…there is something that we can do for all of our children.

We continually hear about the “achievement gap” and the concern about how to close that “gap”. As Adie Simmons, Director of the Office of the Education Ombudsman aptly described it at a PTA conference, it is not an achievement gap as much as an “opportunity gap” that divides our children.

It is known by educators, parents and counselors as well as anyone who possesses common sense, that if a child is hungry, has not had enough sleep, is cold or in some other way distracted, that child is not able to focus and learn what is being presented to them.

I teach an enrichment class one morning a week at an elementary school in Seattle. When I greet those students and they look at me, I can see that they are eager and ready to learn. They have had their breakfast, they are dressed appropriately, and I can only describe them as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They are healthy, have had a good night’s sleep and no other cares in the world but having a good time in school. They soak up every idea, fact and concept that I send their way and they work in a focused manner for 1 ½ hours easily.

Unfortunately, it’s not like that for all children in our school system. Mr. Canada of the Harlem School Zone understands this and addresses the whole child which includes the child’s physical and mental health and any needs that the family might have in supporting that student.

The success of the Harlem School Zone has happened because millions of dollars are donated to that school every year. The focus is not on a teacher’s performance but on ensuring that every child is ready to learn.

Gates & Co. can spend their millions on tests and online learning but that will not have a positive impact on education if the child cannot focus on what is in front of them.

For too long now, the wealthy, including Gates, Broad, the Walton’s and all the wall street milkemaires have ignored their responsibility of paying their share of taxes, of returning some of what they have gained by living in this country, using our resources and taking advantage of tax incentives in making their own fortunes. Because of that, the educational system in this country has been weakened. Along with that, the systems that are in place to support families with the greatest need are faltering due to a lack of financial support. Those very systems that would help any child succeed in school are being chipped away even here in our state as we look at a recession/depression that we never thought we would see again in this country.

So instead of stepping up to the plate and paying the taxes that would provide a means of success for all children, these same people are exploiting this financially bankrupt system of public education by setting up charter schools with teachers who are not educated to teach, online testing and learning systems that cost school districts millions of dollars to implement and run year after year while at the same time demeaning the teaching profession as well as the broader vision of education through creative and critical thinking.

It’s ironic that Bill and Melinda Gates can be exhorted for helping the babies in Africa while ignoring the children who need help in the city where they live. And by assistance, I mean help that would really make a difference and is not based on some out-of-touch billionaire’s idea of helping. That would mean ensuring that instead of losing the school counselors that so many families have relied on based on determinations made by our Broad-trained superintendent, that we gain counselors instead. And instead of having students losing library time which for many means tutoring time and time online because of a lack of funding for our public libraries, that they have more time to spend in a quiet place where they are safe and warm and can do their homework.

If you go into the Douglas-Truth Library, a public library that is in the Central District where the majority of residents are African-American , any school day after the students have gotten out of school, you will see the library filled with students from elementary school through high school doing their homework, waiting in line to get online, receiving free tutoring assistance and helping each other with their work. There are not enough tables for all of the students so they sit on the floor with their friends and do their work. There are not enough computers so they patiently wait to use an outdated computer with a dilapidated keyboard, Mr. Gates. On the one hand, people wring their hands about the “achievement gap” and on the other hand don’t put up a fight or help in someway to keep the libraries open so that those same children that people are getting all upset over have the opportunity to work hard and succeed with the tools that they need.

Due to the economy, our state legislators are slashing programs that help keep children fed and healthy. The programs that are being hit the hardest are the social programs that help keep families and teens off of the streets, basic health programs and food assistance programs as well as child care programs that are available so that parents can work and provide for their families.

How do we expect any child to succeed if they are hungry, cold, sick or don’t have a home of some sort? All of the tests and test taking that a superintendent might demand will not do a thing for that child to make it. All of the merit pay that might get doled out and teacher evaluations done by non-educators will do nothing for that child.

This holiday season, you can do something for all of our children. You can contact your state representatives and demand that our children be taken care of. If our children do not succeed, we will not survive as a community or a nation.


Post Script:

See Suffer the Little Children in the New York Times,  America’s Shame-Children in Poverty in the Daily Kos and the City Mayor’s Report on homelessness that was released this month that stated a 9 percent overall increase in the number of homeless families in the U.S in the past year.

So where are you now Eli Broad and Bill Gates?

Update: In the Puget Sound Business Journal

Full Day Kindergarten Programs Targeted

Update: December 28, 2010

The Working Poor Families Project has just released their policy brief for the winter of 2010-11.

The new US Census Bureau data is that 30% of US families are now earning less than 200 percent of the official poverty threshold, and are thereby defined as “low-income.”

Some of the stats:

* Forty-five million people, including 22 million children, lived in low-income working families, an increase of 1.7 million people from 2008.

* Forty-three percent of working families with at least one minority parent were low-income, nearly twice the proportion of white working families (22 percent).

* Income inequality continued to grow with the richest 20 percent of working families taking home 47 percent of all income and earning 10 times that of low-income working families.

And finally from George Carlin by way of Puppetgov.