8th Grader Teaches Math for a Month in Underfunded Detroit School

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Public schools are supposed to provide the youth of America with education and training to ensure that they have opportunities to succeed, survive, and thrive as adults. Unfortunately, public schools are very much not equal, and while students in rich districts may have all kinds of special activities and opportunities, kids in poorer districts often lack basic essentials like books and supplies.

According to the Herald Tribune, now several Detroit students have filed a lawsuit against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and other state education officials on the grounds that several of the lowest-performing schools in the district are being operated in “slum-like conditions,” and they lack basic supplies like pencils, paper, and even toilet paper. In some cases, they even lack teachers.

According to the lawsuit, last year the man who taught 7th- and 8th-grade math at Hamilton Academy, a Detroit-area charter school, quit his job. He reportedly left because he could no longer deal with the frustration of enormous class sizes–some classes in the schools are reportedly stuffed with up to 50 kids, all squashed together in one room–and no support from the school, and when he left things certainly did not get better. The school actually completely failed to find a replacement, and for the next month the “highest performing” 8th grader just took over teaching both seventh and eighth grade math. And that was a job so demanding and frustrating that an adult professional quit in frustration. That’s unfair to that student, and to the other students in the classroom.

Ninety-seven percent of the students in the schools named in the lawsuit are low-income students of color, and the lawsuit maintains that the state has utterly failed in its job of educating them. According to the lawsuit, the state’s failure to maintain an adequate school environment has effectively doomed the kids in those schools to a “separate and unequal” future, and that they lack “the level of literacy necessary to function.”

The students’ lawsuit presents a bleak picture. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could be expected to learn in the kind of environment they describe, and these schools serve a lot of students. The Detroit Public Schools Community District is the largest public school district in Detroit and serves approximately 50,000 students.