I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Most Obvious Thing In The World

Camden is the poorest city in America and probably the most violent. The child poverty rate is 57%. Median income is $21,191. The murder rate is twenty times higher than the national average.

Golly, do you think maybe this could affect student learning?
Camden’s school district was the outlier during three presentations to the state board of education last week.
Across New Jersey, high school graduation rates improved by 3 percent in a year.
But in Camden, the rate plummeted by 7 percent to 49.3, down from 56.9 percent last year. Camden now has the second lowest graduation rate in the state.
Only Trenton, at 48.44 percent, is lower.
Statewide, NJ ASK scores remained constant this year. HSPA scores continued to rise. But several of Camden’s schools continued to struggle with scores.
Overall, charter schools throughout the state outpaced traditional public schools by 30 percent in reading and 40 percent in math. And in Newark, charter schools did even better.
But in Camden’s charters — where about 18 percent of the district’s students are educated — math scores remained about the same as their “feeder” public schools. And language arts scores in Camden charters lagged well behind their public school counterparts. [emphasis mine]
You mean a culture of "no excuses" and school uniforms and marching in the halls and student segregation aren't enough to overcome crushing poverty, hopelessness, racism, and inequality? Clearly, someone's not trying hard enough!

I blame the teachers unions...
The state Department of Education, whose commissioner serves as secretary to the state BOE, did not respond to requests for comment.
Gosh, there's a shock.
George H. Wood, the executive director of an education think tank, suspects he knows the reason the issue didn’t come up at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Schools do indeed reflect the socioeconomic conditions of the students,” said Wood, superintendent of a poor rural district in the Appalachian area of Ohio. “If children grow up in poverty and you don’t intercede, kids will come to school with that.
“We’d like to make poverty go away, but it won’t,” said the leader of the Forum for Education and Democracy. “Child welfare goes hand-in-hand with school success rates. If you want to make a deep and meaningful change in education, you need to change childhood poverty.
And if you mention poverty as a reason for why education does not work, there’s name-calling,” Wood added. “You get trashed and demonized. So why doesn’t anyone ask ‘why?’
“There’s a lack of focus. There’s a lack of political will. And if you mention poverty, you get demonized.”
You know why you get demonized? Because mentioning the iron-clad link between poverty and education leads to a very uncomfortable place for the people who own this country. This is why we're fed a steady diet of reformy nonsense. This is why well-paid "reformers" who have no background in education get lots of grants from extremely wealthy people to push policies that have never worked and never will work. The "reform" movement is a distraction from the obvious link between poverty and education outcomes.

This is why we ignore the obvious:
John A. DeFlaminis, executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Educational Leadership, said the question of why Camden schools aren’t performing “is not nuclear science.”
“It is hard to think about learning when you go to school knowing your parent may not be there when you get home, that there may not be enough to eat,” DeFlaminis said. “That’s not conducive to life as well as to learning. 
“You have to have expectations to succeed. If kids grow up with parents without expectations, it is hard to succeed.”
By not acknowledging the effects of poverty and violence, educational leaders end up “reforming again, and again and again,” but not fixing the root of the problem, DeFlaminis said.
The link between poverty and learning is the most obvious thing in the world. It is ridiculous to pretend that firing a few more teachers or starting a few more charter schools or giving out vouchers or implementing merit pay will overcome the challenges facing a child living in poverty.

If we really wanted to solve the "achievement gap," we'd start by substantially raising taxes on the wealthiest people in this country, who sit on vast piles of money that isn't doing anyone any good. We'd then use that money to fund public infrastructure and create jobs and provide health care; our economy would boom and we'd save a fortune in the long run.

But we don't do that.

Instead, we allow these very same wealthy people to usurp democracy. In Camden, the very wealthy George Norcross is the political boss who forced the school board to change its previous vote so he could build a new charter school on a plot of land next to his medical college. This plot of land used to host a crumbling public school. The people of Camden were told they would get a new public school that would serve the needs of all children in that neighborhood; instead, they will get charter run by KIPP - an organization that already failed once before in Camden - that will only serve some of the children in the area.

Yes, we continue "reforming again, and again, and again" without fixing the root of the problem. We ignore the most obvious thing in the world so wealthy people can collect obscene piles of money which they use to shape poor cities as they see fit.

At some point, we're going to have to face the most obvious thing in the world. At some point, the people who own this place are going to have to stop messing with charter schools and buying off anti-union politicians and own up to the mess they've created. History tells us what happens if they don't...

You mean the party won't last forever?

1 comment:

Kate strom said...

Spot on, once again...if those in power have to admit that education and poverty have a connection, then they have to not only address the issue of poverty, but also have to address the economic ideology accepted as gospel-like the myth of meritocracy.