An article in this morning’s Commercial Appeal highlights something every educator already knows: Poverty plays a big role in the education of our nation’s children.
As the child of two educators who avoided the family business, this isn’t news to me. I’ve been hearing this my entire life. So its odd when I hear politicians saying we need to fix teachers or whatever, when we really need to be working to fix the conditions that maintain the high levels of poverty both in the state as a whole, and our individual communities.
But addressing the role of poverty in education is one of those things that politicians are really scared of for some reason. It’s always easier to pick on teachers than it is to address something that leaves you staring at the ceiling and in a cold sweat at night.
Here’s a little taste of the article:
State ACT scores have increased from 19.9 in 1999 to 20.6 in 2009. Standards for school principals make the state a regional leader, and new high school graduates in Tennessee are enrolling in college at a higher rate than their U.S. peers.
But the increasing number of children growing up in poverty threatens improvements, according to a Challenge to Lead report released Wednesday by the Southern Regional Education Board.
In 2009, 55 percent of Tennessee youngsters came from homes where family incomes made them eligible for free school lunches (up to $40,793 for a family of four), a 14 percent increase in 10 years.
The reasons include poor families caught in the economic downturn but also point to a growing Hispanic population, which tends to live on subsistence wages, according to the report.
According to data in the Urban Child Institute’s 2010 “State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County: Data Book,” median income in the city has risen 29 percent since 2003 to $45,540 and higher in the unincorporated county.
“But it has had no impact on children living in poverty,” said Eugene Cashman, president and CEO of the Urban Child Institute.
The way out, he said, is concentrated investments in prenatal care and pre-K, “which make children perform better immediately.”
Nearly 19% of Shelby County residents live in poverty. In Memphis that number is over 24%. Considering those numbers, and the fact that 85% of MCS students qualify for free or reduced lunches, it’s no surprise that our city schools only graduate around 60% of it’s students.
This is something that requires a broad based action plan by all the political bodies involved; from the school boards, City Council and County Commission, state legislative delegations and ultimately federal legislators. Until there is some integrative approach by, at the very least, the majority of these political bodies, the song will remain the same for students not just in Memphis and Shelby County, but across the state.
Merely addressing the symptoms; teachers, standards, etc. isn’t working. We need to treat the disease. It’s going to take a lot of cooperation to do this. Unfortunately, cooperation is in very short supply, particularly where its needed most, here in Memphis.