Education Week - June 20, 2018 - 23
LETTER to the EDITOR
Gates Foundation Ignores Poverty's
Hold on Student Performance
To The Editor:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
wants to "diagnose the root cause of poor
performance" by investing $68 million to
expand education grantmaking abroad
("The Gates Foundation's Education Plans
Go International," Curriculum Matters
blog, June 3, 2018). But we already know
what causes poor performance. Study after
study over many decades has concluded that
poverty is the culprit.
Driverless cars and trips
to Mars are well within
our reach. Why can't we
find ways to house, feed,
care for, educate, and
support all children?"
enmeshed in our nation's fabric, despite the
apparent progress we have made. To that end,
we need to realize that complicated problems
are not solved with simplistic approaches or
mundane "how to's."
We all must recognize the all-too-clear connections between race and poverty, between
gender and exclusion, and between immigration and opportunity.
We must recognize the dearth of affordable
housing in many cities at a time when landlords and property owners continue to accrue
unprecedented wealth-and how this disparity
has grave implications for students struggling
with housing insecurity.
As a responsible society, we must also understand the relationship between mental health
and substance abuse. The unacceptable numbers of children who are abused, neglected,
or under the auspice of child welfare services
often can be traced back to the deep pain, frustration, despair, suffering, marginalization,
and desperation of their parents. A close look
at many children's circumstances reveals high
levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse,
and mental-health challenges for adults who
care for them.
These are complex problems that are compounded by the complicity, indifference, ignorance, or carelessness by many adults. We
must do better.
2) Build a robust multidisciplinary,
solutions-oriented approach. An irony of
today's circumstances is that our expertise and
knowledge about how to address and solve difficult problems has never been higher. Researchers continue to make new discoveries and innovation in science continues to amaze the mind.
Driverless cars and trips to Mars are well within
our reach. Why can't we find ways to house, feed,
care for, educate, and support all children?
We have not yet developed a consistent, evidence-based mechanism to work across disciplines to support our most precarious populations. The complexity of today's problems
demands we do so. Issues that children face
have critical connections not only to education,
but also public policy, law, medicine, social welfare, and mental health. However, academics
and advocates often fall painfully short in creating the partnerships that allow sustainable,
cross-discipline collaborations to address multifaceted problems.
Take, for example, a child who struggles
academically, suffers from food and housing
insecurity, has undiagnosed mental-health
and learning problems, and also has a parent or caregiver facing severe financial challenges. Yet, the teacher of that vulnerable
child never talks to the mental-health advocate. The child's therapist rarely engages the
social worker, and the social worker seldom
shares ideas and insights with a pediatrician.
The pediatrician, in turn, does not know the
student has an IEP, which requires regular
Our inability or unwillingness to talk,
think, plan, research, and problem solve
across fields only compounds the disconnect.
We must popularize trans-disciplinary approaches to our efforts to support vulnerable
3) Develop the moral conviction to support our vulnerable youth. Finally, everyone can and must play a role in sustaining the
moral conviction to respond to our most vulnerable student populations. Elected officials
must work in sync with social service agencies
to ensure bureaucracy and lack of information
does not impede families' access to desperately
needed assistance. Community-based organizations must work with educational institutions to offer needed supports. Faith-based
organizations can connect to philanthropic organizations to seek additional funding to help
A society will only be as prosperous as its
young. At a time of growing marginalization of
many of our youths, the time to act is now. Our
future could be in peril if we do not act swiftly,
boldly, and courageously. n
TYRONE C. HOWARD is a professor of education at the
University of California, Los Angeles, Graduate School
of Education and Information Studies and the director
of the university's Black Male Institute. He is also the
director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening
Children and Families.
Until our country's government and
citizens take steps to substantially reduce
and eventually eliminate poverty by ensuring
every person has full employment at a living
wage, we can do a lot to protect students from
the negative impact of poverty. Many lowincome children suffer from food deprivation,
lack of medical care, and lack of access
to books-all of which affect their school
performance. We can invest more in food
programs, medical care and school nurses, and
libraries and librarians.
The Gates Foundation seems to have no
interest in doing this. Instead, the foundation
seems to be concerned about better data
analysis and improving teaching and
classroom practice. The best teaching in
the world will have no effect if students are
hungry, ill, or have nothing to read.
Professor Emeritus of Education
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.
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EDUCATION WEEK | June 20, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 23