Helping Poor Kids Get Grit. Part 5: Time to Keep the American Promise

[This is the final blog in a series of five that we have posted 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. In the fourth, we examined the crisis conditions confronting poor kids today.

We closed that blog by declaring, "The poor kids enter the educational process with an economic disadvantage and the current funding and educational system for them exacerbates this disadvantage."

What is needed desperately at this point in time is a funding approach that eliminates that disadvantage. Nobody understands what a difference this can make better than John King, Jr. the Secretary of the U.S Department of Education (DOE).

According to Kevin Carey in a New York Times article, "Mr. King, the child of educators and an orphan by the time he was 12, credits his teacher in New York City public schools for helping him stay on track and achieve success." In other words, they engaged in "wise teaching" and helped King develop grit.

Mr. King is using his grit to try to reform the formula for funding education. Under his leadership, the DOE has proposed a new regulation that would require local school districts to give schools that have a high percentage of poor kids at least as much state and local money as other schools in the state.

It might appear that unqualified support for a provision of this support should be almost a no-brainer. But, that is absolutely not the case.

Shortly after the new regulation was introduced in April an "unlikely alliance" of teachers unions, superintendents, principals, and governors (primarily Republican) sent a letter to DOE decrying it. In response, civil rights organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Council of La Raza sent a letter supporting it.

The die has been cast. And, it has been cast at poor kids by those who would deny them a level playing field. The stated rationale for this is that there is a provision in the new Elementary and Secondary Education Action that teacher pay should not be taken into account when comparing school district spending.

There is. And, while that might make it legally correct. It does not make it morally right.

What it says about America, at this point in the 21st century, is that the interests of those in power come first and the interests of poor kids come last. Not so long ago, the United States was a nation that defined itself by its concern, compassion and courage in working to address the needs of socio-economically disadvantaged children. In 2016, in this situation, some would have the nation define itself through selfishness, callousness and indifference.

We believe the country and its citizens are better than that and the appropriate solution is to do all we can to help these poor kids in crisis by embracing DOE's regulation. In our opinion, that should only be the starting point, however.

As discussed in the third blog in this series, poor kids sit at the center of a triangle with neighborhood schools, communities and families at the tips as pivot point areas. It is essential to impact each of those pivot points.

Fortunately, as we noted in a February blog, the "right leaning" American Enterprise Institute(AEI) and the "left leaning" Brookings Institution (Brookings) have produced a report titled, Opportunity, Responsibility, and Security: A Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty and Restoring the American Dream (Consensus Plan) that provides a wealth of recommendations for having an impact in each of these areas.

The Consensus Plan provides recommendations in "three domains of life that interlock so tightly that they must be studied and improved together: family, work and education."

  • Recommendations in the family domain include: promoting parenthood, marriage and 2 parent families; delayed responsible childbearing (including support for contraception); and, increased parenting education.
  • Recommendations in the work domain include: improving skills to get well paying jobs; making work pay more for the less educated ( including raising the minimum wage but not to the $10.10/hr proposed by President Obama); and, raising work levels of the less well educated (including requiring those who are capable and receiving benefits to seek employment).
  • Recommendation in the educational domain include: increased public investment in underfunded stages of education (including pre-school); educating the whole child (including socio-emotional and character building); and, modernizing the organization and accountability of education (including supporting charter schools and focusing more attention on the performance of community colleges).

These recommendations provide the stuff for families, schools and communities to build their own grit so they can perform better in their roles as grit builders to help poor kids get grit. It is time to act on them.

Given the nature of the discourse and dialogue in this fractious presidential election year, as realists we do not expect anything to happen in 2016. But, there is next year and the poverty problem which has persisted for so long will still be with us and those poor kids in crisis will still be in that state.

Near the conclusion of a blog on poverty that we wrote in 2014 -- the 50th anniversary year of the initiation of the War on Poverty, we observed, "We need to find new and better ways to fight the War on Poverty that transcend political and ideological boundaries."

The AEI/Brookings Consensus Plan provides a bold new framework for collaboration. It can be used as a touchstone by those political leaders who have "true grit" to set their ideological blinders aside and to use their collective passion and perseverance to shape and implement a comprehensive agenda that will help poor kids.

Those kids need and deserve it. Our nation needs it. As Tug McGraw says in his popular country song, we need kids -- regardless of their socio-economic status -- who grow up to "always stay humble and kind."

And, most importantly for the poor kids, as noted early-childhood psychologist and "pre-kindergarten apostle", Bettye Caldwell who died in at 91 in April of this year, told The Post Standard in Syracuse in 2013:

They need to be loved. They need to be spoken to all the time. They need opportunities to explore. They need to be safe and to feel safe. They need stable figures in their lives. They need new experiences. They need to repeat experiences they enjoy.

It's time to give those poor kids in crisis what they need. It's time to help them get grit.

It's time to keep the American promise. It's time to renew the American dream. It's time to make America, America again.