Guest view: Don't let poverty disrupt learning

October 13, 2013 

Children from the lower economic strata of society may not be hampered by poverty as much as they are by lack of paren-tal, teaching and corporate support, as well as bad decisions made by some politicians, judges and legislators. I am appalled by decisions to uproot children from their home schools and send them by bus many miles away to "non-failing" schools in more advantageous environments. Many of the children from economically challenged homes and schools could remain in their home schools if parents, educators and community advocates would work together to insist that "failing schools" get the resources and support they need, including best teaching and school administration practices. I concede that childhood poverty can influence scores on achievement tests, but we need to remove the skepticism that children from low- income homes cannot learn enough to close the achievement gap.

Policy makers and educators are focusing too much on testing instead of making sure that teachers and students have the necessary resources at their disposal for optimum teaching and learning. For example, every classroom should have libraries, computers, other technology and realia.

It borders on criminality for local, state and federal officials to demand that children and teachers accomplish impossible goals without the appropriate tools for teaching and learning. President Obama ought to budget more money for education in the United States rather than being so generous with foreign aid and wartime activities.

States also need to do better about financing schooling. A Gallup Poll as published in the Phi Delta Kappan found that a lack of financial support continues to be the biggest problem facing public schools.

Many parents need help with child rearing and schooling practices. However, educators and policy makers should respect and listen to parents. Educators should work with them. I concede that we have to use testing to assess children's progress, but we must ensure that children and teachers have what they need for effective schooling.

Classroom teachers need supervision that helps rather than threats of job loss. Superintendents need to get out of their offices into the classrooms and actually help teach children (as a superintendent, the supervisory educators on my staff and I often did this). I applaud Jennings, Mo., District Superintendent Tiffany Anderson for doing such hands-on things as this. Teachers and students need help rather than having children travel (sometimes before dawn) to schools that have higher test scores.

I believe we can defeat the ravages of poverty by enhancing the education of our children. Poverty is no excuse for failure in schooling.

Katie Harper Wright, of East St. Louis, is adjunct professor emeritus, Harris-Stowe State University.

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