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2020 Vision for No Child Left in Poverty

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Recently, I made a case against the current move toward national education standards ("Why Common Standards Won't Work," EdWeek, 11 August 2010). But after further consideration, based on the commitment to high standards and accountability I read on-line, I am now reversing my position and calling for national standards.

But not education standards.

What I am now proposing is to be called 2020 Vision for No Child Left in Poverty, modeled on the No Child Left Behind legislation under George W. Bush, federal policies now being revised by the Obama administration.

Since a large number of responses to my previous rejection of common-core standards supported establishing standards, gathering evidence of compliance with those standards, and holding someone in authority accountable for that achievement as the primary mechanism for reform, I believe that same process must be applied to the single greatest influence on student achievement, poverty.

Numerous studies along with decades of data from the College Board on the SAT support one major fact of student achievement: Student outcomes on assessments of learning are more strongly tied to the educational attainment of the parents and the income of the parents than any school or teacher factors. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation details that school and teacher quality accounts for only 14% of student achievement, in fact.

As recent as June 2010, the news on childhood poverty in the U.S. was alarming: "The rate of children living in poverty this year will climb to nearly 22%, the highest rate in two decades, according to an analysis by the non-profit Foundation for Child Development. Nearly 17% of children were living in poverty in 2006, before the recession began."

And throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, the U. S. stands as one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world that also has one of the highest rates of childhood poverty among other affluent and powerful countries. A 2007 report, in fact, detailed that "[t]he United Kingdom and the United States find themselves in the bottom third of the rankings for five of the six dimensions reviewed" concerning childhood poverty.

To solve problems, we must address the sources of those problems, and if standards/measurement/accountability represent the dynamic this country embraces for solving those problems, then my 2020 Vision for No Child Left in Poverty is where we must make our next commitment.

First, we must set high and rigorous standards for poverty. Just as No Child Left Behind calls for 100% proficiency in academic achievement by 2014, the 2020 Vision must set as its benchmark that there be no childhood poverty by 2020.

Once we have standards of childhood poverty established, and that process must begin now and move swiftly, we must clarify the poverty data that will serve as the evidence for compliance with the standards.

Crucial to our place in the international market place, of course, is complying with international comparisons of childhood poverty among the most powerful countries in the world. The call for higher standards for childhood poverty must be aligned with our standing among world powers as we seek to maintain our place in the worldwide market place.

The most important element of any standards and accountability is acknowledging that using standards and accountability suggests that those with the power to make changes are somehow unmotivated. Accountability provides the motivation needed to make change happen.

Finally, then, once we establish standards for eliminating childhood poverty and gather the necessary data, we must hold every Representative and Senator accountable for the childhood poverty in their districts.

If childhood poverty is not eliminated by 2020, those Representatives and Senators in failing districts must be replaced with more highly qualified and motivated people.

One aspect of this standards movement that will be unique is that I am calling on the U.S. House and Senate, led by President Obama, to put this legislation to a vote among every teacher in the U.S.

Since NCLB and all federal and state legislation related to education are established and imposed onto schools and teachers by the ruling bodies in our states and nation, and since my 2020 Vision plan would hold the politicians accountable, an act of good faith would be to give the vote for the plan to those teachers who are being held accountable for the education of America's children, regardless of the affluence of those children.

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An Associate Professor of Education at Furman University since 2002, Dr. P. L. Thomas taught high school English for 18 years at Woodruff High along with teaching as an adjunct at a number of Upstate colleges. He holds an undergraduate degree in (more...)
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