By Peter Franzen, Director of Development
I once believed that if we eradicated poverty, we would solve the education crisis and achievement gap in the United States. That was 20 years ago when I arrived in St. Louis a bright-eyed college graduate ready to change the world.
I’m still working to change the world, but my perspective on that has changed. However my change of perspective does not require that I renounce all the good work I have done to impact the lives of young people in challenged communities, it is because of that work that my perspective has changed.
In keeping up on education reform across the country I receive daily Google Alerts of news stories. One that showed up in my inbox this week was an op/ed from my home state of Oregon. It mirrored my former thoughts completely. In it the author asks the reader to pose five “whys” that he outlines in his piece. The ultimate conclusion to his questions is why don’t we just put the effort into eliminating poverty because then we will fix education.
I beg to differ.
As my coworker, CEAM State Policy Director Kate Casas, always says, “you don’t have to eliminate poverty to educate children, you have to educate children to eliminate poverty.” She is right.
First of all, one of those choices is practical while the other is completely unwieldy. Education happens in a building where there are all sorts of ways to impact what goes on and how solutions are implemented. On the other hand, poverty is a societal issue with a million different entrances and exits and causes and remedies. I am not saying that eliminating poverty wouldn’t be a good thing, I am simply saying that we have far more potential control over what happens in our schools and far more opportunities to create change.
Evidence tells us that those of us who graduate from high school earn more money in our lifetimes. Beyond that, those of us who attend college and graduate school fare even better. So what we have to do is support existing effective schools and encourage the reform of underperforming schools. Luckily, there are many examples of high poverty schools graduating high levels of minority and poor students for us to follow and replicate.
If you’re giving me a choice between eradicating poverty in the United States or educating children, I will take on the manageable challenge of educating children every time. In no small part because those educated young people are our best hope for eradicating poverty.