Professor Stephen Haycox recently authored an article in the ADN, January 23, 2015, in which he blamed rich non-minority parents for abandoning neighborhood schools and leaving lower income, minority students behind in these same failing neighborhood schools. One thing we do agree with in his article is the title, “Education Combats Poverty, so Why Isn’t it More Accessible?”. That is a very good question, Dr. Haycox. If one does some research into the problem of accessibility in the Anchorage School District, one would discover that the ASD actually blocks accessibility to the better charter and alternative schools through its policies.
The ASD policy on charter schools is the longest in its policy handbook–it has 26 sections. This is enough, in itself, to frustrate those who would like to start a charter school. However, many parents who are very engaged in their child’s education and who persist through the bureaucratic maze have established charter schools. They should be applauded for that. For the most part, these charter schools are the shining stars of the ASD. In addition to the bureaucratic obstacles, the greatest obstacle to starting a charter school in ASD is the District requires the charter school to fund its own facility. The charter school must take its rent/mortgage payment out of its operating budget. In contrast, the neighborhood schools are subsidized by the District in that they do not have to take their principal and interest for paying off bonds out of their operating budget. The District pays their rent/mortgage. The question to ask is why does the ASD discriminate against its own public charter schools when it comes to funding? We recommend the Legislature require the District to provide funding for the charter schools’ rent/mortgage. It is only fair.
Dr. Haycox seems intent on playing both the race card and the class warfare card in his attempt to get readers to buy in to providing free community college for everyone. We do agree that “Education Combats Poverty”. We need to further ask the question, “Does poor quality education cause poverty?”. We believe it does. If a child does not have an effective teacher in the classroom, and the curriculum is not a good fit for the child, then that child will not reach his/her full potential. Look at the success stories in Florida, Washington DC, Indiana, Cleveland Ohio, and many other states that have instituted school choice programs. All the voucher programs in the U.S. were begun to help either special education children or low income children. None were established to help wealthy non-minority students. The parents of these students already have the wealth to choose the best education fit for their kids. Poor parents don’t. This isn’t about race and it isn’t about class warfare; it is about empowering parents to give them the freedom to choose the education for their child. They, not the government, knows what is best for their child.
If we would have only known that it was so easy to improve student education by doing away with poverty. Maybe it’s time to resurrect President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty to solve our country’s education dilemma. Well, the National Education Association (NEA) believes that education reform should be put on the back burner until poverty is solved. Needless to say, that probably means that education reform will never happen. First, on the motive behind raising the point.
During a recent education panel in Washington, DC one of the panelists, Peter Edelman (Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy), stated that “It’s time to stop arguing whether schools prepare students for the future and launch a full scale attack on poverty”.
The first purpose of raising this point is what is known as a diversionary tactic in the military. Divert attention from the real issue and change the focus to a side issue.
The second purpose in raising this point is captured in the solution the NEA offers for solving poverty: put all 3 and 4 year old children into pre-K schools. Surely, these would have to be government pre-K schools because parents of poor children are not responsible enough to select a good private pre-K school for their children. The ranks of the NEA would necessarily swell with new members because all the government pre-K teachers would have to be certificated and belong to a union, just like organized labor did with daycare workers in Michigan. Even the U.S. Department of Education acknowledges that the Head Start program has not resulted in any long term gains past the third grade.
As long as those responsible for the education industry in America can blame “poverty” for low academic achievement, we all lose. Education has been the greatest lever for advancing people from the ranks of poverty to the middle class and even higher in our country. Following WWII, the GI Bill enabled those who served the opportunity to go to college and provide well for their families. This was, perhaps, the greatest growth of our middle class. Many others since then have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, worked hard, paid their own college expenses and advanced in our society. Just look at what Dr. Ben Chavis has done in his American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, CA. In the early 2000s he took the worst performing school in the Oakland School District and transformed it into the best middle school in the entire state of California. Some call this miracle work. I call it leadership and empowerment.
Dr. Chavis, unencumbered by many of the District’s rules, set very high goals for his students, challenged them every day, instituted a structured environment, selected teachers from Craigslist based on their credentials (not their years of service), and held everyone accountable. Teachers, students and parents were accountable for outcomes. He worked miracles on a student population that consisted of 98 percent minorities, 85 percent low income and 45 percent English language learners. Many of his students have gone on to Ivy League schools, many have returned to the American Indian Public Charter School to teach and help other poor, disadvantaged students strive for achievement. Dr. Chavis believes there is no achievement gap; there are just kids who are not challenged by the current education system.
So, let’s stop blaming the kids’ backgrounds for their lack of achievement. Let’s empower parents to choose the best education fit for their children. Let’s not relegate children to a failing school because they just happen to live in the wrong neighborhood. Let’s really solve the poverty problem-educate children to their maximum potential.
David Boyle is a Research Associate with the Alaska Policy Forum.