It’s a mystery. Why are people who call themselves education reformers comfortable with the status quo when it comes to poverty and economic inequality? Why are they OK with social circumstances that are convenient for adults but aren’t good for children?
Why can’t we talk about poverty and the challenges it presents for schools without being charged with excusing failure? As Adam VanOsdol of Indiana Education Insight noted recently: “Anyone raising the poverty issue these days gets accused of letting schools off the hook. These allegations stand in the way of serious form.”
Folks in the reform community like to say schools are the solution to poverty. Certainly good schools are part of what’s needed. But to suggest schools by themselves can solve the problem is naïve. And to suggest there’s nothing we can do is just giving up.
Just for a start, we could:
- Raise the minimum wage.
- Quit passing laws to weaken unions.
- Create a fairer tax system.
- Fund safety-net programs like food stamps, housing and unemployment.
- Ensure people have access to health care.
And, yes, we could take on the shameful segregation of America’s education system – segregation by race and by social class – that persists 60 years after the Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional.
Skeptics will say we tried that with busing in the 1970s and it didn’t work. But as Dana Goldstein writes, there are approaches that have succeeded in making schools more diverse and effective. One is linking school policy to housing policy, as in a Maryland initiative. Another is using public school choice to create socioeconomic balance.
Just as poverty shouldn’t be an excuse for bad schools, neither should the fact that schools can help be an excuse for ignoring poverty and segregation.
Sure, change is hard. That shouldn’t stop us from doing what’s best for children.