Poverty is the education 'problem'

Opinion: Columns

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Bonita Robinson

I am not surprised at Dan Haley's misinformed rationale that vilifies Chicago teachers in the strike [Putting teachers above kids, News, Sept. 19]. Nor am I surprised at John Hubbuch's questioning of the possibility of the black/white "achievement gap" ever being closed [Do we have the courage for this conversation? Viewpoints, Aug. 22].

Carter G. Woodson's The Mis-Education of the Negro warned of how a contrived public relations storyline, such as that touted by today's urban school "reformers," could intentionally mislead the masses to false conclusions about poor and minority citizens and discredit those with an authentic claim to truth.

The short reply — To Mr. Haley: You are wrong. To Mr. Hubbuch: Yes.

In order to know the truth about the decades-long sabotage and takeover of urban classrooms that serve poor and minority students, one would either have to have taught in those classrooms or been exposed to pertinent research such as that presented in The Flat World and Education, by noted Stanford educator and researcher, Linda Darling-Hammond. This book elucidates the truth about the mis-education of poor and minority children and exposes the slyly-crafted narrative of "failure" that urban "reformers" have gotten the public to buy into.

How do I know what is "truth" and what is "slyly-crafted narrative" regarding how we got to the current state of affairs? I was there. I taught on Chicago's West Side from 1972 to 2011. I was there during the time well-documented strides were being made in closing the "achievement gap" and in moving the college enrollment rates of black and Hispanic students closer than at any other point in history to that of white students, thanks to resources provided to schools by the government's Great Society programs, designed to address poverty and equity.

I was there when "reformers," coveting public money targeted for children of poverty and color, pushed for regressive policies that diverted those funds from "inputs" (resources) to "outcomes" (testing) and, as a result, transformed once-stimulating learning environments into virtual test-taking mills.

I was there when, as a result of such regression, the narrowing achievement and college enrollment "gaps" started to widen again. I was there when "reform" policies micro-managed the replacement of lessons in critical thinking with mindless "non-negotiable" protocols. I was there when many of the veterans, who had taught when those "gaps" were closing, were stripped of classroom resources and decision-making power and labeled as "bad" teachers, responsible for "failing" schools — schools that "reformers" handed over to their corporate partners to privatize with younger, less expensive and sometimes non-certificated teachers.

I was there when, by law, neighborhood schools had to accept students found to be "incompatible" with privatized schools; and, I was, most certainly, there, marching during the strike of 2012, to help expose the distorted narrative of "failure" that has been perpetuated for too long and to proclaim the devastating effects that this grand "reform" experiment has had on the majority of its poor and minority experimental subjects.

Chicago teachers know that American students are at the top in international achievement rankings when the test scores of children of poverty are not included in the statistics, indicating that American children of average to high socioeconomic status are doing quite well, and that the real culprit is poverty ... not "failing" students and not "failing" teachers.

Tragically, Chicago teachers know that if we do not address poverty, as we did when we narrowed the "gap," we will steadily lose ground in international rankings in education and in international standing in today's global society.

Bonita Robinson, a recently retired reading specialist, was awarded the Illinois Governor's Master Teacher Award while teaching at Austin's Duke Ellington School.

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KR from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2012 10:30 AM

Ms. Robinson, you are very much on point. And to everyone arguing that color isn't an issue... if you want this country on track, give equal amount of money to ALL schools, regardless of zip code. No child should miss out because their parents couldn't "afford a better opportunity." Honest concern about children's education is not limited to any money amount, color, creed, zip code or housing location. Either you care about all children's plights, or you truthfully don't care much at all.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 6th, 2012 11:03 AM

In the armed services where the black/white gap is much reduced and hundreds of thousands of children are in school, parents are "ordered" to be involved in their children's schools. You can't legislate parental involvement but you can make it easier like the family medical leave act that allows folks to take time off from work to help a relative. A similar law might help children.


Posted: October 6th, 2012 9:20 AM

I just want the best for the children or money. This illustrates most of my points nicely: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bx4pN-aiofw


Posted: October 6th, 2012 9:10 AM

Try something different because the status quo is expensive and not working. Having a government and union monopoly on free education does not foster innovation like competition would. I don't see why teachers are against it. The good teachers should be for it since they would benefit from a competitive environment.


Posted: October 6th, 2012 9:02 AM

Dylan, If I am wrong why are drop out rates so high? In my high school I started with 900 freshmen and only 300 or 400 graduated. The people from my neighborhood went all four years. I had one guy in art class say he was going to kill me. Tell how the poor value education so much then? We all had the same teaching resources and somehow they left.


Posted: October 6th, 2012 8:55 AM

People First, you never answered my question. Capitalism does not equal anarchy. I never said I support pollution, crony capitalism, and most of the other things with the exception of affordable healthcare which will never happen if government is involved. I am for personal responsibility versus the government taking my money and be responsible for me with the exception of protecting our nation and our property rights. In this way we allow the most freedom.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 11:38 PM

Lastly, since the poor don't care about education, are lazy, and undisciplined then why should we even try something different? What would be the point of something like school choice, private schools, or charter schools since poor people don't care about education anyways. Any difference would just be a waste according to you. Why propose ideas if its actually just the fact that its the poor people that are the problem?

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 11:30 PM

Oh Yeah! You're 4 freedom. Freedom to pollute our air, land and water. Freedom to control a woman's personal and private decisions. Freedom to deny equality. Freedom to wage war and invade any country we choose. Freedom to let banks do business without oversight. Freedom to let wealth influence policy decisions. Freedom to deny affordable health care for millions of Americans. Freedom to end medicare and social security. That's not freedom. It's condoning irresponsibilty and no accountability.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 11:30 PM

You bet? Your argument is based on a bet? Your experience? What experience is that? I am done with this conversation because now you are just inappropriate because your thought is that poor people don't are about education want to remain poor and uneducated. In terms of discipline, not even close. I have worked in poor neighborhoods, and worked in Oak Park. Different discipline issues all over, and all of it comes down to the lack of respect.

Dylan Bellisle  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 11:26 PM

Teachers must do Student-teaching, and observation. If we are allowing unqualified individuals to get their certificates and go into classrooms to teach, then that is the system's fault, not the teachers. So the FACT is that the overwhelming of teachers are well qualified to be in the classroom. Are there bad teachers? Yes, but this myth of all these terrible teachers needs to stop. Its a talking point that doesn't help address the issue of the poor education of many of our children.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 10:55 PM

I would bet that the poor performance of students in poverty areas has less to do with lack of funding and significantly more to do with the values of the communities they are in. Rich communities have better funded schools, but they also value discipline and education. My experience is that poorer communities have different values.

4Freedom from Oak Park  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 10:46 PM

Dylan, I don't know about you but I don't want my kids being taught by teachers who want to be good teachers. I want them to be taught by teachers who want to be good and who are good at teaching. The system now protects the good and the bad at the expense of the children and the tax payers. Secondly, our governments have continued to increase funding per child over the last few decades and the nation as a whole has performed no better.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 10:23 PM

Furthermore, if you are talking about accountability then Administrators need to share that responsibility as well. As well as the School Boards. The fact is that this country as a whole could careless about good education, because we dont fund it adequately compared to other nations in an equatable fashion... There is no escaping the fact that education funding is set up in a classist way...


Posted: October 5th, 2012 10:20 PM

"Otherwise, public schools have little incentive to perform well and be cost effective." Find me a teacher that doesn't care about teaching, and only cares about the $ There are very few. Is there teacher burn out? Of course, just like every job. But you allude to that teachers don't want to be good teachers is just dishonest because its not based on facts. No teacher wants to be a bad teacher.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 10:16 PM

4Freedom The fact is that the poorest performing schools are located in the poorest neighborhoods and have the least amount of money spent per pupil. Thats a fact. $ within the school in the the community has EVERYTHING to do with academic performance. Schools are not businesses. That model has never been proven, nor will it. Will I admit there can be some benefit from competition for funding? Yes, but that benefit is so small its negligible.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 10:13 PM

4 freedom "Instead of wasting time lobbying politicians, they work hard to be cost effective and ensure that their students perform. " You do realize that Private schools, and Charter Schools and other organizations that are against traditional Public schools lobby as well right? So you have no argument there. Changes in policy happen through lobbying. Politicians don't just decide one day to change things.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 10:07 PM

If you want to keep public schools, fine, but at least allow the money to follow your kids so that you can choose where they go private or public. Otherwise, public schools have little incentive to perform well and be cost effective. They will always ask for more money!


Posted: October 5th, 2012 10:03 PM

Dylan, I don't which private schools you are talking about. At mine the janitor was the gym coach and we had no sports fields. Most of my friends are blue collar bred but are now doctors, lawyers, etc. So, resources is not the complete answer. It's all about competition. When school compete for your dollars everyone wins. Instead of wasting time lobbying politicians, they work hard to be cost effective and ensure that their students perform. If they didn't you would send your kids elsewhere.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 9:54 PM

People First, my empty reason is reality. Please show me an example of socialism that worked or was not abused? No other form of government has lifted more people out of poverty than capitalistic economies. That is a fact. With both socialism and capitalism or any other form, people will abuse the systems. The difference is that one offers a lot more freedom. That's the one I choose and that doesn't make me a bad person. It makes me better because I choose who I help instead of some politician.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 9:28 PM

The lapdog is still yapping and begging for someone to listen. I don't have to rely on "leftist propaganda" but instead take the word of Vets.org when it comes to learning who is really acting to protect the voting rights of our military personnel and all Americans. Your so called "reliable sources" aren't worth the paper that's put on the floor to protect it from a puppy's mistakes.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 9:18 PM

Cruel and ignorant comment about the hard times being experienced by the working people and citizens receiving government assistance. You stick up for the corporate bosses and disparage the people who are working hard to care for themselves and their families. No maybes about it. The income disparity in today's workplace is real and poor people are not doing ok or enjoying the excesses of life. No doubt your false statements are the result of empty reasoning and character.

Dylan Bellisle  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 9:17 PM

4 Freedom - " If all schools where private, most of the issues here would be eliminated!" How does that make any sense? Whether a school is public or private doesn't make it a good school. What makes it a good school are good administrators, good teachers, adequate resources, expansive programs (art, music, etc.) Why do you think majority of private schools perform better? Because they have more money to have those things....Not to mention they can have entrance requirements..


Posted: October 5th, 2012 6:36 PM

People First, I am against crony capitalism. We can agree on that. All the reason to shrink government and eliminate the opportunities to do so. However, many CEO's are getting paid big because they manage 50,000 people or they are innovators in a global economy. Why not reward someone for creating jobs and leading people? The disparity may be big but most people seem to be doing OK with their 5 flat TV's, new cars, and stainless steel everything.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 5:25 PM

Can you read - military today - stationed anywhere around the world today- not vets. You need to check reliable sources for your info instead of leftist propaganda. That's why all of your comments are so out of it.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 4:55 PM

Worker wages are not the problem. The disparity between a CEO salary and the average employee is the greatest since the '20s. Stop blaming union members. They are on your side. Take aim at the unrestrained greed exhibited by the CEOs of multi-national corporations, Big Oil, corporate farms, the health insurance industry, private universities, Wall Street and financial bosses. Their greed is at the root of most of our problems. End their tax breaks, subsidies and lobbying influence. People first.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 4:34 PM

People First, I do care about our country very much so. And, because of that, I am not voting for either Obama or Romney. But I digress. Are you supposing that rules and big government makes people act any less greedy? Have you thought that many unions make their members uncompetitive in a global market by abusing thier powers? Why is it so bad that someone else in Tawain gets a job versus someone here and then the entire country benefits from lower prices?

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 4:16 PM

Denying vets' rights to vote? Do you ever post a comment that is not blatantly false and misleading? It's sin to tell to a lie. Let's check with a credible source like Vets.org. The Obama adminstration sued to block voting restrictions in Ohio that would have affected 900,000 Ohio vets. On the subject of offshore accounts, people who engage in that practice cheat our country and it doesn't matter what party they belong to. It's a dodge for the very wealthy and unAmerican. Stop being a stooge.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 3:59 PM

So you'll just ignore the fact that a vulture capitalist destroyed the lifes of hard-working Americans, ruined American companies and reduced American communities to shambles. Certainly not the business practices of George Romney. He understood and accepted the responsibilty his company had to it's workers, their hometown and our country. How easy and convenient for you and Mitt. Sure sounds like neither of one of you cares about our nation and it's people when there's a fast buck to be made.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 3:34 PM

The military, spilling their blood for us today, can't even get a ballot to vote thanks to the O administration. Guess if he's not going to get their votes why should Romney. Any one here have a problem with off shore accounts held by Diane Feinstein, Richard Blumenthal, Frank Lautenberg, John Kerry and I'm sure the list goes on.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 3:10 PM

People First, no one is entitled to a job unless of course you are under contract. If you don't like that start your own business and permantly hire people good or bad in good times and bad. It's not profit that I govern over people, it's freedom. Having a few companies do what you feel is unethical is the price I am willing to pay for freedom.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 3:02 PM

No truth that American consumers are responsible for outsourcing. That's just what the corporate criminals want you to believe and some hapless folks actually buy that bull. Fact is the disparity between worker salaries and executive compensation is the greatest since the 1920s. Corporate greed is responsible and why so much of our nation's wealth is now controlled by so few. People like Russ want to see the United States become an oligarchy while launching bogus claims about a welfare state.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 2:53 PM

Take an American history course. The worship of greed and measuring success by how many millions you can hide in offshore accounts is not an American ideal. Let's look at the Romney business model. Hostile takeover of an Amercian company. Load it with debt without risking his own money. Gut pensions. Ship jobs out of the country. Sell the assets. Drive the company bankrupt. And bill millions for consulting services. Works for him but not for America. Rick Perry called him a vulture. But not you.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 2:45 PM

And were you out there in the 60's marching with Mitt Romney in support of the draft and the Vietnam War? And like him did you also take off and hide in a castle in France when called to serve? Or claim the flat deferment like Dick Cheney? There's your irony. Not a shock that you would want to ignore the most vulnerable members of our society, like disabled vets, and tell them to fend for themselves but fully support corporate welfare. Profit over people must be a guiding principle in your life.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 2:39 PM

People First, you need to take a basic economics class. Companies outsource because consumers demand ever lower prices. Unless you are willing to pay inflated prices for manufactured goods, you can't complain about low skill jobs being shipped overseas. Companies are in business to make a profit. Period. However, as a consumer you have choices and can affect corporate behavior for either good or bad. That's how the free market works.

Amazed and Confused  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 1:31 PM

It's ironic that those who marched against "the man" in the 60's have grown up to be liberal lovers of the government. Free market and corporations be damned, trust the government to regulate, educate, feed, clothe and medicate you.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 1:21 PM

And exactly who's responsible for quality control? The corporate bosses who put profits over people. They outsource jobs to countries in order to pay lower wages and then ditch those places when the workers dare to demand a fair salary and better working conditions. And then it's on to the next poverty stricken nation where they exploit children and labor costs are a few cents a day. You dare to champion for those who's greed has no limit and still blame the workers and consumers.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 12:46 PM

I agree product quality is poor but it is because people buy crap so that what companies sell. So, if you want change don't buy products from these organizations. Organziations don't exist unless people buy their products. It's that simple. You have a choice. Consumers pressured Apple to increase working conditions in China and they did. They voted with their wallets. That's the beauty of it all.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 12:45 PM

At one time, education programs were designed to produce qualified workers who would fill openings in the workforce. Today, education programs are designed to achieve many objectives, few of which relate to employment. Education is an end in and of itself, not a means to an end. Until education is reconnected to workforce demands, and is geared to produce quality educated workers, we're basically throwing good money after bad.

People First  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 12:22 PM

The stock market is up and corporations are reporting record profits. Walgreens' posted the greatest dividend in company history and then fired thousands of employees. Board rooms are packed with insiders who dole out obscene contracts, bonuses and comp packages to the CEO and upper management while workers' wages have been stagnant for decades. Just so the fat cats can take their naps on piles of money. Product quality is a thing of the past for the corporations who see us a disposable society.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 9:18 AM

To circle back to the original article - The current education system isn't working. Unions are part of the problem, lack of parental involvement is also a problem. Charters are not a panacea. Blaming obtuse concepts like "poverty" or "society" doesn't solve anything. The truth is that education builds confidence and skills that produce good citizens that cure poverty. We need to find a way to educate the kids and I guess at least I'm willing to try something else in a controlled manner.


Posted: October 5th, 2012 12:27 AM

People First, most corporations and private organizations aren't bad. If they were, no body would buy their products. I happened to go to a private school for more than half of my education, and I had a great experience. Imagine if schools were privatized. Even teachers could create their own innovative schools and profit! The good schools and the good teachers would be rewarded and succeed because people would have the choice. Schools become more effective and the kids win in the end too.

People First  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 11:53 PM

Figure out the grand scheme, Teddy. Destroy public education in this country and allow multi-national corporation take over the task of teaching our children. Give these outfits access to our tax dollars and let them decide teacher qualifications, class size, modernization of facilities and testing standards. Look at how that's worked with the criminal justice system. They're incarcerating our citizens at record rates and making huge profits. Don't buy the hype about privatization. It's a scam.


Posted: October 4th, 2012 10:55 PM

@PF - You did make a couple of mistakes. The vast majority of charter schools are non-profit. Secondly, the performance numbers you are stating are off, perhaps you saw them in the Reader. Third, class sizes are generally smaller than CPS. I might add there are also union charter schools, not CTU, but union nonetheless.

People First  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 10:48 PM

Did I make a mistake? Are aware that no Chicago charter school ranks in the the top 40 of the city's elementary schools. That's based on the 2011 ISAT scores. As far as protecting the "bad teachers", there's no evidence that the union has engaged in efforts to keep them in the classroom. It's a myth being sold to parents and taxpayers by those who want end public education, create profit centers with our tax dollars, pay teachers less and increase class size.


Posted: October 4th, 2012 7:10 PM

People First, I never said you exaggerated the deceptive practices. Your exaggerations lie in the impact and idea that all non-public schools are deceptive. Anyway, you are obviously biased towards a failing concept so no one except for your poor-performing, power-abusing CPU cronies are going to listen anyhow.

People First  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 5:20 PM

No exaggerating on my part regarding the deceptive practices by these for-profit colleges. Bashing dedicated teachers and claiming they are greedy is ridiculous and it's pointless of me to try to explain why that is so wrong. You obviously have not taken the time to engage in any serious study or research on why schools are failing. Level the playing field and address the socio-economic issues that are contributing factors to the problem and positive results will follow. End of discussion.

Keeping Score  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 2:58 PM

https://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/02-22-2012/Ex-District_97_building_manager_to_serve_6-year_sentence $750,000 rip off right here in Oak Park. For profit school rip off $0.00.


Posted: October 4th, 2012 1:45 PM

So, if schools make a profit, does that mean my kids get paid for their labor?


Posted: October 4th, 2012 12:55 PM

People First, are these organizations any less greedy than organizations like the CPU? Plus, your comments are exaggerations. Dreams? At an unreputable school? Both sides are being greedy in my opinion. Anyway, those 3 schools are going to go out of business, and we will move on. When public schools screw up we tax payers have no other choice but to live with it.

People First  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 12:36 PM

Yes, let's be fair. The for-profit colleges have ripped off the taxpayers and students. This fraud has destroyed the dreams of many innocents, especially our returning veterans. Don't think for a minute that these same mutli-national corporations are not willing to ruin our children and future in order to satisfy their greedy interests. Destroy public education and there will be no way to rebuild it. Work for change from within and address the economic and social inequality that is the reality.


Posted: October 4th, 2012 11:44 AM

Teddy, plan B is privatize schools and take away these lofty measurement and goals that everyone needs to go to college. The US is short on skilled workers. Let's focus on providing affordable education that focuses on skills. I work in a lot of factories. A lot of current management started out on the floors. But, by today's standard starting on the floor isn't acceptable. Why?


Posted: October 4th, 2012 11:36 AM

People First, agree with your point concerning parent involvement, but your point about for-profit makes it seem as if they are the only ones guilty of deception which is just not the case. Non-profits are fraught with the same problems and more. Look at my alma matter, U of I: tons of scandals there and that's just what we know about. Let's be fair.


Posted: October 4th, 2012 11:32 AM

@PF - Yes, and peace will end all wars. You can't legislate parental involvement; what's your Plan B?

People First  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 11:09 AM

Schools as profit centers for private corporations has resulted in massive fraud. One only needs to examine the ongoing criminal investigations into the deceptive practices of the for-profit colleges to recognize that privatization is not the solution. Better to heed the advice offered by Bill Cosby. Get involved!Children will love to learn when provided with encouragement and support. This starts with the family and must be nurtured in a safe and secure environment. Build on that foundation.

Dan Hefner from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 8:47 AM

The primary reason for a student's success or lack of success is parental involvement. The drop out rate for Chicago Public High Schools is a disgrace. Where are the parents of the dropouts? The lack of responsibilty by these absent mothers and fathers is appalling. Those children that are successful in school will have to "pay the freight" for the non performers. I agree, poverty is a factor however it is the the main reason for lack of success in the classroom.


Posted: October 4th, 2012 6:47 AM

The union backed, Democratic machine Mayor Daley was too busy building boulevard planters, Millennium Park and ripping up airport runways to worry about the poverty or education problem. We continue to re-elect Madigan, Durbin, Davis, Stroger x2, Jackson Jr., etc. then blame someone else for our problems. Look in the mirror and you may not like what you see.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 10:50 PM

Thank you, Ms Robinson. You have eloquently and accurately described what happens when Democrats and liberals run things.


Posted: October 3rd, 2012 9:58 PM

So we solve poverty and the schools will be great, right? Actually education solves poverty so let's work together to find something that works. CPS under CTU rule ISN'T working, that we know for sure. I'm willing to give almost anything a try, home school, virtual schools, charters, vouchers, etc.

4 Freedom from Oak Park  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 9:34 PM

Below should read "the management of schools and their classrooms". Sorry.

4 Freedom from Oak Park  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 9:33 PM

Is privatization really the source of the problem here? Or, is it that government has too much control in management schools and their classroom? If all schools where private, most of the issues here would be eliminated! How is that "frightening"?


Posted: October 3rd, 2012 4:33 PM

Well said. Thank you for your hard work in teaching our children, and your dedication. The privatization of our schools is frightening, and what is most egregious, in my opinion, is that it is done through the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable in our communities. There is a total disregard to the truth behind why many private and charter schools sometimes perform better that do not allow to an equal comparison to neighborhood schools.

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