Poverty isn’t the only problem with public education

If you’ve followed local and state news lately, you undoubtedly have read about low performing schools in Craven County and throughout the state.

The N.C. General Assembly recently changed what it means to be a low performing school and while Craven County had three, there were 578 additional ones throughout the state.

The State Board of Education defines low-performing schools as those that receive a grade of D or F and as a school that either meets expected growth or not.

To break down the grading system – which in itself is flawed – a D equals any number grade from a 40 to a 54. To put it bluntly – that number grade would be a big fat F for a student.

But I digress.

Across the state, Board of Education members fought back. Wake County’s board, which had at least 20 schools that didn’t make the grade, decided to show their disapproval of the ranking by abstaining from voting on plans to improve the schools. Of course, their votes counted as affirmative ones, so it really was just a statement and nothing more. It kind of makes you wonder whether they even read the plans to approve the schools in the first place to be honest.

A few days after Wake’s lack of a vote, Craven County Board of Education members enter the fray. But they couldn’t all be available to vote on the plans. Three members were absent during their work session and another member had a family emergency. So, instead of voting on the plans during their regularly scheduled board session at night (when the public can attend), the few members bitterly voted on the plans, all the while blaming poverty.

Across the state, nearly every media outlet blames poverty solely. Even Chairman Carr Ipock spent time during the work session to whine about schools not having enough resources, children coming to school unprepared, etc.

No one can dispute poverty plays a role in education. Study after study says this is true.

However, at no point should our elected officials, educational leaders or teachers use this as a blanket excuse for mediocre performance.

School districts across the state were very quick to boast a trend in the number of students graduating. So, if we are to assume graduation rates are increasing is poverty then not a problem? Or are we graduating sub-par students as well?

According to an article by Dr. Christopher Boerl entitled, “Poverty Need Not Be A Reason Why American Schools Fail,” written two years ago, he gives examples of many schools who have succeeded in spite of funding.

Amanda Ripley, author of “The Smartest Kids in the World,” devoted her profession to identify why schools are failing and what can be done about it.

As she states, “Compared with their counterparts abroad, too many American educators rely on poverty as an excuse for poor student achievement. Indeed, a large body of research shows that teachers who hold high expectations for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, get better results.”

And Ripley’s research tears apart what many of us who are parents already know is failing: Common Core.

“Academically, American schools are too easy, with surveys of students showing pervasive boredom and low expectations,” she writes. “Our curriculum needs a booster shot, and not just in reading and math, the two subjects covered by the new Common Core national standards, but in every area, including technical and career education.”

As a parent of a child who is not living in poverty, but certainly not living in lush circumstances, I can vouch for Ripley’s assessment.

My child is hindered by Common Core math. He’s performing at three grade levels above his current grade level in math and is stuck drawing boxes.

He is drawing boxes to add. And it’s insulting, not to mention a time waster, which he already understands.

Does no one see a problem in that? He looks at me as we do his homework and rolls his eyes because he doesn’t see the value in the education he’s being offered. If he in his first few years of school doesn’t see the value in the educational process afforded to him through the public school system now, why should he ever?

So, no Chairman Ipock, members of the Craven County Board of Education and the Wake County Board of Education, it’s not just about poverty.

Children need to feel valued. They need to be challenged. And they need more than sub-par performance and whining about funds if we want to fix our public education system.

Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “Education is not a problem. Education is a solution.”

So, let’s start coming up with some real solutions. Otherwise, my child and many others will look back on their school days as Mark Twain did and repeat his famous words: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

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