Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Like Mississippi, Unfortunately

McClatchey News Service reports today that a new study shows, "for the first time in more than 40 years, the majority of children in public schools in the South are poor... ."
Twenty years ago, Mississippi was the only state in the country with such a high percentage of poor public school students. However, as textile mills shut down in the Carolinas, Appalachian coal mines cut workers and a recession swept the nation, families in the South were especially hard hit, the Southern Education Foundation report found.
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Now, a majority of public school students are considered low income in a total of 13 states, including 11 in the South.
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According to 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, lower-income fourth and eighth graders lagged 20 to 30 points behind their peers on math and reading tests. Poor, Southern students who make up the majority of their states' student populations also have lower college attendance rates than their peers, the Southern Education Foundation report found.

Florida, with 62% of all public school students below the poverty line, comes in third from the bottom, besting only Mississippi and Louisiana.

What's the explanation? As always, there is a multitude. But one key reason singled out by McClatchey is "the fact that, as a region, the South spends less per pupil on education than do other parts of the country." Florida, for example, in the latest available survey from the National Education Association ranks 4th in total student enrollment but a dismal 41st out of the 50 states in per pupil expenditures.

As the St. Petersburg Times headlined the news more than two years ago, overall Florida "schools still rank near the bottom." As the Florida Forum for Progressive Policy concluded after reviewing the latest available comparative data on specific student skills and performance, "Florida ranks in the lower half of the comparable states in 12 of the 16 benchmarks--hardly an indication of “high quality.”

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the amount of money we commit to public education bears a very close relationship to the quality of education we receive. After all, money is the valuation medium in nearly every other sphere of human activity, from the things we buy to the pay we lavish on corporate CEOs.

Another reason for the collective failure of Southern schools is the heavy burden of regressive politics:
"The South historically was just a poorer part of the country and didn't have the focus on education that other parts of the country had," said Jeff Kuhner, a spokesman for the Fordham Foundation, an education think tank in Washington. "Part of its strategy for the past 25 to 30 years has been cheap, undereducated labor, they don't have labor unions.
Even Communist China has come to recognize that good, free public education is the only effective way to narrow the worrisome gap between rich and poor, as we had the opportunity to personally observe a while ago. More recently, the P.R.C. leadership reaffirmed its commitment to "the important goal of putting education first, and building a strong nation with a rich pool of human resources."

Strange to say, maybe Florida needs to be less like Mississippi and more like Communist China.

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