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Schools Should Prioritize Desegregation, Consistent Policy and Better Social Services
Despite some improvements over the last decade, recent Census data shows that high percentages of American children are still living in communities with high concentrations of poverty. What sort of impact do these economic conditions have on the classroom? And what could be some potential solutions to close the education gap between those with lots of resources and those that are lacking?
George Theoharis is a Professor of Educational Leadership and Inclusive Elementary/Early Childhood Education at Syracuse University. He has extensive experience as a principal and teacher. His research specialties include equity, social justice, diversity, inclusion, urban education, and school reform. Professor Theoharis wrote the Washington Post op-ed, “‘Forced busing’ didn‘t fail. Desegregation is the best way to improve our schools”, focused on closing the education gap between poor and affluent school districts, even when student spending numbers are comparable.
“It is widely known that living in poverty is hard, and we have systemic barriers that maintain (not alleviate) the struggles of poor families impacting millions of kids. The hyper segregation of poor families, like we see in Syracuse, is part of these systemic problems. All kinds of barriers to moving out of poverty are present here – lack of access to healthcare and childcare, lack of living wages and meaningful employment, segregated housing for poor families, etc.
“We know lifting families out of poverty requires a much broader approach than schools can fix. It requires systemic safety nets that include healthcare, childcare, child tax credits (which we saw make a real impact on poverty during the pandemic), economic development of living wage jobs, etc. This requires policy solutions beyond schools and education.
“We know our policy solutions that built and maintain the accountability systems placed on schools over the past 20 to 40 years of testing, monitoring and sanctioning low performing schools have resulted in schools with higher concentrations of poor students being forced into constant disruption…constantly forced to change principals and curriculum and teachers. They have been forced into a revolving door of new mandates and new program after new program after new program. This has created a churn that does not lead to robust and better schooling for poor kids. Despite dedicated leaders and teachers, this churn, at best, has led to treading water – where teachers, kids and leaders struggle to keep their heads up. This struggle makes school much harder on the kids and much harder and more taxing on the teacher and leaders.
“We know high concentrations of poverty make education and learning much harder. One policy solution that has shown success is to intentionally desegregate schools to avoid hyper concentrations of poverty. In many areas of the Northeast and Midwest – and specifically Syracuse – this requires a county or regional solution to alleviate the intense and dire concentrations of poverty.”
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