Excerpt from Educating All God’s Children

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can—and Should—Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids by Nicole Baker Fulgham.

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The Harsh Reality

Growing up in Detroit and teaching in Compton, California, solidified one of my deeply held beliefs: the United States operates two very separate and unequal public school systems. A child’s home address typically determines which system she or he will experience. Almost 80 percent of public school students attend the school closest to their home. School choice programs and public charter schools continue to expand, but they still educate a relatively small percentage of students. District regulations and state laws make it difficult, if not impossible, to enroll in a better school across town or in the suburbs. And the difference between two schools, even those in the very same district, is often huge.

The achievement gap is a nationwide epidemic. Every urban center and many mixed-income suburban and rural school districts exhibit significant academic disparities between children in wealthier communities and children in low-income areas. Every state’s testing data reveal radical differences between low-income student achievement and middle-class and upper-class suburban student achievement. White students and many Asian American ethnic groups dramatically outperform our nation’s African American, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American populations. Consider the following statistics:

• Eighty-three percent of Asian American and 78 percent of White students graduate from high school in four years, compared to 57 percent of African American and Latino/Hispanic students.

• Thirty-seven percent of African American fourth-graders cannot perform basic math skills, compared to only 10 percent of White students.

These disparities ought to prick our moral consciousness to its core. The repercussions of this academic achievement gap are devastating. Taking a longer view, we see that public school inequity means more than contrasting crumbling inner-city school buildings with shiny, expansive high school campuses in the suburbs. It goes far beyond whether or not a school offers AP calculus. It stretches further than the disturbing reality that some schools fundamentally believe all students can achieve, while others seem to assume that poor children are destined for failure. What’s the bottom line? Public school inequity affects what millions of students are able to do with their lives. Educational inequity profoundly impacts students’ futures and, ultimately, their destinies.

Fifteen million children in the United States live below the poverty line. More than half of these kids won’t graduate from high school—and those who do graduate perform, on average, only at the level of an eighth-grader. To put this in context, children from wealthier communities graduate from high school having successfully taken trigonometry or calculus. But the average high school graduate from a school in a low-income community is still unable to solve basic algebra problems. High school seniors in middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods have successfully deconstructed and analyzed the works of Virginia Woolf, W. E. B. Du Bois, and perhaps even Friedrich Nietzsche. But an urban high school graduate may still struggle to read Harry Potter novels.

If a student graduates from high school with eighth-grade skills, what is she qualified to do? What type of career can she acquire? And if she’s lucky enough to be one of the 10 percent of children from low-income communities who attends college, will she be prepared for university-level academic rigor? Not likely.

The educational achievement gap arguably represents the United States’ most blatant and chilling example of neglect. America has vast financial and human capital resources. We strive to be the land that provides equal opportunities to every child. But we have let the academic achievement gap fester in poor communities. It overwhelmingly impacts children who are already among our most disenfranchised and vulnerable. For generations, we’ve allowed millions of children to fall through the cracks. Year after year these students get shortchanged in public schools throughout the country. Simply put, our nation is failing God’s kids.

 

©2013 by Nicole Baker Fulgham. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information on Educating All God’s Children, click here.