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Food for Thought: The Quality of Education for Low-income Families

Why should we expect education markets to succeed in bringing higher quality schools to low-income communities?

We really got stunned by this sentence: "It costs money to be poor." That's how begins a post on The Quick and the Ed, his editor Erin Dillon says that individuals living below the poverty line pay more for many things middle and upper income people consider basics, including food and banking services, hah!

Grocery Stores, Banks, and...Schools? was written to comment on his report Food for Thought: Building a High-Quality School Choice Market. The chains for distribution of fresh food and bad management of checking and savings accounts have failed in many low-income, urban neighborhoods, says Dillon. The result: "communities with little or no access to fresh food, like fruits and vegetables. And it means that the little money low-income families may have to save at the end of the month goes to check cashing fees and outrageous annual interest rates for short-term loans."

From the research for Food for Thought:

    This is equally true in the market for public education. The growing charter school movement has spurred the creation of new education organizations like the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which recently opened a shiny, new 85,000-square-foot facility four miles north of the Super Giant. KIPP has become a national model of high-quality, urban education, posting impressive achievement gains with low-income student populations. Sixty-six new KIPP schools have opened in 19 states and the District of Columbia in the last 15 years. KIPP is what school choice proponents claimed would happen with market-based reforms in education: entrepreneurial educators successfully teaching the students who need help the most.

Despite this, the neighborhoods of Southeast Washington, D.C., continue to be among the poorest in the city and traditional public schools in the area still post some of the lowest student-achievement results in the city. Not substantial improvements are being achieved from the supposedly increased competition coming from charter schools.

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  1. This is all unfortunately true and some people tie these facts to a growing conspiracy against young blacks, the end users of the urban system.

    The reason that charter and private schools are posting such impressive results is that they have the liberty to innovate, while public schools are bound and constrained by increasingly inane and insurmountable "standards." In my district, we are helping our students achieve by compressing the curriculum, i.e. 4th grade math is now 3rd grade math. These decisions are made to achieve the short-term goal of AYP year-to-year.

    The saddest part of all is that the public schools have no choice in the matter. AYP is life or death and everyone is afraid for their job. I'm reasonably sure that given a new and improve accountability scheme for teachers, we'd see student achievement surge.