The Atlantic

I'm Not Willing to Trade Fixing Income Inequality for Better Schools. We Need to Do Both.

I don’t know about y’all but I get tired of seeing annual reports basically saying the same thing: Black people in America are suffering.

Like this Urban League report that highlights racial disparities for Black youth in Chicago. It says that 3 out of 10 Black boys won’t graduate from high school, and when it comes to college readiness, only 23% of them are prepared compared to 73% of White boys.


And while I appreciate the effort it takes to compile data and make recommendations, it seems pointless when those solutions fall on deaf ears.

Or in cases when solutions are considered, implementation becomes complicated because now we can’t even agree on what the problem is—which is why I find Nick Hanauer’s recent Atlantic  article “Better Schools Won’t Fix America” problematic.


In the piece, Nick Hanauer—wealthy entrepreneur and venture capitalist—expresses personal fault in promoting education reform as the only solution to America’s problems and suggests that we should instead be focusing on battling income inequality as a means to improve education.

Now, I don’t disagree that income inequality is a huge issue but to imply that there’s a hierarchy of public ills when in reality, they all go hand-in-hand, is wrong.


And even though Hanauer reiterates the point that education is important and we should keep investing in it, to recommend that we prioritize the advocacy of one over the other is frustrating. I’m with Chad Aldeman when he said,  “If only there were a way to walk and chew gum at the same time…” —I mean, can we not do both at the same time?


The way I see it, this article opens the door for even greater attacks on and the abandonment of much-needed reforms in response to the traditional public school system’s failures.


And more importantly, it reduces education and income inequality to simple glitches in the system when in actuality, they stem from America’s deep-rooted racism and disdain for people of color. Like Chris Blackstone says below, this has not and will not be an easy fix.


So, considering these points and per Hanauer’s suggestion, we should put education reform on the backburner and rely on the one percent to share their wealth to close the income gap? LOL! This ain’t gonna work.

Asking the millions of families and reformers who are advocating for access to a quality education every day to sit tight while y’all fix this problem first—put our cause on hold, be patient and wait for the trickle-down effects of bridging the income equality gap? I don’t see it happening.

To have kids in low-income, underserved communities sit in failing schools and trust that the majority of upper- and middle-income America are now going to share their resources, despite history and the present showing us that they’re not interested? Nope.

And turn a temporary blind eye to the fact that proficiency growth in reading and math has become stagnant with some kids unable to even read, write or do math, expecting them to effectively advocate for themselves? That’s a setup for failure!


Look, I wholeheartedly appreciate Nick Hanauer’s contributions to and work towards closing inequality gaps in America. But because the piece slightly discredits the work of reformers and lets educators and teachers unions off the hook, I’m not entirely sure if it was politically motivated or genuinely a come to Jesus moment.


Either way, those of us who grew up in impoverished communities, and our allies, will continue to fight for both simultaneously because we know that an inequitable education and income inequality are co-dependent. We’ve seen the effects of a poor education and poverty, knowing that both could be the difference between life and death. And because of that, we can’t afford to trade one for the other, now or in the future.

Tanesha Peeples
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...

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