We expect a great deal from the nation’s public primary education system. Though teachers are the frequent targets of some politicians—collateral damage in an undeclared war on public sector union membership—they accept each school day the challenge of preparing the next generation of Americans for productive and meaningful lives.
Mounting evidence suggests that their jobs are only getting more difficult. The Southern Education Foundation reported in January that children growing up in poverty now make up the majority in the nation’s public schools. This conclusion is based on an analysis of statewide percentages of children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which is a somewhat imprecise measure because some schools try to avoid stigmatizing children by providing a free lunch for everyone. But the trend of growing poverty among U.S. schoolchildren has been clear for some time, and it is corroborated by other measures. The Children’s Defense Fund reports that the United States has the second highest child poverty rate among 35 industrialized countries, “despite having the largest economy in the world.”
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