Ain't Nobody Learnin Nothin: The Fraud and the Fix for High-Poverty Schools

Ain't Nobody Learnin Nothin: The Fraud and the Fix for High-Poverty Schools

Ain't Nobody Learnin Nothin: The Fraud and the Fix for High-Poverty Schools

Ain't Nobody Learnin Nothin: The Fraud and the Fix for High-Poverty Schools


Using pseudonyms but real stories, Rossiter introduces the reader to fascinating students, families, teachers, and administrators who are caught up in a tragic cycle of poverty, dysfunction, and educational fraud. He shows why and how the result is half of the students dropping out and the other half graduating years behind and helpless before a community college curriculum. Rossiter then steps back and seeks solutions that would greatly increase the number of students making it to the promised land of the middle class. His solutions come from the same principle used by private schools and schools for wealthy families: build the school around the needs of the students. For high-poverty families, this means addressing the need to remain alive, healthy, and out of parenthood during the teenage years; it means building basic skills and then offering a real choice of college prep or vocational training,; it means separating students based on behavior and effort, so that the strong can achieve without disruption and the weak can received remediation and try again. Finally, Rossiter reviews efforts to address the underlying legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism that has created the culture of poverty. He offers solutions in this area as well, such as high-wage jobs programs for parents and programs that strengthen young families during pregnancy and then stimulate language development during the crucial first year of life. Diane Ravitch has analyzed the counter-productive school reform policies that guide today’s public schools (The Death and Life of the Great American School System -- 2010) and public charter schools (Reign of Error -- 2013). Rossiter provides in-person details about the impact of those policies in the high-poverty public and charter high schools at which he taught. He illustrates issues such as fraudulent diplomas, driving away good teachers, the empty search for athletic scholarships, and the family challenges of living in a culture of poverty, by building a chapter for each issue around an actual student, parent, teacher, or administrator. Bringing the voices of the participants directly to the public, Rossiter evokes Jonathan Kozol’s legendary work on high-poverty schools, Death at an Early Age (1967). He also offers a comprehensive solution that would allow millions more students to walk over the slippery bridge to the middle class.


Adults who attended middle and upper class high schools invariably say “you’re kidding” when I describe a preposterous incident in a high-poverty high school where I have taught. But I’m simply not imaginative enough to make this stuff up. This is a work of non-fiction. Only the identities — of some schools and streets and of most building administrators, teachers, parents, and students — have been changed.

It was ten minutes after the tardy bell after lunch on a fall afternoon at “Johnson” Senior High in the District of Columbia, but dozens of students were still running down the lavishly-carpeted halls in the new $100 million building. The state-of-the art facility could accommodate 1,500 students, but only 800, all black and nearly all from single-guardian poor families, were on the books, and about 400 showed up on any given day. At the dedication a few days before, the city’s elected and education officials had promised that the beautiful new school would give students a greater sense of pride and purpose than the run-down one they had left behind.

Pride and purpose, though, were in short supply as the students came down the hall from lunch, screaming, laughing, and joning. (Joning means creatively insulting someone, often starting with the claim that “Yo’ momma so ugly that…” It has been a staple of poor black culture since the days of segregation, when it was called “doing the dozens.”) The students were staying a few yards ahead of the “Crow,” who was striding along while bellowing his standard call, “Teachers, lock your doors!”

The Crow was by title the dean of students, but by role he was the hammer, the boy from the ‘hood made good with an education degree from an on-line college. He would wade into fights with glee, in hopes that a student would . . .

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