Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The real threat to our children goes ignored by education reformers' "report card"

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the preeminent and wealthy business lobby group, released their latest "report card" on Metro Nashville Public Schools. I only found one mention of poverty and it was in reference to Teach for America, which the Mayor indicated last May is a stop-gap for the loss of professional teachers due to budget constraints. The report's two comments on "low-income students" are relegated to an appendix and a glossary like footnotes.

Conversely, I found no references to wealth or the upper class. Such omissions insinuate that affluence does not have influence over the quality of education of truly advantaged students.

While the Chamber of Commerce may slight the ill affects of poverty on student achievement and try to shift more blame to teachers and families, some observers refuse to ignore destitution and pauperism as real threats to student achievement. Strong assumptions about and faith in the American meritocracy hinder real reform based on guaranteed equity of opportunity:

The first step to education reform, then, in the U.S. is to acknowledge some sobering realities about our society as we move further into the second decade of the twenty-first century:

  • Childhood poverty in the U.S. (about 22%) is both relatively high when compared to other countries similar to the U.S. and inexcusable in the wealthiest society of all human history.
  • Upward mobility in the U.S. has not materialized, and remains something to which we should aspire—but is not something we have achieved.
  • The economic and equity gap between the top 1% and remaining 99% is growing, and thus threatening our goal of meritocracy. That 1% maintains disproportionate control over wealth in the U.S. and by extension disproportionate control over politics, commerce, and (most significantly) public discourse. The 1% must perpetuate a faith among the 99% in meritocracy as a reality to preserve their status.
  • Childhood poverty is a subset of adult poverty, employment, and wages. Even if we decide to address childhood poverty and the conditions of those children's lives, to ignore adult and family conditions is to ignore childhood poverty still.

Ignoring the reality of the underdevelopment in the communities of many public school students and denying widespread paucity and the shrinking middle class, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce is not engaging in authentic education reform, but merely morphing a new separate-but-equal system oblivious to increasing income disparity. Rich kids will keep getting smarter; poor kids will be held back.


  1. The report is about MNPS. MNPS has no responsibility nor facility to alleviate poverty. It exists to educate our children.

    I don't understand why the Chamber of Commerce would address poverty in this report.

  2. Class stratification is key to student achievement.

    If public schools don't address poverty, they will fail to increase student achievement in the broadest sense.

    When the Chamber of Commerce refuses to consider the pathology of extreme concentrations of wealth and poverty, their report cards are merely self-serving and moot to questions of student achievement.

  3. Aside from noting that poor kids do worse in school than rich kids, in what manner would you like to see this issue a dresses by the chamber of commerce?

    Free food is available to the poor in school. Free textbooks. After school care is available, I don't know if it is available on a sliding fee scale. Subsidized Internet is available. Standard school attire could be twisted to seem like a burden on the poor, I guess, but that is nipping at the margins of anything close to relevant.

    If is issue is so critical that MNPS needs to address it, there must be some (even pie in the sky) examples of how it actually can be addressed; perhaps ere are best practices from other school districts of which you are aware, maybe you have your own Specific ideas. Do you?

  4. You state: "Childhood poverty is a subset of adult poverty, employment, and wages."

    You left out that adult poverty, and by extension, childhood poverty, are also influenced factors of education, job skills/job readiness, and drug addiction.

    Example being an out of work employee for a HVAC company. He complains, "there's no work out there, I got laid off, I only have a sixth grade education."

    There is plenty of blame in this example to go around, from the bankers that caused the mortgage collapse and the decline in the construction industry, as well as the individual lack of initiative to maintain marketable job skills and adapt. Let's be careful who we blame, but let's make sure everyone in our society is held to account.

    Academic achievement is also tied to parental involvement, and even poor families are either involved or uninvolved in their child's education. Can we also blame "uninvolved parents of all income levels?" please?

    It doesn't take money to read with your child, or check if they did their homework, or to talk to the teacher periodically. (if the kid can show up at school, so can the parent, even those working odd shifts. You get there if you want to.) This is where real change begins. With the parents.

    Sorry, just blaming corporate greed isn't good enough. The link between poverty and education is much more complex than that.

  5. It is easy to complain and attribute the worst motives to those with whom you disagree.

    There is a place, and a need, for strident political polemics. But after awhile, the bomb-throwing ceases to have an impact.

    Those that agree with you agree with you, even if based on a superficial understanding of the issues. Those that disagree with you will continue to disagree with you. Those who could be swayed are not swayed, as there is no substance to these arguments for them to latch onto.

  6. These are some disingenuous replies.

    1) I'm not strictly blaming greed, but saying that report cards that don't take poverty and uneven development in education into account can't be taken seriously. The Chamber of Commerce report is loath to address the lag of poverty on learning, although it accepts the benefits of "partnerships with business" in making schools better.

    2) It's funny to me how calls to look at dealing with poverty and the underprivileged (whom bona fide public schools are required to take) is "strident". It's typical red-state denial in my book. It's also an attempt to marginalize my argument and undermine its legitimacy in public discourse. The movers and shakers in education don't want to hear about class issues, and they are willing to ignore and shove aside those who raise them.

    3) There are lots of things that MNPS is dealing with that have little or nothing to do with education. Partnerships with business is one. MNPS has little or no control over the dictates of business logic. Poverty may be a larger issue than educating children, but so is privatization, and yet, the Chamber report cards tend to be more than willing to promote the validity of privatized public schools and the contributions of venture philanthropy.

    In the end, money has an interesting way of making certain arguments valid (even reason can be purchased), which is precisely why raising questions of poverty is considered illegitimate by those who don't care to hear them.

  7. It's disingenous not to post replies that are take you to task.

    Hey - it's your blog.

  8. Not sure what you mean, Anon. According to my comments log, I've published every comment made to this post and all of them take me my view to task.

    If you believe that you commented and it didn't get posted, feel free to try again.

    That said, I do moderate comments and I have declined a handful of comments in the past for hate language directed at others. But I've generally approved personal attacks, including name-calling, on me. Thanks for acknowledging that it's my blog. Whether you acknowledge it or not I am also a fair person.

  9. Reply to post above: my mistake, then, and I wouldn't read if I didn't think you were fair.

    The above Anon comments except the one starting "You state..." are mine. They are not disingenous.

    If there is some pie-in-the-sky solution that MNPS could implement to address poverty in the schools, please name it.

    I'd suggest (along with notes above about reduced-price lunches, etc.) charter schools, magnet schools and bussing would all be appropriate responses.

    The draw to this blog for me was initally some posts about MNPS and neighborhood schools. I'm pretty sure you are not going to advocate more charter and magnets.

    "Strident" is infusing nearly every post with language such as "red-state mentality." First, MNPS is a local Nashville organization. Second, What you have done with that language is attempt to marginalize the commenter and undermine the legitimacy of my opinion. I don't think it's funny; it's just fluff.

    What Metro partnerships with business are not related to educating children? Surely, you don't mean the partnerships where a company sets up a school and provides teachers for potential students? Or, the ones where a bank comes into a school and provides work/study to students so they can learn something about work, banking, or a business?

    I don't want to marginalize your argument. I want to hear it.

    What are some steps MNPS can take to address poverty in the schools?