When will we ever learn?
Technology can do a great many things. But the secret to better schools isn’t embedded in a smartphone app or buried in the code of some startup company.
Not to belittle the important work of education researchers across the country, but we could literally teach kindergarteners the single most important lesson there is about education reform: End child poverty.
And yes, it’s really that simple. No matter what measure of achievement you choose, reducing the incidence of poverty among children and their families is the best way to get more of what we want and less of what we don’t.
Want higher test scores? Higher graduation rates? More kids reading by third grade? Fewer dropouts? Reducing poverty checks every box and then some.
Somehow, that tends to get lost or forgotten in the halls of the Capitol and on the opinion pages of newspapers like The Sacramento Bee (“Legislative panel ignores parents and students”; Viewpoints, Dec. 18)
In some respects, it’s understandable. Poverty is a thorny, long-term problem that would take time and money to solve. We all like simple, low-cost solutions – preferably ones that lend themselves to poll-tested sound bites.
On that front, Silicon Valley millionaires have been more than willing to deliver. For years, wealthy tech executives have repackaged the work of corporate bill mills into polemics, draft legislation and lately, lawsuits. Their proposals, rooted in the discredited notion that improving schools comes from diminishing the rights of classroom teachers, are eerily silent about the effects of poverty on children and schools.
Perhaps that’s no coincidence. After all, some of California’s leading technology companies use offshore tax havens and accounting maneuvers to keep billions of dollars in profits outside the country – and beyond the reach of state and federal tax collectors.
After all, so long as the conversation about education revolves around smoke-screen issues like denying teachers a fair hearing when their jobs are on the line, the untaxed riches of global technology companies don’t even merit mentioning.
If instead the discussion ever turns to the effects of poverty on our schools and our children, that wealth could become the very obvious elephant in the room.
Until then, looking to Silicon Valley millionaires for advice about improving schools is like asking Bonnie and Clyde for helpful hints on improving bank security. And finding a parent or two to serve up their anti-teacher claptrap doesn’t make their agenda any better for California or its schools.
Paul Hefner is an education and communications consultant based in Sacramento.