To Improve Education, Address Poverty

by Carol Kocivar | January 9, 2021 | 0 Comments
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Eight big ideas to make schools better. For everyone.

In the eyes of the public, low test scores indicate failing schools. That's wrong.

The real culprit is not schools at all. Schools are essential to education, but they aren't the only thing that matters. Poverty has a profound influence on how well students are prepared for school. Students need basic economic and social support, and so do families and schools.

These supports include, for example, prenatal care, mother and child nutrition, health care, high quality child care, quality preschools and family allowances for families with young children.

It will take more than tinkering at the local school level to make America's education systems great. Tax and social policies must change. Here are eight recommendations.

1. Everyone should chip in

Billionaire financial expert Warren Buffet famously underscored the importance of making quality public education truly universal in a conversation with Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington D.C. schools. According to Rhee, Buffett quipped, "It would be easy to solve today’s problems in urban education. Make private schools illegal, and assign every child to a public school by random lottery."

To be clear: a ban on private schools won't happen. But it's a valuable thought experiment. Rhee elaborated further:

"Think about what this would mean. CEOs۪' children, diplomats۪' children, many would be going to schools in Anacostia and east of the river, where most of our schools are. I guarantee we would never see a faster moving of resources from one end of the city to the other. I also guarantee we would soon have a system of high-quality schools."

The point is that everyone needs to have skin in the game. That’s not really happening. At the same time schools struggle to make ends meet and millions live paycheck to paycheck, top federal income tax rates dropped from 70 per cent in the 1970s to 37 percent today. That change has driven massive inequality and a major drop in tax revenue. This is funding that could be used to support families and children: housing, health care, child care, and a living wage.

How did America create this inequality? Take a look at this short video.

2. The federal government should keep its promises to low income students

Historically, the federal government’s role in public education has been tied to support for the poor.

Title l of the nation's basic education law (ESEA) is meant to fund programs for schools to serve low-income students and communities. It does this, but it falls short of the funding needed. According to the National Education Association, “If Title I were fully funded, every high-poverty school in America could provide physical and mental health services for every student, including dental and vision care."

Congress needs to support low-income students by increasing funding for Title l, and also by fulfilling its commitment to provide funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which helps pay for special education.

3. Public education must include early education

The research is clear that early education, including pre-school, helps children succeed. That’s why giving low-income families the same early education opportunities as more affluent families is essential. Governor Newsom has identified this as one of his top priorities.

4. Workin' 9 to 5: Schools, too

The traditional school day does not work for most families. As more and more families require two earners to keep food on the table, the meaning of school days should be expanded. Education should include high quality before and after school learning, summer programs and child care.

5. Computers are the new textbooks. Every student needs them.

We've known for a long time that every student needs access to basic tools for learning and creating. Last year, COVID-19 taught us that video-grade internet access and computing devices at home are basic requirements for learning. Each student needs these things, period.

6. Create community schools

While every community has a school, not every school provides a variety of community resources and supports. Schools can provide more than just academic services. Community schools are an important strategy to support students, especially in high poverty areas. They can support health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement. The video below explains how they work.

7. Treat teachers as our most important national investment.

Many of the world's most successful education systems are supported by cultures that treat teaching as a prestigious occupation. To address equity and chronic teacher shortages, especially in schools with low income and many students of color, teachers need to be paid, educated and treated like valued professionals.

8. Sustain investments in equity

Moving from a system with serious inequities to a system that puts equity front and center is not easy. It requires a national mindset that values the culture of strong public schools for all students.

Integral to that culture is to make sure that today’s students feel nurtured, supported and valued. That they experience the joy of the arts, the exuberance of athletics, the rewards of civic learning, and the value of their cultures.

They must graduate knowing that all children are worth investing in and that it is their responsibility to pay it forward.

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