Much of the discussion about the budget will focus on education and health care. But those are just symptoms of the overriding problem – poverty. And poverty will likely not be discussed. And to fix health care and education we must fix poverty first. The poverty numbers are truly shocking.
“Today, 22 percent of our children live in poverty. The U.S has the second worst infant mortality rate among industrialized nations,” details America’s Report Card 2012, a report supported by First Focus and Save the Children to highlight the condition of children in the U.S.
It would take a radical, yet simple, approach to abolish poverty.
One alternative approach has been ignored, however. In 1967, Dr. King offered an imperative, “Final Words of Advice,” that could serve education reform well in terms of shifting commitments away from school-based policies and toward social reform:
“In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs [addressing poverty] of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.
“I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income….
“We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”
Inequity in schools must be addressed through reform, but food insecurity, healthcare and job security policies must also be implemented as direct action against poverty that will then provide the context within which education reform can succeed – as Dr. King declared nearly five decades ago.
- There is a shameful “gap” in performance between affluent white students and poor minority students.
- But even our affluent white students suck compared to the rest of the world.
- The problem, then, must be in our schools.
- While there may be other factors involved, we really can’t wait to fix those; we need immediate action, and we can take that by “reforming” schools.
- These “reforms” will create innovation and accountability, which is what has been missing from the public school “blob.”
- These reforms – charter expansion, test-based teacher evaluation, vouchers, de-unionization, gutting tenure, merit pay, ending seniority – will raise student achievement.The answer to these, in turn, is:
- No one argues that the lower performance of poor minority students is shameful and must be fixed. But in every country in the world, the poor have worse educational outcomes than the rich. Doesn’t that tell you something?
- Affluent white students in America actually perform well in international comparisons. The few “studies” that claim otherwise do not take into account the curvilinearity of America’s correlation between test scores and socio-economic status; in other words,poor and middle class students pay a greater price for not being rich than in other countries.
- At least 60% of student outcomes are based on student characteristics and background. America is a highly-unequal nation. While we can and should try to make our schools better, the solutions to the problems of inequality and chronic poverty clearly lie outside of our public education system.
- We will never equalize educational outcomes until we provide a basic standard of living for every citizen of this country. We could rapidly implement plans to provide universal health care, create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, make taxes truly progressive, and get monied interests out of politics and our media. So why don’t we? It is not a coincidence that the wealthiest people in this country are behind the corporate “reform” movement: they are happy to lay America’s problems at the feet of our public schools system so that we, the people, are distracted from having a serious discussion about inequity, chronic poverty, and racism.
- Innovation in education is not the same as buying a lot of unproven digital junk. And professionals in every other field set standards of accountability for themselves, with appropriate public and governmental oversight. Teachers, however, have largely been left out of the “reform” conversation.
- There is no evidence that any of these “reforms” can be scaled up to provide meaningful improvements in student achievement.I’ll say that last one again so we are all clear:
None of that is possible and there’s little, if any, poverty will even be discussed. But it’s certainly what’s needed.