Is the Problem Poverty?

From David Sirota:

Meanwhile, despite the fact that many “reformers’” policies have spectacularly failed, prompted massive scandals and/or offered no actual proof of success, an elite media that typically amplifies — rather than challenges — power and money loyally casts “reformers’” systematic pillaging of public education as laudable courage (the most recent example of this is Time magazine’s cover cheering on wildly unpopular Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he cited budget austerity to justify the largest mass school closing in American history — all while he is also proposing to spend $100 million of taxpayer dollarson a new private sports stadium).

In other words, elite media organizations (which, in many cases, have their own vested financial interest in education “reform”) go out of their way to portray the anti-public-education movement as heroic rather than what it really is: just another get-rich-quick scheme shrouded in the veneer of altruism.

That gets to the news that exposes “reformers’” schemes — and all the illusions that surround them. According to a new U.S. Department of Education study, “about one in five public schools was considered high poverty in 2011 … up from about to one in eight in 2000.” This followed an earlier study from the department finding that “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding … leav(ing) students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.”

Those data sets powerfully raise the question that “reformers” are so desperate to avoid: Are we really expected to believe that it’s just a coincidence that the public education and poverty crises are happening at the same time? Put another way: Are we really expected to believe that everything other than poverty is what’s causing problems in failing public schools?

Because of who comprises it and how it is financed, the education “reform” movement has a clear self-interest in continuing to say yes, we should believe such fact-free pabulum. And you can bet that movement will keep saying “yes” — and that the corporate media will continue to cheer them as heroes for saying “yes” — as long as public education money keeps being diverted into corporate coffers….

Taken together with the new Department of Education numbers, we see that for all the elite media’s slobbering profiles of public school bashers like Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Michael Bloomberg, for all of the media’s hagiographic worship of scandal-plaguedactivist-profiteers like Michelle Rhee, and for all the “reform” movement’s claims that the traditional public school system and teachers unions are to blame for America’s education problems, poverty and economic inequality are the root of the problem.

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  • I have to always ask after articles like these ‘what education crisis’?

    The problem is that schools are increasing at uneven rates and that they are not increasing as much as what we would like them to. But to call it a crisis is to mis-name the problem.

    Use Chicago as an example. Their graduation rate of graduation within 5 years was 50% in 2001. It is now 65%.

    The number of elementary school students that are meeting or exceeding standards has more than doubled in the same period.

    Are there problem, yes. Are reformers often wrong about what the problems are? Yes. Is poverty a major contributor to education problems? yes.

    But we are not in an education crisis. We are in an education upswing that is probably one of the most significant and long term of the past 50 years. And a significant part of the reform is the movement toward a voluntary national set of standards so that we can actually compare students across state lines and see what seems to be working and what does not.

  • azspot

    Yes, poverty.

    Study after study (at least those not trumpeting the idyllic mantra of privatization schemes) show that poverty (and hunger) is the #1 factor in child education.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Great comment Adam, My wife is a public school teacher, and she often gets very frustrated by the media’s love of describing our “failing education system” when the actual data shows real gains among American students and schools. Not that there still aren’t significant disparities and issues, but the American education system is not this crumbling orifice the media loves to portray it as. And don’t even get me started on the love of teacher bashing . . .ugh, drives me crazy.

  • metanoia

    Perhaps the better question is, What is the poverty problem? The absence of nuclear families, because of single-parent families with absentee fathers, creates a subculture that affects education more than anything else. This perpetual problem creates the problem of poverty which is the absence of choices. Children are brought into dysfunction, grow up in dysfunction, and create a whole new generation of dysfunction. These families are often clustered in neighborhoods where it becomes normative. In many public schools found in these communities, with the exception of a few newer altruistic teachers, the majority of the faculty is made up of grizzled jaded veterans, bad teachers who have been shuttled through the system from school to school rather than being fired, coupled with antiquated buildings, equipment, and textbooks. It’s systemic, and the studies show that no matter how much money is poured into this system, ultimately, with the rare exception of a school or two which seemingly beats the system, failure is the norm. And it’s the children who suffer.

  • Thursday1

    The real problem is that minority students have lower IQs by the time they reach the school system, and that, more than poverty, SES, whatever, predicts how well they do in school and in life in general. There are various hypotheses as to why this is so, but it doesn’t appear to be something that any kind of school system can fix.

    But, of course, this all involves race, so most people simply won’t talk honestly about what is going on. If you are genuinely interested in what is going on, you need to take a look at the back and forth between James Heckman (Nobel prize winner) and Charles Murray on these issues. Most everything else is snake oil.