THE BLOG

Obama Shifts Forward as Education Gap Widens

02/13/2012 09:26 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2012

The New York Times on Friday led with a story about a new Stanford University study that found the education gap between kids from wealthier families and ones struggling with poverty widened to a giant chasm over the last generation. Specifically, since 1940, the gap between affluent and low-income kids' achievement on standardized reading tests grew by 40 percent. If past is prologue, the kids at the bottom of this gap are more likely to stay there as they grow older, are more likely to drop out of high school, are more likely to be raising their own kids in poverty and are less likely to contribute to economic growth, innovation and competitiveness. That's why this phenomenon is called the "cycle of poverty." If poverty is at epidemic levels -- and it is -- then education isn't only a symptom, it is the cure. Over and over, studies have shown that investing in education, particularly when kids are at the very youngest -- when they are learning how to learn -- is the path out of poverty for kids and the path toward greater economic and cultural security for our nation.

  • According to a McKinsey study, if our educational achievement were the same as other, better-performing nations, the Gross Domestic Product in 2008 would have been 9 to 16 percent higher than it was.
  • This Bloomberg chart reveals a direct correlation between global math achievement of high-school-age kids and global per capita GDP.
  • The Brookings Institute found that a meaningful investment in early childhood education would add $2 trillion to our gross domestic product within a generation.
We have a long way to go to narrow the poverty gap but there are hopeful signs. President Obama is fighting to deepen investments that will ensure our schools are better fortified. And just last week, the administration granted waivers to ten states, freeing them from well-intentioned but unrealistic rules under the No Child Left Behind Act. Those rules require schools to reach 100-percent reading achievement levels for all kids by 2014 or face punitive measures, including shutting down schools and replacing swaths of teachers. We should shoot for the stars but we need to keep our feet on the ground. The states receiving the waivers won't be let off the hook but will be required to take a different path toward academic excellence. This will ensure that kids are still learning, just not as focused on learning how to take standardized tests. These waivers help on other fronts, as well. Small, rural communities often have access to fewer credentialed teachers. The waivers, therefore, allow schools to recruit highly effective teachers who might not meet the rigid "highly qualified" standard of No Child Left Behind. This decision, coupled with major new investments in early childhood education, including in the President's new 2013 budget, are putting us on a more solid path toward a better educated America. Achieving that goal will finally help tackle a serious poverty and education crisis that threatens our future.

YOU MAY LIKE