The Equality Gap: What can be done?
As a college student who goes to school in Chester, PA (Widener University), I have seen poverty and the effects it has on people. Poverty consumes lives in every way imaginable, from living situation to clothing and even diet. As a result of living in an area stricken by poverty for over a year I began to wonder, why. Why this area, similar to countless other areas in this country are subject to endless poverty and crime. Now, that is a can of worms I discovered I was not willing to explore after brief investigation. However, this brief research sparked my fascination with how a society functions when it is stricken with poverty. More specifically the effects poverty has on the education received by those born into it, the kids.
Poverty is known to influence a child’s readiness for school; school readiness reflects a child’s ability to succeed both academically and socially in a school environment requires physical well-being and appropriate motor development, emotional health and a positive approach to new experiences, age-appropriate social knowledge and competence, age-appropriate language skills, and age-appropriate general knowledge and cognitive skills. (Kagan). If a child does not gain these skills prior to starting grade school, they have already fallen behind from the start. That’s what poverty does to children, they start out school behind and struggle to ever catch up. Some children living in poverty are lucky enough to live within a school district with good funding, organization and well payed teachers, these students at least get a greater chance to succeed within the school through special programs designed to help that student along. What about a poor child that goes to a school district that is struggling with funding and under pays its teachers? The sad truth is, in these type of school districts (i.e. Chester High School) there is a much larger amount of children living under the poverty line. This large amount of poor children is not met with extra services like a school district (Strath Haven, well funded in wealthier area than Chester) would provide.
The difference between the Strath Haven School District and the Chester School District is a perfect example of the equality gap that exists in America, and is seemingly more severe here in PA than anywhere else in the country. How can one school that is within 10 miles of another school have such a difference in dropout rate and the amount of students that go onto College?
Fixing the equality gap is not simple, but there are people trying to find answers to this problem. Some focus on funding formulas that more adequately provide in areas where the tax base is depressed. Others focus on creating voucher systems that enable children to sent to wealthier school districts so they have access. A few even suggesting that wealthier areas pick up a larger portion of the costs of education enabling more state and federal funds to go to lower tax-base areas. But in all of these cases, ensuring a quality education should be the top priority.
We can all agree, the children aren’t the issue – they were never given a choice to live in a poorer school district. And the idea that teachers are overcompensated and that their compensation is what’s bleeding poorer districts is a misinformed narrative that needs to be revised. There are definitely issues with mismanagement of funds in urban school districts; overpaid administrators with ridiculous compensation packages, overstaffed administrative offices, a general lack of accountability for fiscal management, and the unaccounted for norms in costs for operation plague urban school districts at a much larger scale than their smaller suburban and rural counterparts. What widens the equity gap between urban and suburban school districts clearly is the management of money for the districts at the state level. Long range oversight always happens after the fact, which contributes to the problem. Once they end up in a hole, urban school districts find it tougher to dig out; even after raising local taxes. This dynamic widens the equality gap from the wealthy to those living in poverty. Generational poverty happens this way.
Consider this example, a mother went to the same school as her children and also grew up in poverty, never went to college and the school is just as underfunded then as it is now. What do you expect happens to that mother’s children? A similar result happens because nothing has changed within the school district. None of the children will go to college because they started school under developed due to living in poverty and did not receive proper help because they attend an underfunded school. What if this school received better funding, and those same children received proper help and guidance? This could be the difference from those children living in poverty for their whole life and receiving a college degree, breaking the chain of generational poverty. Going to college opens up new doors an opportunities for a young person that they cannot experience anywhere else, forever changing that persons life by meeting other educated people and creating a social circle of people that are not living in poverty and are successful well educated people. This can be possible for anybody, and it can be achieved much more commonly if an underfunded school district receives proper help and funding to help straighten the ship of a family that has generationally been living in poverty.
Undoubtedly reducing poverty is extremely complex and difficult matter. However, helping impoverished kids become successful in school is something that should garner more attention. Providing extra care for those children at school, providing a nutritious meal, clothing even a shower and a tooth brush. The less a child has to worry about necessities, the more room there is for a child to learn and grow. A healthier, cleaner and happier child can create an eagerness to learn within them. It does not stop there however, extra funding for inner city schools to provide better wages, better facilities and a better learning environment must be put into place. This equality gap can be erased with just one generation of well-educated kids, however it starts with a generation that Join the conversation below with thoughts and ideas for helping students in poverty.
Kagan SL. Readiness past, present and future: Shaping the agenda. Young Child. 1992;48:48–53