Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Photo: Linda Lutton/WBEZ
“School is what makes the American Dream possible,” writes WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton in The View From Room 205. That’s what desperately poor kids are told. But is it true?
On the first day of school, September 2014, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, then head of Chicago Public Schools, told Penn Elementary students they could achieve anything. “No matter where you’re from, what neighborhood you call home, and no matter what your dreams are in life, it is right here at Penn that our children are going to get their start — so that they can have that dream, chase that dream, capture that dream and live it,” Byrd-Bennett tells the kids and their teachers.
After following a veteran fourth-grade teacher’s class, Lutton begins to doubt that schools can overcome poverty, neighborhood violence and family instability.
To her dismay, Lutton witnesses Penn teachers looking at the standardized test a week early, planning to give it as a practice test and letting students use notebooks with reference information on the test. Cheating doesn’t help: Penn kids still do poorly.