The place where this is most apparent is in reading. The latest research suggests that the MAJORITY of our nation's children have not reached reading proficiency by the end of third grade. About 66% of kids across the country, and up to 80% in urban settings, cannot read as well as needed to learn as they progress through school. To understand this as anything less than an absolute crisis is unfathomable, and certainly not the fault of parents. Yet, most people will tell you that their own child's school is just fine and that poverty is to blame for those other kids. What is most disturbing about this issue is that we really do know how to fix it. There is a wealth of research on reading and no shortage of materials and curriculum that ensure success. There are many places, both traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools that have achieved 100% proficiency, or close to it-at all socioeconomic levels. Yet, these successes have never been scaled up to reach the masses. The lack of reading success of our children makes absolutely no sense, no matter how high the poverty rates are.
Another area that defies explanation is our traditional school calendar. This calendar, once based on our farming needs, has persisted into the 21st Century with no real signs of change on the horizon. We absolutely know that the achievement gap, currently attributed to poverty by many "experts," is really attributable to what is known as "summer slide." Kids with more affluent parents have wonderful learning experiences throughout the summer, while those living in poverty don't. What is needed for these kids is simply another month of learning each year. The Balsz, Arizona School District figured out the problem a few years ago and is now seeing tremendous success, simply by reducing summer from 10 weeks to 6. Despite record spending on education, we can't seem to find the money or the will to take this simple step that could make all the difference for our kids.
So before we point fingers at anyone, let's really understand what is going on here. We DO know how to heal a great deal of what is ailing public education. We just don't have the courage to do it.