Poverty Should Not be a Barrier to Education
The Statue of Liberty quote (written by Emma Lazarus) says it well:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
At the turn of the 20th century, the golden door was the gateway to America for many people from Europe and other far-off lands. Today, (I contend) this golden door is our nation's public schools. We accept all students and we teach all students. But when we look at the achievement of our students, we see two distinct groups: poor students (who now make up a majority of our public school students) and non-poor students.
I just read a great article in the April 2015 issue of District Administration (by Tim Goral) that talks about confronting the crisis of educating low-income students in our public schools. I'm calling it a "crisis" because of the following two facts:
- Low-income students make up half of the population of public school students in the United States.
- Low-income students struggle to maintain acceptable academic results.
These two facts are largely undisputed among educators and education researchers. Taken together they express the most major issue facing our public schools today and (perhaps) our society in the future. While our students from middle and upper-income families tend to show good achievement throughout their P-12 schooling experience, the growing numbers of students from poor families continue to demonstrate bleak achievement results. This is evident on the NAEP results as well as just about any state-level results (and local results).
I believe that this is the "Sputnik" event of our time. However, I fear that while this is a well-known problem among educators, it is not a well-know problem for people outside of education--particularly middle and upper-income people outside of education. We need change on a national level; a national effort. We need advocates throughout the country to make the general public aware of this problem.
I believe that our nation's schools have the people and the tools to turn around this "rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people." (quoted from A Nation at Risk) This is a difficult and complicated problem that we must solve.
And I am certain that we will solve this problem.