Systemic Change: Public education’s biggest problem gets worse

As part of my Systemic Change category, I’ve found yet another article that sheds light on poverty’s impact on school reform.  Valerie Strauss, from the Washington Post, recently published Public education’s biggest problem gets worse.  In her piece, she underscores that we cannot truly fix schools without also addressing our nation’s poverty crisis.  Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

But we need to face facts: Problems in schools would remain even if every teacher were magnificent (show me a profession where that is true about every practioner) because teachers are obviously enormously important, but they are not the only factor that goes into how well children succeed.

The current direction of school reform is making it even harder to fix broken schools and improve the ones that do well even if they suffer from 20th century design and resources.

Making teachers entirely responsible for a student’s academic progress — regardless of whether the child eats enough or sleeps enough or gets enough medical attention — is counterproductive. Pretending that these issues can be “factored out” in some kind of mathematical formula that can assess how much “value” a teacher has added to a student’s progress is near nutty. That’s not just me saying it. Leading mathematicians say it too.

The effects of poverty on children matter in regard to student achievement. That is not to say that efforts to improve teacher quality, modernize curriculum, infuse technology into the classroom where it makes sense and other reforms should not be pursued. But doing all of that while ignoring the conditions in which kids live is a big waste of time.

Read more of the op-ed at the Washington Post online by clicking here.

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Education Reformers: We cannot ignore poverty


No matter how much people try to ignore poverty’s influence on the education of our nation’s most vulnerable children, as a teacher, I am hit head on with its power each day.  Last night, a teacher told me that one of her students is now homeless because their family has been evicted from their home.  Immediately, I thought about how this would affect his learning.  Yes, we can provide a stable environment for him at school, but that does not change the fact that he is homeless.  Also, one of my students has a skirt that is too small, but it is the only uniform skirt she has.  She wears the skirt pulled up and unzipped on the side.  I have to buy her a skirt.  These are just two of the countless experiences of students growing up in impoverished urban communities.  These are situations that they were born into and cannot control.

Being a teacher has created a heavy heart in me that impacts how I feel about solving our nation’s failing public schools.   I feel compelled to purchase everything my scholars need.  However, on my teachers salary, I am faced with the reality that I cannot but everything that my students need no matter how much I want to.  I read this week that someone said that the problem is not just on failing public schools, but it is also on failing communities.  As a nation, we must do everything possible to eradicate poverty.  If we really want to reform public education, we must also charge our elected officials to create policies that create more sustainable communities.  We also have to charge communities to unite and become a voice that takes back their futures.  As teachers, administrators, central office personnel, and other staff, we must also speak out against this injustice.  That’s how we truly level the playing field.

There is talk around some new school reformers that poverty isn’t a factor.  Yes, in the “exceptions” poverty may not be a factor.  However, success for all should be a rule.  I am becoming more convinced that people who say that poverty is not a factor have the luxury of escaping poverty in their daily lives.  They do not have to live in it.  They do not have to frequent the social circles of those living in poverty.  It is easy for someone who does not live or truly interact with people living in poverty to say to someone living in poverty that they can “just get over it.”  People with this mentality encounter poverty on the surface level.  As education reformers, we have to dig deeper.

Poverty is at the root of our nation’s public school monstrosity.  Yes, we do need to transform how public schools operate, increase the rigor and academic performance of our nation’s schools, and attract and retain the best and brightest teachers in the classroom, among other internal school issues.  Nevertheless, we must simultaneously address poverty.  If we do not do this, we are doing our students and their families a disservice for we know that economic inequality is an injustice.  And I refuse to be silent about it.

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Two quotes from great men:

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” -Martin Luther King, Jr

I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight. Malcolm X