A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education released new data that confirms what every advocate of public education has been trumpeting for years: poverty is a growing scourge on public schools. According to its 2013 Condition of Education report, one in five schools in the United States are considered high poverty. Twenty percent of public school students attended these schools in 2011, considerably more than the 12 percent who did in 1999–2000. That year, 45 percent of students attended a low-poverty school. Now only 25 percent do. Overall, approximately 10.9 million school-age children are from families living in poverty, a four percent increase from a decade earlier.
The trend is stark – poverty is affecting more and more students. And yet, the debate over education – at least how it plays out in the national media and many legislatures across the country- continues to freeze out substantive discussions about poverty and its obvious impact on student achievement. The ongoing fascination with market-driven education reform proposals and their media-savvy boosters leaves room for little else, although recent scrutiny over faulty standardized tests is reason for encouragement.
For years now, the American people have been told that the key to close achievement gaps is to use high-stake stest scores to evaluate teachers and schools, and close schools that are deemed “under-performing” and replace them with charter schools. Obviously it’s easier to champion these ideas once the discussion of poverty and its consequences for millions of students is severed from the equation.
The stakes are high. There is, after all, a lot of money to be made. Reform has become an industry.
“There are people who look at our investment in public education, and they see a treasure chest,” National Education President Dennis Van Roekel recently wrote in The Huffington Post. “Their first thought is, how can they tap into those funds for their own private gain? If just one percent of education spending were diverted to private profit, it would mean $5 billion a year in someone’s pockets.”
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