And why is speaking another language even a "language barrier?" Why is English monolingualism even a goal given that bilingualism and multilingualism have always been the gem of the upper class in our own country? For an increasingly multilingual world, this goal is not only passé, it is also a target that represents the interests of those that want to perpetuate a parochial mentality that reinscribes their statuses or positions within our highly unequal and massively diverse status quo. It's problematic that this person would view English monolingualism as a marker of success, particularly for our children who are wonderfully poised for biliteracy, biculturalism, and multilingualism.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan's comments to CNN are pathetic. Give me a break. We don't have African American teacher role models in schools because we are losing them to gangs? The way that this is written, that is exactly what Carter suggests. Even if this were anywhere close to true, for our schools, policies, and policymakers to have no onus in the matter is off base, at best, and blaming the victims, at worst. Ever heard of the school-to-prison pipeline...?
The author ends her piece with statements about children's resilience. If our children could get "success-coached" into success, this would have happened a long time ago. Indeed, our children are resilient...which includes their capacity to weather good, power-evasive and power-neutral, liberals like her.
1. Lack of exposure. In early childhood, many low-income students aren't exposed to books. Contrast that with the amount of books in middle-income students' homes.
- In low-income neighborhoods there is one book per every 300 children.
- In middle-income neighborhoods there are 13 books per one child.
2. Language barriers. English Language Learners (ELL) are defined as having English as a second language and predominately speaking a language other than English at home. While there are many affluent and advantaged ELLs in our schools, two-thirds of ELL students come from low-income families and nearly half of ELLs in grades pre-K to 5 have parents who did not graduate from high school. About 8 percent of students enrolled in U.S. schools are ELL. Research shows that ELL students are much less likely to score at or above proficient levels in both math and reading/language arts. The same report found, in Florida, a difference of 34 percentage points in math proficiency between ELLs and white students.
3. Lack of stability. Many low-income households can be tumultuous environments and create challenges for students to get to school, have an area at home that is conducive to learning, and engage in safe activities after school. The following statistics from the Urban Institute illustrate only some of the struggles a low-income family might face:
- Single-parent families are almost twice as likely to have low incomes compared to all families with children, and almost three times as likely to have low incomes compared to married-couple families with children.
- Health problems are more prevalent among low-income families, and these families are more likely to be uninsured.
4. Lack of role models. In low-income households where adults are less likely to hold high school diplomas or degrees of higher education, students lack positive academic role models. Even in the classroom, less than two percent of America's teachers are black men, according to the Department of Education. In response to the number of positive male role models, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said to CNN:
I think what we haven't talked about enough is that we're competing with the gangs, we're competing with the drug dealers on the corner, and when students fall through the cracks, when young people don't have that positive mentor, in a school setting, in the church or community, there's always a guy on the street corner that can say come my way.5. First Generation. Of entering college freshmen, 30 percent are first-generation college students, meaning no one in their family has earned a degree, and 24 percent are first-generation and low income. Within six years, 89 percent of low-income first generation students leave without a degree. First-generation low income students are four times as likely to drop out of college in their first year (USA Today). This may be due in part to the fact that first-generation students often straddle two cultures -- the family culture and the college culture -- each with its own set of expectations, rules, and demands. Without support, it can be difficult for students to navigate the challenges of college and face sometimes conflicting demands.
Perhaps not surprising, some of the students who are from our roughest neighborhoods have the toughest skin and are often best equipped to deal with hardship, setbacks, and disappointment. Many deal better with these life realities than their suburban counterparts. The resilience that they possess is something that can inspire all of us. Sadly, they often don't know early enough how valuable their own difficulties are in the real experience that catapults people from poverty to self-sufficiency to prosperity. Next week, I will explore how low-income graduates can beat the odds, succeed, and thrive.