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In case you missed it over the weekend, a middle school teacher from Forsyth County named Stuart Egan had a fine op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal in which he debunked the myth that flawed teachers are somehow the biggest problem facing our public schools. As Egan explained:

“Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: Poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and North Carolina legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article titled “Rotten Apples” that suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.”

Egan continues with the farming analogy:

“Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn. Read More

News

Of the nearly 30 percent of North Carolina’s schools receiving letter grades of D or F from the state, almost all of them are designated as high poverty schools with at least 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.

poverty_grades

“The only thing these grades tell us is where our poor children go to school and where our rich children go to school,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a 23 year veteran public school teacher representing the advocacy group Public Schools First NC at a press conference held by Senate Democrats. Read More

News

For the first time in at least a half century, a majority of American public school students live in poverty, according to a new report released by the Southern Education Foundation.

Fifty-one percent of the nation’s public school students were eligible for free and reduced lunch programs in 2013, according to federal data. In North Carolina, that figure stood at 53 percent—and in the south overall, the numbers of poor students were the highest.

Lyndsey Layton at the Washington Post explained the significance of the new development:

The shift to a majority poor student population means that in public schools, more than half of the children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home to succeed, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.

It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the swelling ranks of needy children arriving at the schoolhouse door each morning.

Back in 2006, a report by SEF highlighted how low income children became a majority of the public school students in the Southern states. The authors made this observation:

Currently the South alone faces the implications and consequences of having a new majority of low income students in its public schools… the South also faces a new global economy that requires higher skills and knowledge from all who seek a decent living. In this brave, new world, the people and policymakers of Southern states must realize that continuing the current, uneven level of educational progress will be disastrous.

They must understand more fully that today their future and their grandchildren’s future are inextricably bound to the success or failure of low income students in the South. If this new majority of students fail in school, an entire state and an entire region will fail simply because there will be inadequate human capital in Southern states to build and sustain good jobs, an enjoyable quality of life, and a well-informed democracy. It is that simple.

With today’s news, the president of the Southern Education Foundation had this to offer:

“This is a watershed moment when you look at that map,” said Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, referring to a large swath of the country filled with high-poverty schools.

“The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years,”he said. “It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people.”

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Income Data 2013, Poverty and Policy Matters

Children face the highest poverty rate in North Carolina compared to other age groups according to data released last week by the US Census Bureau. After more than five years into an economic recovery, one in four children (25.2%) in North Carolina remained in poverty in 2013 –unchanged from 2012 and higher than the national child poverty rate (22%). At a time when we are experiencing an economic recovery, it is troubling that our state’s child poverty rate is not declining and remains significantly higher than the national average.

The numbers become even more meaningful when considering the disadvantages children in poverty face: less access to early education programs and high quality schools, food insecurity, higher stress levels and higher dropout rates, among other risk factors. Recent findings in brain development research also warn of the impact of toxic stress associated with poverty on a young child’s developing brain. Toxic stress can weaken the architecture of a child’s brain, creating long-term challenges that make it hard for one to be economically secure as an adult. Other numbers are rising for children across the nation and in North Carolina that we certainly don’t want to see on the rise. Infant mortality and child mortality has increased in North Carolina. There has also been a rise in the number of homeless school children, according to recently released national data. Both are indicators of poverty’s tight grasp on America’s and North Carolina’s children.

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Commentary

Farmworkers 2If you missed it this morning, be sure to take a few minutes to read this morning’s lead story over on the main Policy Watch site: “Twenty-first Century children, Nineteenth Century laws.” The article features a powerful interview with a young woman who describes the pain and hardship she endured for years as a child laborer in 21st Century America — something that, as remarkable as it may seem, remains perfectly legal more than a century after our country supposedly addressed it. Here is an excerpt:

Q. When and why did you start working? Was it your choice?

A. At the age of 8 years old I started working in cotton fields in Arkansas. When I was12-years old I started working in blueberry fields in Michigan, as well as working in the processing plant and various nurseries. I come from a family of migrant farmworkers; we were all expected to work at some point. I am not entirely sure why I started at a much younger age. But growing up I learned that we worked to help pay for bills, school clothes and supplies and also to learn a lesson. Both my parents met in the fields, they both knew how hard the life of a migrant farmworker was and didn’t want for that life to be their children’s. They made us work to show us exactly what was out there without a proper education and to motivate us to stay in school.

Q. What was your typical job and what would be a typical workday? Read More