Marc Yacht: Poverty is the elephant in the room

Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 5:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 5:32 p.m.

Here’s a multiple-choice question: How will failing students succeed?

a. Common Core


c. Florida Core

d. Better teachers

e. Penalizing failing schools

f. None of the above

The obvious answer, known to politicians, school officials, and most parents, is: none of the above.

There are many misdirected policies sold to the public by experts who have been bought and paid for by interests with educational agendas. The 1960s saw the defunding of our state mental hospital system. Communities will continue to suffer from this catastrophic initiative. Closing the hospitals led to homelessness, untreated mental illnesses, crime, poverty and the spread of infectious diseases.

Lawmakers’ refusal to enact sensible gun-control policies puts communities at risk. Once again, they cite arguments proffered by experts with agendas. Americans will continue to watch the carnage. About 12,000 Americans have been killed with guns since the Sandy Hook tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012.

Student failure rarely relates to inadequate tests, poor teachers or bad administrators. The elephant in the room is MONEY! Poor communities historically get fewer resources and current policies threaten to perpetuate this grim fact.

There is enormous pressure to cook the books to make schools look better. Educators undermine academic integrity to protect their careers.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower might have warned of a “corporate, congressional and educational complex.” Educators talk of e-classes and iPods for every child, tools that work for affluent kids and the companies that sell the products. he sales pitch suggests technology is the answer to struggling schools.

No one is talking poverty, illness, hunger, lack of resources, pre-K readiness and the challenges the poor face on standardized tests. There is no profit in that conversation.

Twenty-two percent of American children live at or below the poverty line. Fifty-six percent of Florida children qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Poor children often quit high school and few go to college. Standardized tests may well set them up for failure.

Schools must address the effects of living in poverty if they hope to improve student performance. Standardized testing and bashing teachers will not address deep-rooted childhood problems. Penalizing schools that perform badly on standardized tests further harms the students.

Untreated childhood illnesses, dysfunctional families and absenteeism are major deterrents to student success. Touting Common Core standards, more technology and more sanctions when children fail plays well to an uninformed public but will not help students who are poor.

Recent data shows there’s a considerable disparity in the amount of money each school has to spend. Schools in poor areas typically are given less than schools in better neighborhoods. The opposite should occur.

A recent evaluation graded Florida “F” in school funding, ranking it 43 of 50 states. Funding would best be distributed based on children’s needs, not their neighborhoods. The Legislature and top educators must stop drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to why students fail.

Standardized testing, punishing teachers, penalizing schools and pushing expensive technology may boost some companies’ profits, but they won’t solve poor student performance.

Dr. Marc Yacht is the retired director of the Pasco County Health Department. He lives in Hudson. He wrote this piece for Context Florida, an online opinion network on Florida issues.

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