First day of school, so I'm thinking about schools.
I spent many years in education in one form or another and I'm kind of puzzled that when the conversation over the failure of American schools to keep up with other developed countries doesn't address the issues of child poverty. We have one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world. Impoverished children, in general, do not excel in school, hmmmm, maybe there's a connection. Nearly a third of American children are being raised in poverty. A third, it is astounding. It is heartbreaking.
Maybe it is not the failure of our school systems (though some changes do need to be made, but they do not need to include any corporate involvement, tests or textbook publishers, that is a whole different post) that we need to look at, but the ability of our families to provide enough money to put food on the table and pay the rent, too. Parents who work low wage jobs often have multiple jobs. Having multiple jobs makes it difficult to raise children, because they can't be there regularly to help with homework. They can't be there regularly to get them on the bus. They can't afford to pay anyone to help with those tasks, as upper middle class parents can. Notice I said upper middle class, our middle class wages have stagnated to the point where they, too, struggle with these very basic ways to help their children. People who work multiple jobs cannot spend the time talking to their children, the time taking them educational places. They are just to darned tired when they do get home to do any of these things or they just need to go to their second or third job.
Not only are the parents too tired, but stress levels are also highly associated with poverty. If their car dies and they can't get to work, you lose your job. If they don't go to work, they lose the car, and their home. If they can't pay the electric bill or the water bill despite working two part time minimum wage jobs (25 hours each, so that the employers don't need to provide health insurance, because that costs money!), a parent might be a little too stressed and tired to read, "The Hungry Little Caterpillar" for the twentieth time, or maybe even the first time. Remember, at the Federal minimum wage, at fifty hours a week a breadwinner can come home with $18,850 annually, working 52 weeks a year, which is about poverty level.
The best way to predict a child's standardized test scores is to look at the family's socioeconomic status and the educational level of the mother. Maybe we are going at fixing education the wrong way. More testing will not improve schools. Paying living wages, and providing educational opportunities with flexible schedules for adults, providing more affordable options for quality child care (remembering that the people who run the child care facilities are often parents as well) might have a greater impact, but then those textbook and test prep companies wouldn't make so much money.
It's time to look at our schools as a reflection of our society. If we took child poverty seriously, then our schools would do better. We need more better paying jobs, not more tests, not more educational initiatives that just scramble the same old stuff a different way. Nearly a third of the children in this country are impoverished. Impoverished children do not do well in school. Creating jobs, good jobs, and providing better educational opportunities for adult education are probably the best things we can do to educate the children and to create a better prepared workforce for the future. It's time to stop blaming teachers, parents and the schools, they are all trying their hardest, but they are struggling upstream against the current like salmon. The current is not going anywhere, we need to build a fish ladder.