Educating Low-Income Children

Ask any teacher which student, all other things being as equal as possible, does better in school: the child from a middle-class family or the one whose parents are poor.

Educators see it every day. Children from low-income backgrounds face enormous obstacles to success in school and as a result, later in life.

“Analysis of Ohio’s School Report Cards confirms connection between poverty and academic performance,” reads a headline in the current edition of “Ohio Schools,” which is published by the Ohio Education Association. The article notes that “poverty and academic performance are closely connected — and that real solutions related to funding and services are needed to address the problem.”

Well, something certainly is needed.

We read and hear of concern about any number of education gaps. There’s the gap between white and black students. There’s one between kids in rich school districts and those in less affluent areas. It goes on and on and on.

But there’s a common denominator. Black children’s families often are less financially secure than those of white classmates. By definition, kids in wealthier school districts have more affluent parents.

Look deeper, though. If, somehow, a poor child manages to make it into a well-off school district, chances are he’ll lag behind classmates. A poor white child faces many of the same challenges as his black friends from low-income households.

If — and this is a big “if” — we manage to get past political correctness, we may have a shot at helping.

Part of it is money. A child in a one-parent household dependent on food stamps is more likely to get clothes than books for Christmas. A computer? Dream on.

Time to do homework? Right after you’ve helped mom, dog-tired from working two jobs, prepare dinner and clean the house.

Help with the homework? You have to be kidding — for several reasons.

To close the gap between children from poor families and their peers, the very first thing that needs done is to enlist their parents as educators — and assist them with both the knowledge and material tools they need to help their sons and daughters.

What should be the easy part is the money concern. Remember when reduced-price and free school lunches were provided to low-income kids? Now, in many schools, all students get them so the lower socio-economic kids don’t feel stigmatized. The same thing is true of free textbooks. In a few school systems, every student gets a laptop computer.

Every child whose family income is below a certain level ought to get a free laptop, money to pay for internet access, and anything else we can think of to help them close the gap between them and kids whose parents can afford all these things.

Where parents can’t help with homework, for whatever reason, we ought to be paying for some sort of substitute.

Unaffordable? If we keep insisting that every child gets the same amount of assistance, yes. But what if we actually started using our heads and recognizing that education is important enough to discriminate between children, based on their families’ resources?

Go ahead. Tell me I’m evil for suggesting we treat some children differently.

But in a way, that’s what we’re doing now.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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