As a taxpayer, a parent of Mount Anthony student and an educator who frequently works within the SVSU system I was curious to read Mr. Dee’s guest column titled "Lift Bennington by raising education". Mr. Dee correctly pointed out that both too many students fall through the cracks and that there are many graduates of the SVSU system who are by all accounts educational success stories. But he was seriously wrong on at least two accounts.
I can’t speak for anyone else but I found it more than a little insulting that Mr. Dee adjured us "to begin a serious conversation about what is causing many of our children to fall behind." For at least the last 18 years the challenges faced by the SVSU has been the most talked about community issue. Teachers, administrators, parents, community leaders, business owners, just about everyone knows we have a problem and talks about it. Moreover, many people have also been actively searching for workable and affordable solutions. So Mr. Dee was wrong. Serious conversations about our schools have already been going on for a long time.
Second, Mr. Dee was wrong that "we must avoid thinking money is the solution." The problem is that money, or lack thereof, is the single most important predictor of academic success. There are so many studies that show that there is a direct correlation between poverty and low achievement in school that it is hard to imagine anyone seriously trying to make the case otherwise. (See "The effects of poverty on academic achievement" published in Educational Research and Reviews, available online at www.academicjournals.org/ERR.
Therefore, it is imperative that any serious discussion about improving our schools must necessarily acknowledge that money is a critical part of the solution.
The money issue is more than a debate over increasing taxes, finding grants or cutting positions and programs to keep the SVSU within budget. It is more than the board prioritizing where to allocate funds. The money issue is much more fundamental: It is about living wages. Our community needs jobs that pay living wages so that parents are not so exhausted from working two or three jobs that they can’t spend quality time with their children; so that parents can afford to provide their children with important extra cultural and socializing experiences such as music lessons, trips to museums, visits to important historical sites and so forth; so that people can pay taxes to keep our schools fiscally viable. Until real sustainable economic solutions emerge that truly narrows the gap between the haves and have-nots in our community poverty born issues will continue to impede our schools from educating our children.
Our teachers and administrators are dedicated, compassionate and talented. Yet they are asked to educate too many children caught in the grip of poverty, while at the same time being told by the board to do more with less, which is just a different form of poverty.
HOWARD A. COHEN