Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Allentown Needs a Pathway Out of Child Poverty

The problem of child poverty in Allentown must be fixed before students can even begin to think about learning or attending college. In 2009 the number of children below poverty level in Allentown was 43.8% and climbing. The state average is 16.8%. CBS's 60 Minutes recently reported that the national child poverty rate is now 25%, which is shameful, but in Allentown there are nearly twice as many hungry and needy children than the national average. Over 85% of ASD students are low income and qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And because that number is so high, lunch and breakfast are now free to all students.

Plans to overhaul the entire school program in order to focus on a "core curriculum" will not improve student learning outcomes because such plans do not address fixing poverty first. In fact, Dr. Z's "Pathways to Success" which has the approval of a clueless school board will actually harm ASD students who need more authentic learning experiences, more arts programs, not more teaching to the test. Z's standards are aligned to the PSSA test, not to the needs of the ASD children. Z's an experienced policy maker, and he wrote the testing and assessment programs/standards for the state. The Allentown teachers know their students. These teachers are trained professionals. They should have a say in matters of curriculum development.

The district has focused too much on college readiness (Allentown Promise, Collegiate High, dual enrollment classes) when they should be focusing on meeting the immediate needs of the young students through early childhood and elementary school programs. By re-assigning well respected principals and laying off effective early childhood and elementary teachers, the district is breaking important bonds formed between educators, students, and community. This promises to have disastrous results.

Have Allentown's leaders actually looked into the eyes of the ASD children and assessed the baggage these kids bring to school with them everyday? Where's the data on that? Have our leaders examined the dirty clothing, the skin rashes, the lice, even the roaches, that the kids bring to school? Has Dr. Z analyzed the odor of feces or urine on children who have not been bathed? Has he quantified how many children are misbehaving just to get negative attention, or how many children steal from the teacher's desk when her back is turned? Has Dr. Z developed a pathway for the five year old child who complains of a belly ache at 11am because he is starving? What's his vision for the fidgety kid who falls out of his seat because he is denied recess and must sit for most of the school day? What assessment model is used to evaluate the parents who never check their child's homework folder or attend parent/teacher conferences? Some kids feel embarrassed and have very low self esteem and they often cry. Some don't know how to share or say nice things. Some are so angry they overturn desks and throw chairs (like in my classroom yesterday). Some need constant approval. Some are chronically absent and perform way below grade level. Some 5th graders are exhausted from having to take care of younger siblings while mom works 2 jobs. How are we dealing with the gang problem in middle and high schools? And these kids are expected to focus on learning.

We must put an end to the experimental corporate-ed reform mumbo jumbo, the test and data driven policies, the unrealistic visions and metaphors, and start focusing on reaching the neediest children, instead of punishing them. Teachers don't need more "value added" testing to measure growth of their students, they have always done formative assessments of students on a daily basis. Just ask the person in front of the class how the kids are doing (and it won't cost any money, Dr. Z). Teachers are professionals and they know their students. Too much money is wasted on gimmicks like the PSSA pep rally, hiring outside consultants, data collecting, and testing.

In our great USA, teachers are being demonized as "greedy" for making 50k a year, while the Wall Street robber barons who caused a global economic crisis continue to get their mega-million dollar bonuses and no jail time. These CEOs aren't punished, there's no reform and no regulations, and yet teachers across the country are losing their jobs, and the child poverty rate climbs. God help us if public education becomes a private for-profit enterprise. It looks like we are headed in that direction, thanks to politicians. Liars, cheaters, greedy power mongers, foundations, and hedge fund managers are calling the shots and determining the future for our children. Wall Street owns our federal government and now the corruption is trickling down to the states and local school districts. The financial crisis has resulted in high child poverty, and the corporations/policy makers who caused the problem are refusing to take responsibility. They just ignore poverty, and look for those "super" teachers. Well there are a lot of super teachers in Allentown who will be losing their jobs. (See the 60 Minutes piece which destroys the myth of the "super teacher." A NYC charter school paid their teachers more than twice the salary of the average teacher, and these teachers worked 80 and 90 hours per week, and the students did not even do as well as their public school counterparts on the standardized state test. Charter school's $125K experiment)

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University:

Other industrialized nations have lower poverty rates because they seek to prevent hardship by providing assistance to all families. These supports include “child allowances” (typically cash supplements), child care assistance, health coverage, paid family leave, and other supports that help offset the cost of raising children.

But the U.S. takes a different policy approach. Our nation does little to assist low-income working families unless they hit rock bottom. And then, such families are eligible only for means-tested benefits that tend to be highly stigmatized; most families who need help receive little or none. (One notable exception is the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.)

At the same time, middle- and especially upper-income families receive numerous government benefits that help them maintain and improve their standard of living — benefits that are largely unavailable to lower-income families. These include tax-subsidized benefits provided by employers (such as health insurance and retirement accounts), tax breaks for home owners (such as deductions for mortgage interest and tax exclusions for profits from home sales), and other tax preferences that privilege assets over income. Although most people don’t think of these tax breaks as government “benefits,” they cost the federal treasury nearly three times as much as benefits that go to low- to moderate-income families. In addition, middle- and upper-income families reap the majority of benefits from the child tax credit and the child care and dependent tax credit because neither is fully refundable.

In short, high rates of child poverty and income inequality in the U.S. can be reduced, but effective, widespread, and long-lasting change will require shifts in both national policy and the economy.

Our political leaders are not doing enough to help poor children. Here are some ways to fix child poverty:

-Early childhood education programs are so important because children who start school at an early age are more likely to stay in school. This improves the graduation rate, decreases crime rate, teaches important social skills that children need before 1st grade. So, mandatory pre-school, full day kindergarten are essential. Corbett plans to cut those programs. To cut programs for the neediest of children is immoral. Everyone in society benefits from government programs for children.

- Older students and at-risk youth need more after school programs. Since the arts and phys ed are drastically being cut from the public school day, kids need to discover their talents. They need exposure to the arts in order to find meaning and value in their lives. The arts helps them improve academically. PTAs, community groups, churches, businesses, will have to do much more to make up for the cuts to programs for kids.

-Instead of bailing out banks, our government should bail out families who are working but still struggling. This will stimulate the economy, and decrease child poverty rate. No child should go to bed hungry.


Michele said...

Have you read this from the Economic Policy Institute from last month about the health related consequences of poverty and their affects on learning?

Mrs. Dottie said...

Thanks for the link Michele. At every school I sub at I see too many kids who are distracted because they are constantly coughing,dripping mucus, scratching, complaining of toothaches, falling asleep, and the list goes on and on. These children need to first be healthier, then they can focus on learning. And they do want to learn. It is unrealistic to expect these kids to perform well in school.
When it is snack time, or lunch time they devour the food, and are very quiet. Basic needs are so important. In Allentown there are 7 school based health clinics. Some schools have clothing closets, food

Mrs. Dottie said...

"We worry about what a child will be tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today." - Stacia Tauscher -

I love this quote.

Mrs. Dottie said...

A Must read for the whole picture on education reform
by Chris Hedges

Mrs. Dottie said...

Allentown teachers are being told from administration that they are not allowed to voice any dissent about school district programs or they will face disciplinary action. Administrators are trying to stifle the teachers who are speaking out against programs that could be harmful to the children. This is a violation of free speech rights. Only the teachers who interact with students on a daily basis know how to meet the developmental needs of their students, and the administrators and school board should be listening when teachers oppose curriculum changes. Their voices should not be silenced. I will continue to speak out against the current plans to cut important programs for kids, and I will continue to speak out against teaching to the test and test driven curricula.