Can Children From Low-Income Families Get A Quality Education?

The short answer to the question posed in the headline is – possibly, but not always. According to Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post education reporter, it’s a matter of geography. She wrote that a study by the Southern Education Foundation had shown that a majority of students in public schools throughout the American South and West came from low-income families for the first time in at least four decades.

These children dominated classrooms in 13 states in the South and the four Western states with the largest populations in 2011. In 2001, only four states reported poor children as a majority of the student population in their public schools.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a direct correlation between income levels and educational achievement. Michael A. Rebell is the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University. He said this is the explanation for the United States lagging behind in comparison with other countries in international tests.

“When you break down the various test scores, you find the high-income kids, high-achievers are holding their own and more,” Rebell said. “It’s when you start getting down to schools with a majority of low-income kids that you get astoundingly low scores. Our real problem regarding educational outcomes is not the U.S. overall, it’s the growing low-income population.”

Educationalists and politicians have made various efforts to tackle the problem and improve the levels of public education. The Bush administration launched the program called “No Child Left Behind,” which was followed by President Obama’s “Race to the Top.”

However, the federal government contribution to public school funding is only around 10 percent. The balance comes from state and local resources. Local governments draw on property taxes to provide their share of school funding; obviously, poor districts with a limited tax base don’t raise as much money as more affluent communities. The result is that children in poor communities attend schools with fewer resources, substandard facilities and less-qualified teachers.

Ben Navarro is the CEO Of Sherman Financial, which is a major sponsor of the Meeting Street Academy initiative. He recognized that many children from low-income families do not have equal access to educational opportunities and setup a foundation to establish a number of academies to cater to their needs.

The first academy for three and four-year-olds was set up in Charleston, S.C., in 2008 with a very simple mission; to establish and maintain a rich and dynamic learning environment for children whose families cared deeply about the education of their children, but simply could not afford traditional private schools.

Economics professor Nancy Folbre of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, wrote in The New York Times about economic aspects affecting education in the U.S. and mentioned a number of initiatives that were taken in other parts of the country.

For example, in 2004, the Boston Public Schools began a concerted effort to expand and enhance preschool education for four-year-old children, applying additional resources, improved curriculum and new forms of accountability for teachers and schools. Harvard researchers found the effects were especially positive for children from low-income families

The University of Chicago Charter School network successfully improved the quality of instruction in its elementary schools by not applying bureaucratic rules that made it difficult to recruit and retain talented teachers.

In New York City, smaller “schools of choice” that students can opt into were developed. This allowed students some voice in their enrollment decisions, boosted the commitment of the teaching staff and increased the graduation rates of low-income students by seven percent.

Back in South Carolina, a second branch of Meeting Street Academy opened in Spartanburg in 2012, and the latest addition, the Meeting Street Elementary at Brentwood, has a scheduled opening date of August this year.

The foundation established by Ben Navarro to bring educational opportunities to under-resourced families has obviously succeeded in its objective, albeit in a limited geographic area. As far as Navarro is concerned, this is just the beginning. He explains, “The issue of education is crucial to determining our future as a country,” so the commitment to bring quality education to children in areas with less than exemplary public schools will undoubtedly continue.

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