Time to pay our real national debt

In response to a question from Education Experts blog at National Journal.com where this is being cross-posted, I’m giving myself permission to repeat myself on this issue, yet again.

The disturbing revelations from recent Education Department reports could only surprise those who have chosen to ignore that unequal education is still a fact of American life 55 years after Brown vs. Board of Education. Need more proof? An analysis by EdTrust also echoes what many teachers and parents of Title I schools have said for years, that “ budgeting practices in school districts across the country are shortchanging [poor] children and undermining federal investment in high-poverty schools…(April 2010, EdTrust).

For those who contend that poverty is irrelevant as a factor in whether U.S. children receive a quality public education, the truth is: America’s poor children are more likely to go to school in buildings that are poorly maintained, poorly equipped, poorly supplied, and poorly staffed. Many schools in high-poverty areas are not only visually depressing, but physically dangerous. How does a teacher convince a kid (or a parent whose child is) sitting in a leaking trailer or dodging falling plaster that we REALLY believe all children deserve a high quality education? What do such disparities say about the level of expectations the nation or the state (upon whom these schools rely for funding) has for the students and teachers who are there? What does it say about our nation that we are unwilling (not unable) to provide some of our children decent, safe school buildings?

Parents in high poverty communities see a constant rotation of administrators, and cycles of temporary, underprepared teaching staff for their children, but veteran, highly accomplished teachers for the children of those who have more? Why should they have to move themselves or their children to get access to those resources and teachers which are publicand are proclaimed to be a way out of poverty?

There are millions of hard-working parents in poor urban and rural communities who did not finish school themselves, but desperately want their children to have a better life. Contrary to politically expedient myths, the majority of America’s poor families have always pushed their youngsters to pursue education as the best way not only to achieve individual goals, but also to help uplift the entire community. I submit that many parents in poor areas today appear to value education less because less value has clearly been placed on them and their children by the public education system. These attitudes are not born out of poverty; they are a reaction to what these disenfranchised parents and students correctly perceive as a string of broken promises.

The federal government could and should be playing a much stronger role in bringing an end to these disgraceful inequities, but while Congress fiddles, poor children continue to be underserved, and the dedicated educators who work with them continue to expend precious energies trying to make up for unnecessary gaps in resources and services. Decades of lax monitoring and inadequate funding have thwarted the original intents of hard-won legal remedies such as Title I and IDEA.

For an excellent summary of what the Federal government could do, I recommend the Forum on Educational Accountability’s February 2011 document: All Children Deserve an Opportunity to Learn.