08/21/2012 11:34 am ET Updated Oct 21, 2012

Teachers on the Front Lines


One of the questions I am asked most frequently is, "What does hunger in America look like?" The best answer comes from those who spend the most time with America's children: Our nation's teachers.

I can describe who the hungry kids are -- and there are a record number today, comprising nearly half of the 46 million Americans on food stamps. They are urban and rural, black and white and Latino, from working families and families who have suffered unemployment, from above and below the poverty line. From Arkansas to Alaska I've visited their schools, sat with them as they received free meals, and heard about the deprivations of growing up in poverty. But it's our teachers who can tell you about the larger consequences.

In that sense what hunger looks like is lack of attentiveness, reading below grade level, lower test scores, more tardiness and absenteeism, lower high school completion rates, and ultimately low-wage jobs and reduced economic competitiveness. These issues go the heart of the choices we will be making about the nation's future.

With the campaign season in full throttle there is a lot of talk about making America's economy grow once again. But it's hard to take such talk seriously if it is divorced from the needs of the generation we'll be counting on to drive sustained economic growth. Any plan or Party platform for economic growth that does not include the specific ingredient of healthy and well-fed children who are ready to learn is like a recipe for bread that does not include yeast. It falls flat, neither credible nor possible.

On Thursday Share Our Strength will be joined by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., to release our third annual report on Hunger in the Classroom, a survey of America's teachers. Look for it on our website

While teachers have diverse viewpoints on issues ranging from tenure to charter schools, one issue on which they reach a broad consensus is the seriousness of hunger in the classroom, with 77% agreeing that addressing childhood hunger should be a top priority. Secretary Duncan offers a powerful voice on behalf of hungry school kids whose voices are too often not heard.

So if you want to know what hunger looks like in America today, listen to what the nation's teachers are telling us.