Now, under the new Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, my students will have the "opportunity" to go to "better" schools. The main problem is this: My school is not a bad school. My school is incredible.
A staggering 95 percent of our students come from poor families, nearly 30 percent are learning English, and at least 16 percent have special needs. You will never hear me use those numbers as excuses, though. I tell anyone who will listen that my students are some of the most intelligent, engaging, enthusiastic, and resilient children in Pennsylvania.
Consider two girls in my third grade class, recent immigrants who spoke no English as of September. About a week before the end of the school year, the girls, who had become fast friends, approached me. One of them asked, "Mrs. L., can we read to the class?" while the other nodded enthusiastically.
The next day, they read The Cat In the Hat while their classmates listened with great attention and admiration.
These girls had a successful school year.
Or take another young lady, an English-language learner who also has a learning disability. This year, she made a best friend who took her under her wing and helped her stay on task and begin to truly enjoy school. Toward the end of the year, she started to make rapid gains in both literacy and math. She would look at me wide-eyed and say, "Mrs. L., I really like math now!"
I have a photo of her and her best friend on the day she earned a 98 on her literacy test. She was over the moon.
She also had a successful school year.
Or there's the phenomenal young man whom some might consider "tough." As the year went on, he matured, and his anger subsided. He started producing quality schoolwork and doing his homework.
On the last day of school, he went over to his cubby and cried: He didn't want to leave.
This young man had a successful school year.
The students I've described form a microcosm of our school experience. Each and every child in my classroom had his or her own successes. Will those successes be reflected in their test scores? I hope so. But even if they are not, that doesn't diminish their triumphs.
Yet when these students come back to school in September, they will hear that they go to an underachieving school, and that they can go to a "good" school. What message will they take away?
It would never cross my mind to call a student "bad." But now the state is labeling entire schools — and, in turn, communities — "bad." That is distressing not only because I know my colleagues and I are committed to excellence, but also because it will be one more way society is telling our students they are unworthy.
After seeing my students in action, I doubt the makers of this list would call them low-achieving. Unfortunately, they already have, and it breaks my heart.
Hillary Linardopoulos teaches third grade at Julia deBurgos School. She can be reached at MrsL132@comcast.net or on Twitter at @MrsL132.