November 13, 2007

You're dumb. Enjoy the NASCAR

Chris Bell NAILS it...

There's a great scene in "Night at the Museum" when Ben Stiller is trying to get the North and South to stop fighting the Civil War every night. He goes ahead and tells the North that they win and, as for the South, "You all get the Allman Brothers and NASCAR."

While clearly intended for laughs, the South's legacy really might be rather dismal, if we don't change our attitude toward education.

The Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation released a report last week that showed for the first time in more than 40 years, the majority of children in public schools in the South are poor. In Texas, 56 percent of the public school pupils come from low-income families.

"The South has a crisis of the first order of magnitude," said Lynn Huntley, SEF president. "The region is in the throes of a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle where poverty and low incomes are begetting a lack of education and, in turn, the lack of education is perpetuating and creating poverty and inequality."

Every study shows that kids from poorer families have a much more difficult time in school. According to the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, lower income fourth- and eighth-graders lagged 20 to 30 points behind their peers on math and reading tests. High school graduation and college attendance is also greatly reduced among lower income individuals.

An SEF coordinator says that whether the South has an educated population in the future depends on the educational process being improved for poor children. School officials are certainly aware of the problem and, all across the country, there is an effort to improve teaching methods for economically disadvantaged youngsters.

However, much of the same attitude still exists that has dragged down education in the South for years. As a region, the South spends less per pupil on education than other parts of the country. Texas continually ranks in the bottom third in this category.

Look at the disparity in the funds spent on education in the North and South. Then look at the disparity in academic performance between the two regions. Despite the obvious correlation, we still hear the same tired argument that it's not about the money. I just received a mailer from the group opposing the Houston Independent School District bond issue trying to make that same sad case.

The unfortunate reality is that it is about the money. Whether you're talking about new programs aimed at helping economically disadvantaged kids, teacher salaries big enough to ensure quality individuals choosing and staying in the profession or comfortable surroundings in which to learn, there's a price tag attached. In the South, we've been trying to get by on the cheap for years, and the old adage that you get what you pay for has never been truer.

If the South is going to flourish economically in the future, our public school product is going to have to improve. An uneducated work force simply won't cut it going forward and will take its toll on everyone.

With the challenge becoming more difficult for public schools because of the low-income status of so many pupils, the time to invest and give them what they need is now.

No offense to fans of the Allman Brothers and NASCAR, but I want the South to be remembered for much more in the future.

Posted by mcblogger at November 13, 2007 08:50 AM

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