Education: escalator out of poverty

Tina Dove, Director, OTL Campaign

It’s no surprise that the voice of educational opportunity is spreading and growing louder as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Education has always been the bridge to prosperity and opportunity for Americans. And it still is: The unemployment rate for college graduates is less than half what it is for non-college graduates.

But the nation seems to have forgotten this.

A young person drops out of high school every 26 seconds. Most colleges recommend three to four years of high school math, though 2 million high school students don’t have access to calculus classes and 500,000 don’t have access to Algebra II. Meanwhile, in the nation’s largest school system, only one in four students who enter high school in New York City are ready for college after four years, and less than half enroll. And this list of shame goes on.

At the same time 37 states this year cut spending on education, with New York leading the pack with $1.3 billion in education cuts.  Yes, times are tough, but these decisions are hard to swallow: Many states, including New York and Wisconsin, used the reductions in school spending to provide tax cuts to the wealthy.

It’s about time people are getting mad. But it’s also time to be seriously concerned about  the future of our loved ones and the nation. With poverty rates growing, we must strengthen our public schools – not weaken them.

New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof got it right in his October 19 column when he said that from New York City to Sierra Leone, “a good education is the most reliable escalator out of poverty.” Unfortunately, he was just as right when he said that here as well as in Africa, “disadvantaged kids often don’t get a chance to board that escalator.”

It doesn’t need to be this way. Research shows that students have an equal opportunity to succeed when they have access to high-quality preschool, effective teachers and teaching, a college-preparatory curriculum, and equitable resources.

Help remind our policymakers and business leaders that we all stand to benefit when the escalator out of poverty up to opportunity is operating and should be accessible to all.