THE SHAME OF THE NATION
It’s not even debatable…it’s a fact. Child poverty in the United States, “the world’s richest nation,” is embarrassingly high. We rank 34th out of 35 “developed” nations in child poverty — trailing nations like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, and Slovakia. Only Romania is worse.
“Reformers” like Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan claim that privatizing public education by demonizing teachers, transferring public money into privately owned charter schools or to private schools through vouchers, will improve schools, and thereby improve the lot of children in poverty.
Ok, they didn’t phrase it quite like that…actually what they say is that the way to reduce poverty is through education.
Nevertheless, the status quo of American Education over the last two decades has been the “reformer’s” test and punish, privatize and charterize plan. Yet child poverty in the United States is increasing. Apparently their plan isn’t working…
I’m not blaming Rhee, Duncan or any “reformers” for poverty. I’m just saying that schools can’t do it alone…and shouldn’t be blamed for failure because students who live in poverty score lower (on average) on standardized tests.
The privatization of America, along with increasing economic inequity, has created a two-tiered system of education. Eventually students who are difficult and expensive to educate — those who live in poverty, those with IEPs — will be relegated to the cash-starved public schools, while the children of the wealthy and high achievers will be skimmed off into the private school system (which includes so-called public charters. See HERE to discover that many corporate charter schools are just private schools running on public money — their definition).
That’s not just a prediction. It’s happening now.
Public school systems in some states report poverty levels as high as 70%. The report concludes
Within the next few years, it is likely that low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States.With huge, stubbornly unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the South and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots and endanger the entire nation’s prospects.
What we’re doing now in terms of our educational policy isn’t working.
There is no real evidence that any scheme or policy of transferring large numbers of low income students from public schools to private schools will have a positive impact on this problem.The trends of the last decade strongly suggest that little or nothing will change for the better if schools and communities continue to postpone addressing the primary question of education in America today: what does it take and what will be done to provide low income students with a good chance to succeed in public schools? It is a question of how, not where, to improve the education of a new majority of students.
Without fundamental improvements in how the South and the nation educate low income students, the trends that this report documents will ricochet across all aspects of American society for generations to come.As a wise American leader once reminded a troubled nation:“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The “how” includes programs to reduce poverty…not just more test prep and testing. Diane Ravitch, in Reign of Error, suggests some good beginnings.
- Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.
- Make high-quality early childhood education available to all children.
- Every school should have a full, balanced, and rich curriculum…
- Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.
- Ban for-profit charters and charter chains and ensure that charter schools collaborate with public schools to support better education for all children.
- Provide medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers.
Here’s another response to the report about increased poverty in public schools…
“When you break down the various test scores, you find the high-income kids, high-achievers are holding their own and more,” Rebell said. “It’s when you start getting down to schools with a majority of low-income kids that you get astoundingly low scores. Our real problem regarding educational outcomes is not the U.S. overall, it’s the growing low-income population.”
We’re not addressing poverty. We’re in the midst of a plan to move higher achieving and wealthier students out of public schools.
Most of those changes, including the rise of standardized testing, holding teachers accountable for their students’ academic performance and rewriting math and reading standards don’t address poverty, Rothstein said.
“If you take children who come to school from families with low literacy, who are not read to at home, who have poor health — all these social and economic problems — and just say that you’re going to test children and have high expectations and their achievement will go up, it doesn’t work,” Rothstein said. “It’s a failure.”
Diane Ravitch pulls no punches.
Every dollar that fattens the educational industrial complex–not only the testing industry and the inexperienced, ill-trained Teach for America but the corporations now collecting hundreds of millions of dollars to tell schools what to do–is a dollar diverted from what should be done now to address directly the pressing needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children, whose numbers continue to escalate, demonstrating the utter futility and self-serving nature of what is currently and deceptively called “reform.”
DOES MONEY MATTER?
A common response from “reformers” to the cry of “poverty” is that we are already spending so much money for public education and it’s not working. Here are two responses to that.
1. Spending money for test-prep materials and excessive standardized testing isn’t spending money on public education. It’s transferring public funds to test manufacturers.
This review identified 34 studies with strong evidence about whether money affects children’s outcomes. Children in lower-income families have worse cognitive, social-behavioural and health outcomes in part because they are poorer, not just because low income is correlated with other household and parental characteristics…
The impact of increases in income on cognitive development appears roughly comparable with that of spending similar amounts on school or early education programmes. Increasing household income could substantially reduce differences in schooling outcomes, while also improving wider aspects of children’s well-being…
Money in early childhood makes most difference to cognitive outcomes, while in later childhood and adolescence it makes more difference to social and behavioural outcomes.
Longer-term poverty affects children’s outcomes more severely than short-term poverty.
Does money matter? Ask the “reformers” who attended elite private schools (Rhee, Duncan, Gates).
Remember Diane Ravitch’s list of things needed to eliminate poverty? Money does matter for
- prenatal care for a pregnant woman
- early childhood education
- a school with a full, balanced, and rich curriculum
- lower class sizes
- medical and social services for children
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.