A Washington Post article noteworthy for its sensationalism reserves a most arresting revelation for the very last paragraph. It comes from the mouth of a man whose interest and perspective are commendably disclosed, by the very name of the organization he works for: the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University. Here is a man who gives voice to the authentic view of the American public education establishment. Here is a man who shows us what they are thinking. His remarks that conclude this article are striking.
But first, the sensationalism.
Taking the “federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches” as “a rough proxy for poverty,” the article’s writer, Lyndsey Layton, citing the Southern Education Foundation, pronounces that “the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families.”
That “rough proxy” performs some wondrous expedients. It supplies the basis for ringing the tocsin, the doom of middle class education. Half of the students in America are poor!
Chuck DeVore shows here how misleading the rough proxy really is. In essence, the lunch-assistance proxy converts 20% poverty into 51% poverty. Voila! Student poverty has more than doubled.
Naturally, the writer does not linger on the details of this statistical legerdemain. She moves right on to the dire implications of the sensational headline stat:
The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, 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 needy children who arrive at school each day.
Readers may recall that an education reform bill bearing the names of Kennedy and Bush — scions of both national parties — became law some baker’s dozen years ago. In addition to the appropriation of new funding, the main provisions of that law concerned measurable classroom results, as estimated by standardized tests.
But things have changed. America is now gravely impoverished. The preponderance of poverty among public school students should persuade us to set aside results and consider need. The “federal focus on results, as opposed to need, is wrongheaded.”
And thus we arrive at the very revealing final quotation, from the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University:
We have to think about how to give these kids a meaningful education. We have to give them quality teachers, small class sizes, up-to-date equipment. But in addition, if we’re serious, we have to do things that overcome the damages of poverty. We have to meet their health needs, their mental health needs, after-school programs, summer programs, parent engagement, early-childhood services. These are the so-called wraparound services. Some people think of them as add-ons. They’re not. They’re imperative.
So this is what need really means. Poverty rates are largely irrelevant. Absolute measures of poverty are irrelevant. This is not poverty but the Fall. Prosperity is no surety against mental illness, or against poor health, or against parental disengagement. They are misfortunes of the human condition, which poverty may exacerbate but it does not create.
What is proposed here, for plenary disbursement by the public schools, is nothing less than the full vision of wraparound welfarism. Far from being about actual physical necessity, “need” means public schools supplying the entire panoply of social-democracy to all students, as an imperative duty of “meaningful” or “serious” education reform.
It’s very interesting to know that, in order to carry this case, in order to prick our cold American conscience, the social democrats feel they must call three out of ten Americans poor who are not poor.