Helping Poor Kids Get Grit. Part 4: Kids in Crisis.

Helping Poor Kids Get Grit. Part 4: Kids in Crisis.
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[This is the fourth in a series of five blogs that we will post on grit and what it means for poor kids.]

In the first blog, we introduced the concept of grit and its importance. In the second, we placed the focus on building grit through quality early childhood education and beyond. In the third, we addressed the three essential grid-builders: communities, neighborhood schools, and families.

We closed our last blog by stating that, "... the need for an innovative and comprehensive governmental intervention is more critical than ever - and, much more necessary, in our opinion, than most of the issues that have been discussed in the presidential political debates to date."

We said that because we have not saved the best for last when it comes to discussing the conditions confronting poor kids in the United States of America today. In fact, we have saved the worst.

Truth be told. And, it is time for truth-telling.

For some time now and especially over the past decade, the United States has been on a forced march to creating a permanent underclass. If we do not reverse that course, by concentrating first on our poor kids, and then their parents, their schools, and the neighborhoods and communities in which they live, this country and they will forever pay the price.

That might seem like an exaggeration. Let's look at the facts and then judge.

A special supplement of Academic Pediatrics on childhood poverty began by stating "Childhood poverty has become a persistent problem in the United States, with approximately 1 in 5 children living below the official federal poverty level and almost 1 in 2 who are poor or near poor."

It went on to observe that, "The negative consequences of poverty on child health and well being are often lifelong, leading to worse health, lower developmental and educational outcomes, increased criminal behavior as adolescents, and ultimately intergenerational cycles of poverty."

Tragically, the circumstances for poor kids in the educational arena for poor kids are deteriorating. In 2016, U.S. schools are resegregating rather than desegregating. That is the sad and sorry conclusion that much be reached based upon new data released recently by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Writing for the Washington Post, Emma Brown summarizes some of the key findings from the GAO data.

They include the following: The number of high-poverty schools serving primarily black and brown students more than doubled between 2001 and 2014. During the same time period, the proportion of schools segregated by race and class climbed from 9 percent to 16 percent. The minority students in segregated schools also don't have access to a full range of math and science classes and these schools are more likely to use expulsion and suspension as disciplinary tools than their less segregated counterparts.

In her article, Ms. Brown reported that the Secretary of the Department of Education, John King has spoken out on the "systematic lack of investment in high needs communities and high-needs kids" and also stated "The lack of concern for poor people is deeply disturbing."

According to Ms. Brown, Secretary King "said that the new GAO Report shows the need for a new regulation that would change the way schools prove they are providing adequate resources for needy students."

We looked at the dramatic impact of this school segregation on academic performance and the economic sorting out of students in metropolitan areas nationally in the first blog in this series. In this blog, for purposes of illustration, let's drill down and look at just one city - Chicago.

Based upon an analysis of the 2010 Census data, Janet Smith, an associate professor of urban planning at the Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that " of the 200,000 people the city lost in the prior decade, about 130,000 were under the age of 18." Smith commented that "the vast majority of what Chicago lost is families." This occurred as the more affluent families moved out of Chicago to provide access to better schools for their children increasing the racial and economic segregation for those poor kids remaining in the city.

What does this mean for those poor kids who have been left behind? On the same day that the GAO national data was released, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Forrest Claypool, because of the city's financial woes and the current budget impasse between the state and city, told some principals to expect budget cuts for the next school year of between 20 per cent and 30 percent, with the city's potential contribution going down by nearly 40 percent. CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said that, "The base per-pupil rate will drop from $4,088 to $2,495 if the proposed budget becomes final."

This reduction will inevitably mean teacher lay-offs, larger class sizes, and reduced enrichment activities for kids "trapped" in already desperate circumstances. They come on top of Chicago's closing of nearly 50 neighborhood schools in 2014.

Chicago's expenditure per students already pales in comparison to the expenditures in more affluent Illinois school districts such as Winnetka, Hinsdale and Barrington. Chicago students are not alone in being part of the financing gulf between rich and poor schools.

Writing in the New York Times, Kevin Carey reports that Georgetown University scholar, Marguerite Roza found that "many districts spend up to a third less per pupil in poor schools compared to others" and that nationwide "districts with high levels of poverty receive $1,200 less per pupil from state and local sources than districts with low levels of poverty. " Along with other factors, this gulf can have life time of consequences for kids.

In 2012, the Brookings Institution released a significant study titled Pathways to Middle Class: Balancing Personal and Public Responsibilities. The study showed that children born into middle-income families have a "roughly even chance of moving up or down once they become adults." In stark contrast, "those born into rich or poor families have a high probability of remaining rich or poor as adults."

This no doubt is quite a good thing for the rich kids. It is an extremely bad thing for the poor kids. Through no fault of their own, they have been sentenced to life without parole.

Equality of opportunity is not on their radar screen. And, that screen is very small and in many instances not even plugged in. The poor kids enter the educational process with an economic disadvantage and the current funding and educational system for them exacerbates this disadvantage.

[In the final blog of this series, we'll discuss what can be done to correct this situation.]

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