Laura Boyce: Kids on the supposed ‘McDonald’s track’ are living in a rigged system
In the ongoing lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s inequitable school funding system, the state’s lawyer has claimed that students on the McDonald’s track don’t need a lot of fancy education. In The Philadelphia Inquirer, the executive director of Teach Plus and a former Philly teacher pushes back.
State lawmakers haven’t really tried to claim the funding system provides equitable resources. Instead, they’ve resorted to blaming poor students for inferior outcomes and questioning whether they really need comprehensive education. When discussing disparities in resources and outcomes between high- and low-wealth districts, a lawyer for House Speaker Bryan Cutler said “some students are better equipped to take advantage of opportunities offered or perhaps are more industrious.” A lawyer for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman asked a rural superintendent, “What use would someone on the McDonald’s career track have for Algebra 1?” before concluding, “There’s a need for retail workers, for people who know how to flip a pizza crust.”
While the indifferent cruelty of such comments is stunning — would these lawmakers accept their own children being denied Algebra 1 and shuttled onto the pizza crust track? — we can’t ignore the racial and socioeconomic subtext, given the correlation between school funding and race and class. The history of denying poor people and people of color educational opportunities dates to our country’s founding, when enslaved people were prohibited from learning to read and Thomas Jefferson envisioned a whites-only education system that would bestow a publicly funded education only on top students who were “raked from the rubbish.” The idea that people of color only need to be educated for menial jobs has also persisted over time.
As a former educator who taught in the underfunded Philadelphia public schools, I’ve taught — and loved — the students dismissed by lawmakers as less “industrious” and destined for the “McDonald’s track.” I’ve seen their curiosity, brilliance, ambition, and work ethic: Verónica, who dreamed of becoming a scientist and inventing new vaccines and miracle drugs; Bryan, who worked multiple jobs and still completed every homework assignment; Josh and Cashey, who started their own lunchtime book club to nerd out about their favorite pleasure reads. I’ve also seen the obstacles placed in their way, both by external factors like poverty and gun violence as well as the school system itself, which provides them fewer resources and opportunities than their peers in wealthier suburbs.