In thinking about America’s education system, we need to ask how children are doing
This year has barely begun, and already it has been riddled with unprecedented political drama. The people charged with leading this country have dug in their ideological heels, literally shutting down our nation as a means to advance their political agendas. The saga continued as we all listened to the president’s State of the Union address. Among the all-too-familiar rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, I tried to keep steady through talk of building walls, failing infrastructure, and economic uncertainty — all paramount issues. But I could not help but think about a Kenyan greeting that I heard many years ago: “kasserian ingera” — literally translated, “and how are the children?”
In this traditional greeting, the appropriate response would be “sapati ingera,” or “all the children are well.” Unfortunately, I believe we cannot in earnest give this reply. As an education advocate and committed community builder, I am keenly aware of how “unwell” our children have become as they try to navigate an educational system that leaves so many behind. I am both saddened and in awe of the nearly 13 million American children living in poverty as they make their way into classrooms each weekday. And though we cling to the American story of promise and possibility for all who work hard, we are, in truth, failing to provide the educational springboard for young people to succeed. A report by TNTP called The Opportunity Myth, which gives a glimpse into the state of the nation’s classrooms, makes this clear.
As I listened to the state of our union and economy, I was hard-pressed to separate the growing need for a skilled workforce from the reality that this workforce is being developed in grade school classrooms each day. As students are leaving high school and heading to college, 1 in 4 will need at least one remedial class to catch up on learning they should have gained prior to high school graduation. The data also show us that students who start college behind often do not earn a degree. So, as we lift the dream of college access for better economic opportunity, many students will leave college saddled with their share of the nation’s $1.5 trillion student loan debt without ever completing a bachelor’s.