Flipping through the channels on cable the other night, I stumbled across a comedian named Doug Stanhope, who was wrapping up a show in New York. He concluded by razzing Yankee fans for their misguided adoration, pointing out that since the Yankees spend twice as much as almost all of their competitors on building their baseball teams, they essentially buy their championships instead of legitimately competing for them.
Cheering for the Yankees, he said, is like rooting for the “house” in Vegas – meaning that New Yorkers are rooting for the winners in what is basically a fixed contest. I bring this up because I heard that Southlake Carroll was recently lauded as the top Tarrant County school district by the Texas Education Agency, while Polytechnic High School here in Cowtown was deemed academically unacceptable for the fourth year in a row. Is it just me, or is cheering about the academic success of the Southlake Dragons a lot like cheering for the New York Yankees?
In 2007, Carroll spent $5,216 per student; Poly spent $4,973. That’s $243 more per student and $243,000 more for every thousand students. Also in 2007, Southlake’s student-teacher ratio was 13-1; Poly’s was 17-1. So Poly teachers had to deal with classes that were 30 percent larger than Southlake’s and did so with significantly less funding.
And speaking of funding, in Southlake the median income is $164,114, and only two percent of its residents live below the poverty line. In the Poly area, the median income is $25,178, and almost a third of the people live in poverty. The average home in Southlake costs $551,200, and 1,178 people inhabit each square mile. The average home cost around Poly is $54,900, and there are about 4,400 residents per square mile. Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but the incidence of violent crime is twice as high in the Poly area as in Southlake. A few years back, working on a construction project at Poly, I noticed that some of the hallways were as dim as caves. Fort Worth school district officials considered adding lighting upgrades to the renovation contract, but the district was near the end of its bond program, and Poly had been one of the last schools to get a spot at that trough to begin with. It was clear that the district honchos figured Poly – one of the poorest areas in the district – would be happy with anything it got, even if it was less than what other schools had received. The contractor I worked for at the time also happened to be finishing work on renovations at Arlington Heights High School. Even though the Heights facility before renovation was far superior to the Poly campus after renovations, the Heights upgrade was obviously a higher priority.
While we worked on the Poly job, it was not uncommon to witness drug deals taking place in the dilapidated apartments across the street. I’m sure Southlake isn’t immune to the drug subculture that thrives in our communities, but I’ve driven down Southlake Boulevard, and I think we’d be hard-pressed to spy drug deals taking place in full view, especially near the school. In perhaps the most telling statistic of all, Southlake Carroll essentially has a zero percent high school drop-out rate versus Poly’s 34 percent. This suggests that in Tarrant County academics, as in Major League Baseball, you get what you pay for, and the Poly Parrots don’t have the budget, the facilities, or the learning environment necessary to legitimately compete with the Carroll Dragons. In the end, I guess it’s appropriate that Polytechnic High School lies, as the parrot flies, a little over a mile from the largest homeless shelter in Fort Worth. Besides being (or because they’re being) short-changed, Poly students are 15 times as likely to live below the poverty line, twice as likely to be victims of violent crime, and three times as likely to drop out.
Regardless of Southlake Carroll’s much-heralded academic successes, I’m no Yankees fan, and as long as the Carroll kids are safer, more pampered and – generally speaking – getting all the breaks, I’m not impressed. I bet there are plenty of Poly students who work just as hard as their counterparts at Carroll – they just can’t afford the same level of success.
E. R. Bills is a Fort-Worth area freelance writer.