Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The most important problem facing American children today

If we don't properly identify the real problems that plague our schools, and more generally our society, we risk implementing solutions that actually make the problems worse.

If we misinterpret standardized test scores as our window into the quality of our schools, rather than as a reflection for affluence and opportunity, we risk waging war on teachers and schools when we should be waging war on poverty.

Here is a graphic that I first saw on Valerie Strauss's blog the Answer Sheet where she asks the question, "What is the most important problem facing American children?" She writes:
According to the Academic Pediatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is the effects of poverty on the health and well being of young people. But, they concede, there is no sustained focus on childhood poverty, or a unified pediatric voice speaking on the problem, or a comprehensive approach to solving it.
Inevitably when we discuss poverty and education, a couple of questions come up:

Does this mean poor people can't learn? No, this does not mean poor people can't learn. All people can learn and people living in poverty are people, too. What this means is that children suffering from the affects of poverty have their potential growth and health stunted. To say that poverty matters for children who are trying to learn is not to make excuses -- it's acknowledging the truth. 

Does this mean we have to choose between providing good schools and waging war on poverty? No, we do not have to choose between good schools and an equitable society, but let's not pretend we are doing enough to reduce the number of children in poverty. (1 in 5 in United States; 1 in 10 in Alberta; 1 in 25 in Finland) And let's not pretend that education alone can lift people out of poverty.

People who say poverty is no excuse are making excuses about doing nothing about poverty.

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