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Tag: poverty (Page 1 of 2)

Education? Chickens? What’s the Difference?

We all know Bill Gates is an expert on education issues. Almost everyone who isn’t actually working in a classroom says so.

It turns out he’s also an expert on ending poverty using chickens. Or something like that.

Bill Gates has been upsetting teachers for years. He’s spent a fortune to push education initiatives that he liked, even though educators thought they were, at best, a waste of money. Now he’s insulted a Bolivian government minister by doing the same thing. But this time, it’s over chickens. And the minister reacted publicly in a way teachers simply do not.

I wouldn’t say that teachers haven’t been reacting to Gates’ education initiatives. That push back is just hard to hear over the media trumpeting his every word on the subject.

So, what’s the problem the all-knowing Mr. Gates plans to solve with lots of money and chickens?

This time, the philanthropist has come up with a way he thinks will people who live in extreme poverty in poor countries around the world can improve their lives. How? By raising chickens. He wrote about it here in a piece “Why I Would Raise Chickens,”.

Bravo could have a huge hit with a reality show based on Bill Gates raising chickens. I’d watch. At least the first episode.

Anyway, not everyone believes the co-founder of Microsoft is an expert in poultry farming.

Bolivian Development Minister Caesar Cocarico rejected Gates’s offer of hens, saying: “How can he think we are living 500 years ago, in the middle of the jungle not knowing how to produce? Respectfully, he should stop talking about Bolivia.”

Reuters notes that Bolivia has a thriving poultry business.

Ok, I understand that Gates is trying to use his wealth to do some good in the world, and that many of the ideas he champions, both to fix education and poverty, probably come from advisors. The man is certainly to be complimented for wanting to spend his fortune to help people, and for that he is miles ahead of other rich folks who’s goals are generally limited to gathering even more money.

However, I agree with Diane Ravitch when it comes to the appropriate response to Gates, Zuckerberg, and other billionaire education experts.

Wouldn’t it be great if public schools and superintendents could respond like that to Bill Gates? Something like this: “We are professional educators and we know what we are doing. Please don’t offer money to try out your experiments on our children. Please take your advice and your money elsewhere.”

No Easy Fix

For those who claim that improving education and sending more kids to college will solve the country’s economic problems, Vox offers “Why more education won’t end poverty, in one chart”.

The chart is interesting enough, illustrating how “we have massively improved the educational credentials of people living below the poverty line” over the past 25 years while the overall poverty rate has increased.

The writer’s closing, however, better addresses the complex relationship between poverty and education.

People face various kinds of barriers – the macroeconomic situation, economic conditions in the town where they live, certain kinds of disability, family responsibilities, substance abuse problems, etc. – that make it hard for them to get a full-time job.

To reduce poverty, you either need to address those barriers or you need to just hand over some money. More schooling has certain kinds of real benefits to society, but it hasn’t moved the needle on poverty historically, and there’s no reason to think it will in the future.

Jefferson’s sentiment that “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” is certainly true.1 But it’s not the only “vital requisite” for American society.

It’s The Poverty, Stupid

If it’s true, this is one of the saddest stories I’ve read in a long while.

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program in the 2012-2013 school year.

The worst part of all this is that most of our “leaders”, like the writer of this article, view this situation as an educational problem, not a major deficiency of our larger society.

The Obama administration wants Congress to add $1 billion to the $14.4 billion it spends annually to help states educate poor students. It also wants Congress to fund preschool for low-income children. Collectively, the states and federal governments spend about $500 billion annually on primary and secondary schools, with about $79 million coming from Washington.

No! You don’t spend billions on helping to “educate poor students”. Poor test scores (which, of course, is what these people mean by “education”) are not the primary problem here, and only one symptom of the far larger issue.

Instead, you work to change the situations that cause so much poverty in what is supposed to be an “exceptional” country, according to all those super patriotic politicians.

We spend money on improving communities and rebuilding our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, especially public transportation. Provide funds to develop clean energy and other forward looking industries. And rewrite policies to support small and medium businesses, where the real job growth potential is, instead of providing welfare for giant corporations.

Unfortunately, we’ll spend at least the next two years arguing over trivial crap while largely ignoring the growing poverty and other elephants in the room.

Howl About These Numbers Instead

In the article that triggered the previous rant, both the writer and the subject, Bill Gates, make reference to the frequent howl of politicians and corporate types, that students in US schools have fallen far behind their counterparts in other countries. The line has been repeated so many times that it has become accepted as fact.

Except Alfie Kohn has some evidence-based arguments to use in response to those claims that are far more clichéd talking points than truth.

As always, his essay is very good, well worth saving for your next discussion with someone from the all-testing, all-the-time fan club.

However, this is probably the most important point Kohn makes about improving student achievement in the US, no matter how you define that term.

4. Rich American kids do fine; poor American kids don’t. It’s ridiculous to offer a summary statistic for all children at a given grade level in light of the enormous variation in scores within this country. To do so is roughly analogous to proposing an average pollution statistic for the United States that tells us the cleanliness of “American air.” Test scores are largely a function of socioeconomic status. Our wealthier students perform very well when compared to other countries; our poorer students do not. And we have a lot more poor children than do other industrialized nations.

More than 20% of American children are living in poverty, a rate that puts the US 34th out of 35 industrialized countries, the same ones frequently used in test score comparisons.

That ranking should be far more upsetting politicians and corporate types than the numbers generated from largely irrelevant multiple choice tests.

Making a Simple Connection

From the ever insightful This is Indexed, a simple illustration of why improving student learning cannot happen in many parts of this country.

Despite what the clueless creators of NCLB believe, schools cannot educate all kids without society also finding solutions to the major life problems, like poverty, they face outside of school.

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