Today's guest blogger is AASA Executive Director, Dan Domenech. Every month we will feature a post from Dan to educate our members on what AASA is doing on the national level for superintendents...
I now refer to School Superintendents as Champions for Children and Public Education. Think about it, the Superintendent is the voice for all children in the community, including the many that would have no voice if not for the Superintendent. Today, more than ever, America’s Superintendents have the awesome responsibility to protect public education from the private and political interests that regard our schools as investment opportunities for corporate gains rather than fostering the American tradition of an educated community that is the core of our democracy.
The achievement gap that seems to be the bane of our existence is driven primarily by economics. Whereas we have made gains in closing the racial achievement gap, the economic achievement gap has grown wider. NAEP data reflects the fact that those students on free/reduced lunch in schools where they are 75% or more of the student population have the lowest achievement scores. Conversely, the highest achievement scores are obtained in schools where 10% or fewer of the learners are on free/reduced lunch. By the third grade less than 19% of low income students are at or above the national average in math, reading and science, whereas 50% of higher income students are making the grade.
Our lowest performing high schools have the largest number of students living in poverty. The unflattering reports of our students’ performance on international tests neglect to mention that the United States has the highest rate of child poverty among peer countries. Finland, for example, has a child poverty rate of 5.3% compared to America’s 23.1%. In high school, low-income students have the highest dropout rates and the lowest graduation rates. And the effects of poverty carry into higher education. Only 29% of low–income students go to college and less than 9% complete college.
In spite of the overwhelming evidence, there are those who say that we use poverty as an excuse. They tend to be the same people who would swoop into those low-income communities and take the limited resources available to run charter schools or supplemental programs. Or push for vouchers. Never giving, but always taking.
Our formula for funding education is stacked against the poor. Richer communities can generate more wealth and therefore have the best schools. Our federal government was supposed to level the playing field through formula grants that would deliver federal dollars to impoverished communities, but of late they have taken to diverting those funds into competitive grants that drive their education agenda. It is up to you, Champion of Children and Public Education, to tell it like it is and protect our children.