"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Dear Sen. Bennet: The best way to help "high poverty schools" is to eliminate "high poverty schools."

Call me excited about the many billions of dollars that Team Biden is planning to invest in new and renewed education initiatives, from pre-K through college.  Even more exciting is the total absence (so far) of systemic efforts to bribe and/or extort states to adopt corporate policies favored by the profiteers of the education industrial complex.  It's too early to know for sure, but it looks as if these unprecedented education investments now on the horizon actually acknowledge the massive education debt owed to public institutions that have been deprived for decades of needed funds for staffing, physical plants, transportation, and instructional resources.

As these new funding streams come closer to reality, the Biden Team has also targeted child poverty, with tax credits in the Covid relief legislation that will cut child poverty almost in half. If these cuts can be made permanent, the reductions in child poverty would constitute, in themselves, the most important education reform of the past 50 years.  For as child poverty rates decrease, we may certainly expect increases in student achievement.

But old habits of thought die slowly, it seems.  For as we stand on the cusp of dramatically cutting poverty rates and addressing other structural issues that have helped preserve segregation based on race and class, some politicians remain focused on treating the symptom, rather than the disease.  

Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) offers a good example of politicians who believe that the performance, behavior, and morale problems associated with high poverty schools can be solved by using funding as both carrot and stick to "drive policy."  

This has been tried, and we know it doesn't work. James Coleman knew it didn't work in 1966 when the Coleman Report was issued and then quickly shelved by the Johnson Administration, for fear that the Report's findings would expose the shallowness of federal priorities to send more money to high poverty schools, while ignoring the structural issues that insure the continuation of poverty and inequity.  

From WaPo:

Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), a former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, generally supports the new spending but said he would like to see some fundamental changes in the Title I formula to direct more money to high-poverty schools if the government is going to increase spending so dramatically. He’d also like to see the money used to drive policy. For instance, he said, he’d like to see schools incentivized to pay teachers at high-poverty schools more.

“It would be a shame if we spend all this money and we do it in ways that don’t transform outcomes for kids,” Bennet said. “We’ve got to change the system. I don’t believe the system works well for kids living in poverty.”

Senator Bennet, there is NO system that "works well for kids living in poverty." Poverty makes sure of that.