Letters to the EditorNews

Look at Poverty, Not Race, When It Comes to Student Achievement

After two decades of public school teaching in Britain and New Zealand, it disappoints me to see the CCSD report on student achievement delivered and divided solely on race. It is simplistic, divisive and a secondary factor in achievement, and we as educators should be looking at what other countries have been talking about for years: poverty.

Georgia ties with Kentucky as the sixth poorest state in the country. Athens-Clarke County ranks 60th in the state in terms of affluence. Athens has many private schools for the wealthy. (Finland has banned private schools and has the world’s highest academic achievement. It also has an ethnically diverse population, despite popular belief.) So, Clarke County schools are teaching some of the poorest students in the United States.

America has long avoided the socio-economic factors and divided the poor with race. Nixon was aware of the power of a united working class and, after the Watts riots in L.A. in 1968, intentionally introduced and promoted divisive policies among blacks, Hispanics and whites.

As a teacher in the Clarke County School District, I have students in my advanced class of all races. In fact, my advanced class is majority black. My students are engaged, inquisitive and excited about school. We should be looking at the socio-economic data behind success, not the race data behind failure. For example, the data on Chase Street was not at all shocking given the recent family homes on Virginia Avenue that sold for between $400,000–$700,000. One would imagine the students who are falling into the achievement gap at Chase Street are not the new residents on Virginia Avenue.

Of course racism exists in all facets of society—even, sadly, amongst educators at times—but statistics based on purely race fuel the fire. The U.S. has a poverty rate of 15 percent. Cuba has a poverty rate of 5 percent. Cuba has a 99.75 percent literacy rate. The population of Cuba is both majority black and Hispanic. Go figure.

Martin Luther King Jr. declared himself a democratic socialist. Cesar Chavez fought for dignity and humane wages for the farm workers of America. And Mahatma Gandhi told us all, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”