Outraged dad wonders if a public speaking class is only for rich kids

Back in 2006 media mogul Oprah Winfrey conducted a provocative experiment for an episode of her eponymous talk show: She swapped kids from Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, a well-heeled Chicago suburb, with kids from Harper High School in Englewood, an impoverished, violence-filled neighborhood on the city's South Side, just 35 miles away.

It wasn't only the Olympic-size pool at Neuqua Valley that shocked and angered the kids from Harper. They were stunned by the academic offerings -- including more than two dozen AP classes, compared with the two offered at Harper.

Nearly a decade later, Frankie Adao, a dad in Newark, New Jersey, who is active in progressive education reform efforts there, is wondering why his son is only being taught ELA/SS -- a combination of English language arts and social studies -- while his peers in other parts of the state are being offered a more plentiful selection of advanced-sounding courses: Google Hacks, Civics, Media/Public Speaking, Sports Statistics, Creative Writing, and a whole stable of other art, language, and music electives. That's just at one school.

"A bit of jealousy came over me," Adao wrote on his blog late last week about his reaction to seeing the schedules being offered at other schools. "I wanted for my son what their kids had! Fair and equal opportunity to a great education."

Newark is a majority black and Latino school district with a median household income of $33,960 and nearly 30 percent of people living below the poverty line. It's also been under state control since 1995. After his son's first day of school, Adao reviewed the schedule of classes for the honor student and was appalled by the lack of quality course offerings.

"Last year we read of 8th graders taking advance STEM courses and winning technology grants for the school. So, we expected to see more! More than what was on the 5"x 7" mustard yellow piece of paper that outlined the course for the 8th grade year my son had in front of him," Adao wrote. "I am not a prolific scholar or expert in the area of curriculum by any means. This however, just did not seem to be a schedule of a 8th grader getting ready for high school!"

RELATED: Will Our STEM Obsession Squeeze Out Other Subjects?

In particular, the schedule heavily emphasized core academic classes, such as math, science, and the ELA/SS course. There were electives such as art, computers, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) but only once a week each. A Mandarin Chinese program his son was enrolled in was axed last spring. Critics of standardized testing have long noted that to meet No Child Left Behind benchmarks, schools have upped their emphasis on reading and math, to the exclusion of electives such as art, music, and foreign language.

So Adao decided to share the schedule with folks in an education-related parent group on Facebook and found that, as he suspected, his son was denied the opportunity to take the kind of courses taught to kids growing up in more well-off communities in the state.

Adao wrote that he was "left with a sincere feeling of shock and dismay" as dozens of parents posted their children's schedules. They were "straight up 90210 type of schedules. Ya know...like the ones you see on TV shows about school and wish you went there," he wrote.

Such disparities aren't isolated to Newark. Thanks to federal loopholes, as many as 4.5 million students at 12,000 schools are shortchanged $8.5 billion per year, according to a report issued in March by the Center for American Progress. As a result, schools in low-income communities of color often struggle to be able to offer students the basics. Teachers in Chester, Pennsylvania, started the school year without knowing whether they'd be paid -- nope, there are no Google Hacks courses being offered there.

As for Adao, he is "totally frustrated at the inequality of education that is running through this state and this country!," he wrote, and he plans to speak up at his son's Open house this week.

"The stark differences a child receives in education from district to district is an amazing and stark reality of how different and uneven the educational playing field is for our children," he wrote.

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