Time to focus on the real education problem: Poverty

Closing achievement gaps is only possible by focusing on funding equity, early childhood education, and providing the wraparound programs that will allow high-poverty students to get a high-quality education.

“It’s time to acknowledge that poverty is the biggest culprit hindering our ability to provide the best education for our students,” Domenech writes.

“Learning Leadership” column, November/December 2013 edition of eSchool News—Many Americans believe public schools are failing our students. Public officials, the media, and investors seeking to cash in on the billions of dollars supporting education by privatizing schools often reinforce this opinion. This opinion is wrong.

Substantial evidence illustrates public schools are doing better than ever. The dropout rate is at an all-time low. Conversely, the high school graduation rate is the highest it’s been in decades.

Unfortunately, we have dysfunctional schools where students’ needs are going unmet. These schools are capturing the public eye, causing observers to ask, “How could they exist in the richest and most powerful country in the world?” The predominant populations attending these schools are children of poverty, and in most cases, ethnic minorities. This isn’t an educational problem. It’s a problem within our society.

Driven by the economy, the achievement gap casts its ugly shadow long before students ever come to school. Compared to all industrialized nations, we live in a society with the highest percentage of children in poverty. Our society refuses to acknowledge that poverty is, by far, the single-biggest factor in determining student achievement. We operate in a society that funds its educational system in the most inequitable way, allowing wealth—or lack of it—to determine the quality of schools.

Educators are not shirking their responsibilities to educate these children. Thousands labor in inadequate environments, are underpaid, and lack the necessary resources to do their jobs. The real issue is the fact that schools can’t do it alone. Our country must understand it’s a community problem, and in order to fix the problem, a comprehensive plan—extending well beyond school walls—must be put in place.

(Next page: How the Obama administration’s focus is actually counterproductive)

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