Poverty and Accountability: Not an Either/Or Proposition

One of the biggest canards in debates centered on education is that reformers ignore the longstanding effects of poverty on children inside the classroom. Holding schools accountable, critics purport, ignores the challenges faced by low-income children and families. But it’s not an either-or proposition. The crushing realities of poverty should not be further compounded by lowered expectations for schools serving children in need, whom people are all too ready to give up on, leading to the destructive slippery slope that we shouldn’t strive to prepare all children for college. High standards of accountability can, and do, work in concert with fighting poverty. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was created with the goal of directing money to schools that would not otherwise have received it. It provided additional help to minorities and special-education students who languished because no other policy tracked how they well they did. Through annual testing, we now have data that gives us a fuller picture of the American education landscape, not a periscope’s view that leaves disadvantaged subgroups at the margins. The ESEA’s latest authorization, No Child Left Behind, while flawed, drew public scrutiny to schools and exposed the failures of the educational system when it came to disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and English language learners. It asserted that education is a civil right, one that has to be protected by the federal government. And like civil rights, another battle that necessitated federal intervention, giving states leeway to voluntarily adopt policies to improve their schools harkens back to the days when the mantra of “go slow” was oft repeated. We cannot accept incrementalism when the need for educational improvement is so urgent. As Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, reminds us in his op-ed for The Washington Post, we have come too far to go backwards:
After years of progress, do we need statewide indicators of what progress all students are making each year, as the nation’s chief state school officers and a dozen-plus civil rights organizations have asked? The Republican plan says, “It’s optional.” Should funds intended for the highest-poverty schools actually go to those schools? The Republican plan says, “It’s optional.” Should we do more to ensure that all families have access to quality preschool? The Republican plan says, “It’s optional.” We cannot afford to replace “the fierce urgency of now” with the soft bigotry of “it’s optional.”
Caroline Bermudez
Caroline Bermudez is chief storyteller at the Charter School Growth Fund and former senior writer at Education Post. Bermudez has been a journalist for almost 10 years. She was staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving. She has interviewed prominent business, political and philanthropic leaders ...

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