Ever the education reformer, Bill Gates told the a National Urban League audience this:
"Let me acknowledge that I don't understand in a personal way the challenges that poverty creates for families, and schools and teachers," the billionaire said at the civil rights group's annual convention. "I don't ever want to minimize it. Poverty is a terrible obstacle. But we can't let it be an excuse.
We know you can have a good school in a poor neighborhood," said Gates. "So let's end the myth that we have to solve poverty before we improve education. I say it's more the other way around: Improving education is the best way to solve poverty."
So first of all, is that a common myth? That poverty has to be solved (or severely curtailed) before education can help?
Second, I get that you can't let poverty stand in the way of giving a child a good education. But is that really the problem or is it that the problems of poverty in the home follow the child to school and therein lies the challenge?
Is getting resources to a school (and, in the extreme, a wrap-around services kind of school like the Harlem Children's Zone) really what is needed? Is it even feasible (the last number I saw was HCZ spending something like $23k per child which is not sustainable)?
What if you were able to convince the best teachers in any district to teach only at high-needs schools? Is that going to do it? Charlie's famous example is asking if you take the teachers at Eckstein and switch them with the teachers at Aki Kurose, will you see Eckstein results at Aki?
(And before Chris Korsmo at LEV goes off here, it is NOT and has never been about whether children from poverty can learn. They can. It is about whether education is enough.)
If we are talking about a great school academically but say, without an elementary counselor (because we can't afford one) or if it's a great high school without college and career counseling (because we can't afford that), will great academics save the day for a child who lives in poverty? I think a child in that situation is likely to do better academically than a child in a lesser school and it will, of course, have an impact on his/her life but is it enough to lift them up and away?
Of course Gates is right that better educated people live better lives (easier lives?). No one would dispute that and we want a well-educated workforce for our country.
But can a good school alone overcome all the challenges of poverty in a child's life? Should it?