Posted by: heartsleeve | January 7, 2008

Education

In response to Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races

The reason why No Child Left Behind doesn’t work is the same reason why 99% of these education initiatives do not work. They fail to address the reasons for the achievement gap, which are namely poverty and community cultures wherein the education and general well-being of children are not important. You will find that in most poor communities, regardless of race, children receiving a good education is considered to be less important, if not because parents are too busy working multiple jobs to make ends meet, then because drugs, alcohol, domestic abuse, and/or a widespread belief that education is unimportant or inaccessible to poor children create a substantial obstacle toward children being able to get or wanting to receive a good education. Add into this that schools poor and minority children attend are often underfunded, with the least experienced and least qualified teachers, you’ve got a huge achievement gap that can’t be bridged simply by trying to force schools to bring up their test scores on standardized tests that get harder every year.

Essentially, No Child Left Behind sets out more rigorous academic standards, while fewer children can qualify for special education or modifications in the regular classroom, and threatens schools that can’t meet those standards with cutting funds, which are usually already unbelievably low. No Child Left Behind treats every child as a statistic, nothing more, nothing less. It insists that every child can perform at the same level, every child can go to college, and that every child can do so if only schools and teachers work harder.

The truth is, you have children who come to school every day: without proper diet, without proper sleep, without good hygiene, without basic health care, and without parents or other family members who care about whether or not they succeed. This isn’t to say that in all poor families, parents do not care. This is simply saying, within poor communities, you will find that it is much more common. (And even when parents do care, they have far fewer resources and far less knowledge to overcome barriers their children face in getting a good education.) Basically, what you have is schools filled with children who are not even having their basic needs met. How can you expect these kids to perform and perform well? How can you expect teachers to teach them when their immediate concerns are usually addressing the children’s immediate concerns.

And this isn’t some sort of phantom problem, as many on the right would have you believe. (I’m thinking of Tom Delay’s mind-boggling assertion: “Emotional appeals about working families trying to get by on $4.25 an hour [the minimum wage in 1996] are hard to resist. Fortunately, such families do not exist.”) My mom is a principal at an elementary school in a poor, rural area of Texas. She actually manages pretty fantastic test scores, all things considered, and at her job every day, she sees lots of kids who are in the exact same situation that I described. At a school where she has maybe 200 students, it is a microcosm of the problems that are without a doubt affecting other schools across the country. There are kids in her school who live in homes without running water, where parents are strung out on drugs if they’re around at all, where kids have severe learning disabilities because their mothers did drugs while they were pregnant, and where kids have even more emotional problems because whatever adults are in their lives are abusive or neglectful. When my mom tells me some of the horror stories her students have lived through, some of whom are only 4 or 5 years old, I reel at the idea that any of these students even make it through the day in a semi-normal environment. These kids have problems far beyond what No Child Left Behind, or most schools, can deal with.

I have watched my mother go out of her way to do what she can for her truly needy students. In most cases, it is working with extended family members, psychologists, and doctors to try to get seriously disturbed and traumatized children under wraps. In some of the more serious cases, though, my mother personally takes kids to doctors, washes clothes so they have something clean to wear, brings kids to and from after school activities, helps them find places where they can work and be productive in their spare time, and even brings kids home so they can shower, eat, etc. I think the kids at my mom’s school are lucky because 1) it’s a small school where it’s possible for teachers and administrators to take so much of an interest in their students’ lives, 2) it’s in a small town where teachers and administrators know lengthy family histories and every last one of their students’ extended relatives, and 3) my mom goes far above and beyond the duties anyone could reasonably expect of teachers and administrators at school. She doesn’t get paid for what she does, it’s definitely not in her contract, and she does what she does not because of the test scores, but because she can’t stand to see kids who are for the most part good kids live in such awful conditions. And if my brother and I were still little kids at home, she wouldn’t have the time or the energy to take on several other kids as her personal rescue missions.

When I hear her stories, and then compare it with the balderdash that comes out of Washington, I realize that the reason why our government can not address the real issues facing educators is because they themselves have no idea what the real issues are. They have no idea what is going on in the homes of the kids they are trying to save from a life without — gasp! — going to college. They are too concerned with tax breaks, war (and how much money they can make in the war), oil, and battling the immorality of the masses/the lack of good, Christian values in this modern world to find out what the lives of many Americans are actually like. The truth is, our government is completely clueless as to why so many American children are being left behind every day, and rather than find out, they push these initiatives so they can get elected or re-elected, and then try to gloss over the results when it becomes apparent that their programs are not working.

It’s incredibly frustrating. No education initiative will work until we are willing to address the real issues in our country, which overwhelmingly boil down to poverty and the culture that poverty produces and is produced by. There is no easy fix, and you can’t begin solving problems by starting at the result of the problem.

I’m 23, have no background in education other than growing up with my mom, and even I realize that when kids don’t have their basic needs met and don’t have parents at home to encourage them, you can’t expect them to succeed. It just doesn’t make sense. So until we are willing to look at why kids are coming to school unprepared to succeed, children will be left behind. And they will grow up to have children who are also left behind.

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