed to take a nap. The reading room of the library was ideal for that purpose. How he managed to graduate on time is beyond me. But because he was able to double up in the apartment where the rest of his family lived, he was actually better off than other students who don’t have even that.
Public schools by law must enroll all who show up at their door. They can’t refuse admission. Yet they are not given the resources they need to face new realities. No teacher can teach students who are not in school, and few can teach students who attend without proper rest and nutrition. These are explanations – not excuses.
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