Monday, March 19, 2012

Reducing poverty and improving schools must work in tandem


Sometimes we prefer to act like we don't know what we already know. Diane Ravitch makes this clear when she points out that cycles of poverty are not created nor can they be eliminated by schools and teachers alone.

If it were true that we now know how to break the cycle of poverty, poverty would be declining. But poverty is growing in the United States; child poverty is more than 20 percent and rising. Among the world's advanced nations, we are number one in child poverty. It's facile to blame schools and teachers, but more realistic to recognize that poverty is a reflection of economic conditions. Schools cannot create jobs, provide homes for the homeless, or change the economy.

She hits the nail on the head when she claims that both systems - reducing poverty and improving our schools - must work in tandem if we are to have any reasonable chance of success. One without the other is destined to fail.

(Wendy) Kopp (Teach for America) dismisses Finland as a model because less than 4 percent of its children are poor. But that's part of the story of their success and should not be waved aside as unimportant.

So when are we going to quit playing the equivalent of political Russian roulette with the futures of our kids and start working together on both problems, equally hard? Start by expanding financial support for public schools, and improving equity of opportunity for districts serving high percentages of poor, low-income, transient and English language learners. That will be the real "high stakes assessment" testing our genuine resolve to breaking the cycle of poverty.