The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.

‒John Dewey, The Later Works, 1925-1953


Many tensions exist across the education landscape that stem out of unequal resourcing for all students. When adequate resources, rich materials, and challenging discourse are absent, active minds have fewer opportunities to critically access cultural and social topics. Under-resourced schools cannot deliver qualitative educational experiences to the many students trapped in property-poor districts where credentialed educators and the use of multimodal tools and technologies could help develop educational experiences that are best suited for underprivileged students. Under-resourced schools posit a challenge that problematizes how students experience education at the primary and secondary levels and in this regard parents see the ideal of choice as a means to cure chronic problems of over-crowded and under-resourced classrooms. These issues have persisted over many years so that charter schools are appealing because they are presumed to be a better alternative to chronically under-resourced district schools.

The ideal of choice posits the potential for the K-12 sector to undergo a massive shift towards charter education as privatization and contributions of philanthropist benefit these entities over traditional public schools so that the charter sector has presented opportunities for savvy individuals to profit through deregulation in the education sector. This has become evident in recent years, such that author Mercedes Schneider has described “edupreneurs” as “individuals that have no K-12 experience and who receive financial backing from other edupreneurs of influence” (Schneider 96), to form profit based “education companies that negate educators’ pedagogical practices but rely on their ideological beliefs to subscribe and implement classroom practices” (Schneider 101). The danger here is that neoliberal policies have aided the displacement of literate development through group inquiry by imposing testing regimes and technology-based learning methods. When structured under such offerings as distance education, technology individualizes and separates students into unitary tasks, which is the model that most disassociates students from the benefits of scrutiny in group inquiry. This approach to education essentially obfuscates pedagogical practices that value the teacher student relationship.

Although technology is pervasive throughout society, economies, and systems, and is central to all aspects of human transactions, adopting its use into classrooms requires that educators and students understand its uses as applied to coursework so that as a tool, technologies are essential to supporting active, inquisitive and experimental engagement amongst interdisciplinary and pluralistic endeavors. Two curricular models, The Digital Humanities (“DH”) and Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (“ITP”) support open access and innovation in learning. These dual approaches could provide K-12 educators and students frameworks to utilize technologies as tools in social learning that is situated in collaborative projects. Constructivist practices and project oriented learning that are fundamental to DH and ITP, have the potential to lead to immersive learning experiences for K-12 students and alleviate longstanding obstacles that inhibit the development of literacy.

There is a dire need to protect and improve interactive classroom pedagogies, particularly because they provide critical practice and depth for students’ educational experiences. In such close teacher-student classroom pedagogies, for instance, value is added to the school experience when educators utilize culturally relevant pedagogies (“CRP”) that deepen levels of teacher to student and student to student interactions, particularly when the scaffolding of topics that are culturally significant to students is utilized to deepen and increase understanding of coursework. Author Sam Hausfather has opined that students’ “prior knowledge can facilitate, inhibit or transform learning, as well as aid in the development of new learning as children hold tenaciously to their prior ideas” (Hausfather 16). A view of constructivism posits that “multiple forms of knowledge, the role of prior knowledge, and the social nature of knowledge” (Hausfather 15) are key to theorizing how students construct knowledge. Adapting this methodology into educators’ pedagogies, together with the values, ideals, and practices of DH and ITP, have the potential to revitalize learning for K-12 students, as they encompass “collaborative, open, and nonhierarchical relations” (Gold 8), that are key to aiding the development of students’ literacy, and student achievement. Enhancing students’ interest in learning becomes attainable when education is inclusive of how they see and experience the world, and can be contextualized through acts of social learning. This approach to developing students’ literacy and educational equity can be supported and explored through viable approaches to eliminate failure at the K-12 level, particularly because the practices of DH and ITP rest on “collaboration, exploration, critical thinking and inquiry” (Gold 19), and are diametrically opposed to punitive processes that undergird systemic accountability practices in K-12 education. As currently practiced DH has its focus within the domain of academia yet, the introduction of new approaches to learning such as gaming, and the use of apps and digital tools as applied by digital humanists posits opportunities for broader application within K-12 education. These methodologies and thought streams can aid students in developing their interests through actively researching and contextualize their ideas in writing, which is crucial to constructing knowledge. This paper argues that it is not the sole provision of technology that will affect literacy rates or ensure education equity, but rather technology, together with pedagogical practices of teachers that can lead to positive outcomes for students, given the potentials of DH and ITP to nullify the negative results of drilling and curricular narrowing.

This thesis has chosen District 2 in New York City and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, as its focus because they are hosts to families of various socioeconomic means. District 23 is inclusive of a much smaller area where PTA fundraising is hindered by poverty, having a direct effect on the quality of education throughout the District. Inadequate resources attract parents to the idea of choice for their children as they believe charter entities will not only outperform traditional public schools but offer superior learning experiences. By contrast, District 2 is host to higher income families which enjoy much more success with PTA fundraising than do lower socioeconomic schools. District 2 has a special history as the progenitor of “Balanced Literacy”, a district wide pedagogy that demanded uniformity in teaching, that when implemented undermined educators’ autonomy and introduced punitive practices into education, such that “questioning the rationale of this approach subjected educators to the possibility of facing social justice” (Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System 52–53). The force that was used to implement Balanced Literacy is an early example of mandated attempts to drive pedagogy under austere tactics that debilitated educators’ ability to create conditions in their classrooms to foster learning. Because the District’s ranking had improved considerably under Balanced Literacy, corporate reformers “believed they had found a formula to raise achievement” (Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System 50). Reformers’ approaches to fixing education often do not address underlying causations of poverty as is evident in District 23 or segregation in both school districts, such that parents in District 2 have recently coalesced to address the issue of segregation by advocating for a more inclusive admissions system (http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2016/04/12/in-manhattans-vast-district-2-some-parents-seek-a-district-wide-integration-plan/). Districts 23 is a powerful indicator of the effects of segregation and poverty, as the poorest areas of the District describe a dichotomy when compared to affluent neighborhoods of District 2. For instance, The New York City Independent Budget Office found that “the average school community income ranges from a low of $16,441 at P.S. 150 in District 23, up to high of $168,089 at P.S. 89 in District 2’s Tribeca” (Beyond Meal Status: A New Measure for Quantifying Poverty Levels in the City’s Schools 5), so that the ability of higher socioeconomic families to supplement their children’s learning is an important marker for the future academic and economic successes of these students, but is not attainable for families of lower financial means. It is in this regard that a powerful difference in the quantity and quality of education translates economic differences into racial ones. Students who are not advantaged by access to additional sources of enrichment could thrive under pedagogies and the use of digital tools to assists in closing gaps that are inherent in their communities while exploring their interests.

A crucial factor in the development of intellectual property and educational equity concerns how students’ experience of content supports their acquisition of literacy, particularly when their cultural needs are contextualized to current curricular requirements. Educators who practice CRP “use social interactions to help students acquire academic success, cultural competency and critical consciousness” (Ladson-Billings 480), which help students develop solid conceptions of self-worth. Their use of culturally sustaining pedagogies (“CSP) dismantle notions that view the “languages, literacies, and cultural ways of being of students and communities of color as deficiencies to be overcome” (Paris and Alim 87). There are many rich cultural histories in which CRP could engage students in healthy dialogue, so that access to content that is inclusive of compelling issues is crucial to their continued “development of critical perspectives” (Ladson-Billings 469) This is a pragmatic approach to actively producing new knowledge that is situated out of students’ community based cultural capital which can frame the learning of traditional subject materials as relatable. Approaching learning through honoring students’ cultural heritages, can offset the negative effects of punitive accountability practices “which are not required of charter schools” (Dynarski 1). CSP posit that “middle class, monolingual and monocultural norms” should not be the framework for educating black and brown students whose “heritage practices” are central to their development, particularly when they are “honored and explored through literate practices” (Paris and Alim 87, 95). In this regard, pedagogical practices that construct students’ learning experiences qualitatively contribute to developing literacy and educational equity within communities that are beset with economic difficulties.

It is within this context that this thesis makes several arguments: that low socioeconomic conditions impede parents’ efforts to contribute to PTA fundraising to support budgetary needs; that punitive practices of standardized learning disenfranchise students from developing educational equity; and that the proliferation of charter schools in minority communities are not a definitive cure for increasing student achievement. Further, this thesis also argues that when educators couch their disciplined pedagogical practices through constructivism and interdisciplinary learning, and honor students’ prior knowledge as an important foundational aspect to support new learning, “communities of practice can develop out of an ethos that rest on students’ active participation in coursework that takes up “multi-literacy” (Hausfather 16) through interdisciplinary approaches to learning. This is an argument against current practices that posits that standardized learning and rote memorization methodologies are best suited for the education of K-12 students in minority communities. Addressing these critical issues pragmatically with a view towards reinforcing opportunities to explore content across subject areas, including pertaining to culture, is crucial to reframing narratives of underachievement and outcomes of low income and minority students as under-educated adults. Establishing pragmatic approaches to developing literacy and intellectual property that are inclusive of culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies is needed to disentangle and reinterpret students’ educational experiences. My advocacy for constructivist practices in K-12 classrooms, combined with contemporary literary works, stems from the ideal of revamping educational experiences. Reframing curricula to access rich content, allowing for debate, and engaging social learning that is inclusive of students’ “experiences, ideas and prior knowledge through a minds on approach” (Hausfather 18), is essential to increasing students’ engagement and ostensibly can encourage reflection of content, which can enhance students’ intellectual property.

These topics are taken up through the lens of student achievement and school funding throughout New York City, including through Title I funding, and PTA Fundraising. Because charter networks are deemed to be an adequate response to underperforming public schools, The Success Academy Network is explored to demonstrate how charter schools are funded including through public means and through private philanthropy. These topics are visualized by way of geospatial maps because they are spatial representations of physical addresses that illustrate data at specific locations, allowing viewers to consume datasets based on longitude and latitude coordinates. In this case, student achievement and monetary concerns related to resourcing, describe the centrality of affluence and poverty, in terms of success and failure, and contextualize conditions inherent in students’ school experiences, so that digitizing data related to education through geospatial mapping inform the conditions in which students become affected by social and monetary stigmas.

The use of geospatial maps can encourage discussions of Student Achievement because they describe how social constructs such as race, segregation and socioeconomic status affects the quantity and quality of the education experience. Constructed through computational analysis, such media data-based sources like “The Upshot” [1] illustrates the subject of Student Achievement through the lens of wealth, racism and class (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/04/29/upshot/money-race-and-success-how-your-school-district-compares.html?_r=0). This work reveals the gap in Student Achievement between white and black students stemming from socioeconomic status, and reveals issues that can be overlooked such that affluent black students may still lag behind their white peers” (Cox et al.) This crucial work uses data from states and the National Assessment of Educational Progress and does not seek “to rank the quality of districts or schools to target their teachers, but to access other factors in children’s lives such as their home environment, traumas or such other factors including whether they attended good quality schools” (Cox et al.) such that the scope of this data visualization objectifies salient aspects of students’ lives that have the potential to affect their school experiences. The data for the geospatial maps for this capstone project regarding student achievement and standardized testing was derived from Progress Reports from the New York City Department of Education, as assessed in relation to Common Core State Standards, and to students’ performance on coursework. Although narrower in scope than The Upshot’s data visualization which covers the Nation, this study also seeks to determine how factors of race and socioeconomic status affect student learning.

[1] The Upshot is The New York Times’ online “data driven blog with a focus towards politics, policy and economic analysis.”