I join others debunking the myth that schools alone can cure poverty


by David Safier

My Tucson Weekly column takes apart the misleading conservative slogan, "Education is the civil rights issue of our generation." The phrase sounds all progressive in a Brown v. Board of Education kind of way, but its purpose is to distract us from other pressing civil rights and economic rights issues. If education is the — THE — civil rights issue of our generation, that means all the other issues been solved, and that means we can cut social programs and services, and we can forget about income inequality. Just fix our failing schools, and everything else will take care of itself.

Here's what's interesting and telling about people who want us to believe education is the civil rights issue of our generation. They don't much care about civil rights. According to them, we've already realized Martin Luther King's dream, and it's time to replace "We shall overcome" with "We have overcome, so let's move on, shall we?"

Except for education, which is the one place they say the civil rights struggle continues. Why this one exception? Because blaming education for all of society's ills has so many benefits for conservatives.

The political right would love to take all our social and economic problems, wrap them up in a neat little bundle and dump them inside the schoolhouse door. No need to address problems like bias toward minorities. No need for remedies to the widening income gap and worsening economic stratification, which hit minorities so hard. Blame it all on the schools for not teaching those kids how to fit into society or giving them the skills they need to qualify for high-paying jobs. Fix the schools, and the problems will go away.

I'm feeling a bit hopeful that people are beginning to realize that education isn't the best way to get people out of poverty. Instead, poverty is the major reason too many children in this country are ill equipped to focus on their educations.

USA Today — yes, that USA Today — had a column a few weeks ago, A poverty, not education, crisis in U.S.

As researchers Michael Rebell and Jessica Wolff of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, have noted, there is no general education crisis in the United States. There is a child poverty crisis that is impacting education.

Here's what Rebell and Wolff wrote in an Education Week article.

America does not have a general education crisis; we have a poverty crisis. Results of an international student assessment indicate that U.S. schools with fewer than 25 percent of their students living in poverty rank first in the world among advanced industrial countries. But when you add in the scores of students from schools with high poverty rates, the United States sinks to the middle of the pack. At nearly 22 percent and rising, the child-poverty rate in the United States is the highest among wealthy nations in the world.

The Seattle Education blog has a post, Poverty doesn’t matter! Really?

It seems that the only people who say poverty doesn’t matter when it comes to a child being ready and able to learn are people who have money, want to keep their money and have no idea what poverty really looks or feels like.


If a child is hungry, sick, worried about where they might sleep the next night or don’t have a quiet and safe place to read or do their homework, they are not able to focus and they are not ready to learn.

It’s that simple.

The conservative education reform/corporatization/privatization movement has gazillions of dollars to push out its message, and it's been wildly successful for the past decade. But progressive educators are fighting back, and the media and others concerned about education are starting to take note. About time.


  1. Its just mathematics and you need to to the calculations before making these assertions. The science of measuring education is psychometrics. So many scale score points per year in an excellent classroom multiplied by 13 years equals the probability of graduating from college of 50 percent, not the 9% experienced by poor students who attend, on average, less than even average classrooms.

    We live in a society that has adopted forms that deliver excellence at every gas station, yet mediocrity at the typical school attended by children of color.

    Your implicit assumption that all schools deliver equal academic gains is simply false.

    Your implicit assumption assumption that the average teacher can not be trained, supported and motivated to deliver excellence every day is simply false. What we know is that the current system isn’t delivering.

Comments are closed.