Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Income Gap and Education

We talk so much about the differences between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else that sometimes we miss the smaller, but far more potent, differences within the middle class. And when those differences affect young children, the ramifications become far more discriminatory. An article today shows this in glaring fashion.

It concerns prekindergarten programs that cater to lower and middle income residents in states and districts that don't have universal instruction. Wealthier families who can afford all-day prekindergarten can take advantage of what many child psychologists and educators already know; that play-based programs that give children the opportunity to interact with their peers, teachers, and a challenging curriculum are more prepared for kindergarten and further learning. Those families that cannot afford these programs now have other options, including an online program that requires a child to use the program for a short time each day. There's no interaction with other children, but students do get a fun, game-based introduction to letters and numbers.

The verdict? It's better than nothing.

Is that really the standard we want to use for American children? The extent to which American society tolerates the gross inequalities in education is scandalous. Money and property values determine the quality of instruction a child is eligible for, and states have to make other choices about education, health care, elderly care, roads, hospitals and other expenditures that are vital to other citizens. For a family to have to settle for an online experience because they lack $164 dollar per week for the more inclusive and educationally sound experience treats children unequally and sends that child to a school system that might not have the resources that will allow them to catch up.

The Trump Administration will certainly do nothing to bridge this gap, save for relying on the same market forces that have created the problem in the first place. More jobs and higher wages will help, but that should not be the deciding factor in whether any child gets a quality education.

Democrats need to support universal prekindergarten programs, and most of the presidential candidates do, and also need to make sure that all children have access to the technology they need in order to compete. This all starts with closing the income gap and ensuring that all school districts have the personnel and programs they need to serve their communities. That also includes smartphones, though, apparently, that can lead to other problems.

The learning gap is already wide. We don't need the income and technology gaps to make it insurmountable.

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