The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Government and the schools
– leaving most children behind

Feb 13, 2006

In December, results of national testing showed the majority of school aged children fail to read at grade level. The tests were mandated by the federal government’s “No Child Left Behind” Act.

Education will flourish only when government makes it a real priority, reflected in how well it is funded. But “No Child Left Behind” doesn’t provide the funds needed. In fact, the tests are used to cut off funds from schools that desperately need more.

Education is what paves the future in any society. Real education encompasses not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but sufficient resources to learn to reason starting from an early age. If a society refuses to educate children when they are very young and most open to learning, then it fails in its commitment to future generations. The whole society suffers because a large part of its members lack education, lack an ability to make use of ever-expanding knowledge, lack a method to make an adult contribution to society.

What this country has instead is two kinds of education: one for the wealthy and a vastly inferior one for the poor and working class.

Maryland’s test scores illustrate the problem perfectly: state test scores say that three of every five tenth graders can pass the statewide test of English. But in Montgomery and Howard counties, two of the wealthiest in the state, four out of five children passed. In Baltimore City, with one of the lowest average incomes in the state, only one tenth grader in three passed the test. As can be shown on every test, the students from wealthy families did better on average than those from poorer families.

Of course, it makes perfect sense since children in wealthier areas have a greater access to educational resources from the start. Their parents are usually more educated and able to help them learn even before their children enter school. Their homes are more likely to have books and computers. Their parents can afford many more experiences for their children than can poorer families. And the schools they go to have more resources.

The schools themselves are supported everywhere by property taxes. Even when poorer areas tax themselves at a higher rate – which they usually do – they get less money for their schools. Montgomery County alone collects more property taxes than the next two wealthiest counties in the state, and more than five times what is collected in Baltimore City. The local, state and federal governments do little to make funds available to overcome the differences in education funding.

Baltimore City’s classes are larger than in wealthier parts of Maryland; the city has fewer teachers with the credentials found among teachers in the suburbs. In Baltimore City, one in four young people drop out of high school without completing, compared to wealthier suburbs where most children go on to college.

The story in Baltimore and in Maryland is the story of education across the U.S. Schools are based on class and they reinforce the class divisions in society.