Monday, November 10, 2014

We Must Do Better - Part 1

       This post starts a three-part series titled We Must Do Better.  I love public schools; and there is a lot to cheer about when it comes to the ability of public schools to prepare students for their futures.  But there are three major areas in which public schools must improve if we want to see ourselves as providing a world-class education to our nation's children.

       1) We must raise the achievement of poor children.

       2) We must increase graduation rates.

       3) We must provide continuous, high-quality professional development to our teachers.

       It isn't that there aren't other areas that can and should improve in our public schools.  But improvement in these three areas are absolutely critical if we truly want our school system to be exceptional and of the highest quality for all of our students.


We Must Do Better

Part 1 - Achievement of Poor Children

       It's easy to find data and information on the topic of Low Achievement Among Poor Students.  (see  Few professional educators and very few education researchers disagree about the effects of poverty on a child's education.  And children living in poverty in the U.S. will soon become the majority of our public school students.

       The list of obstacles for children living in poverty is long and difficult to overcome.  (Which is why school system continue to struggle to solve this problem.)  Here's the short list:
  • higher absenteeism
    • when poor kids get sick, they tend not to go to the doctor; then they get sicker and it takes longer for them to get well
  • higher dropout rates
    • poor kids need to work to make money for the family
    • poor kids see school as "not for them"
  • academically behind from the start
    • poor kids tend to have parents that didn't go to college or didn't finish high school
    • poor kids have less books in their home and parents read to them less than their non-poor peers
    • poor kids also tend to actually hear less words prior to entering school which adds to their academic shortcomings
  • less than 30% of students in the bottom quarter of incomes enroll in college and less than 50% of them graduate.
(source for all of these bullet points is here)

       In the past decade, public schools have shone a light on the academic achievement of poor students--which is a good start.  We cannot address a problem unless we recognize it as a problem.  But the next step--improving the achievement of poor students--is still a struggle for most schools and school systems.

       The Educational Testing Service (ETS) Center for Research on Human Capital and Education put out a report in July 2013 that laid out seven strategies that education policymakers can address that would have an effect on the problem of increasing achievement among poor children.  There strategies are:

  1. Increasing awareness of the incidence of poverty and its consequences 
  2. Equitably and adequately funding our schools
  3. Broadening access to high-quality preschool education
  4. Reducing segregation and isolation
  5. Adopting effective school practices
  6. Recognizing the importance of a high-quality teacher workforce
  7. Improving the measurement of poverty

       These strategies require a national response. This is something that can happen in America.  I know this because it has happened before.  Civil Rights for African Americans; Women's Right to Vote; Reduction of the Prevalence of Smokers; wearing seat belts.  All of these things were (at one time in America) considered impossible dreams.  Yet a national effort that lasted decades led to each of them becoming a reality.

       We can do the same thing with the education of children living in poverty.  We can and we must.  We have a moral responsibility to help our most vulnerable citizens.  We must do better than we are doing now.  For us as a country; and for every individual citizen.  We can begin to see the reduction of this problem in our lifetime; and the elimination of this problem in our children's lifetimes.  

       This is a huge problem that can be fixed.

       We must do better.

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