Saturday, May 17, 2014

60 Years After "Separate but Equal" Was Unequal - Our Greatest Eductaion Crisis: Kids who can't READ

Texas spends only $6,400 per student per year on education, $21,000 per inmate per year in prison.

Sixty years ago the US Supreme Court decided “Brown vs Topeka Board of Education” ruling that segregation was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Justice Warren said that “separate but equal was inherently unequal.” 

He was right and still is.  Things are still separate and unequal in many parts of our education system. Poor kids schools don't have the computers and labs they have in richer school districts. That deprives that kid of the same opportunity to succeed as one lucky enough to attend a better school.

It’s why Texas has been sued over its funding of education time and time again. It is shortchanging our state and students, as you'll see from what I learned a few hours ago.

Today I had the honor of attending a LULAC meeting in Houston and heard the HISD leader,  Terry Grier, talk about our Houston schools, what they are doing --and what needs to be done. 

Here are some fascinating things I heard from him and LULAC’s speakers:
·       We are in a crisis because of a lack of emphasis by Texas state leaders, and even parents and kids, on education.

    Grier said that we have too many kids who can’t read the technical manuals to get certified for a high paying job, even though the manuals are written at an 8th grade level!  (I can back that up – I’ve personally witnessed China go from behind us to ahead of us in key technologies and skill sets, described in “Better Times Ahead April Fool”).

·       51% of the students in Houston’s schools today are Hispanic. And it is growing. (Their success is critical to our future in the high tech global economy. If they are high wage earners that will help us boomers get paid social security and Medicare. If the next generation end up at McDonald’s or in prison, America and boomers are screwed).

·       HISD says only 30% of the teachers are Hispanic. Despite bonuses they can’t get U.S. Hispanic teachers, so they recruit teachers from other countries! I found that amazing, and puzzling. Why can’t they attract local Hispanic teachers? 

·       Our kids are great at Math but FAIL at READING. It’s our biggest problem. If a kid can’t read they can’t learn. 85% of the people in our prisons are people who cannot read!  Experts say that by measuring 3rd grade reading levels they can predict how much prison space they will need. 70% of prisoners read at a 4th grade level.

·       Grier mentioned a test where kids got a 40--clearly failing-- but when he asked the questions they KNEW the answers. The problem? They couldn’t READ the test questions!
·       Texas spends $6,350 per student for education versus $21,000 a year for each prisoner. (Moral: Cheaper to educate than incarcerate).

·       Having a Mexican American studies course encourages minority kids to read, which makes sense. There is only 1 book for every 300 kids living poverty! Minority kids are also harder on themselves when a test throws them. White kids seemed to blow off the test and not take it so personal.

·       Finally, students do best when they feel wanted and valued.
I got a chance to address the group at the end. I said that had finished running for U.S. Senate and supported HISD and LULAC’s efforts to boost education, due to what I had seen working in over 50 countries the last 30 years. When I told them that I saw everyone as the same except “we each got a different paint job” they laughed. Hispanics have a great sense of humor. Because they know its TRUE. 

The only thing separating America from being No. 1 vs 100 in the world is EDUCATION. To solve our problem that means a laser like focus on READING. Without reading skills, we end up paying $21,000 a year warehousing illiterates in jail instead of spending $6,000 educating future high income earning workers, boosting our economy and paying taxes.

Even those of us without kids have a stake in insuring our country’s future economic success if we set up the next generation of Americans with the best education possible. That will guarantee the income and tax levels needed to pay benefits to the retired among us.

Kids themselves need to realize they need to light a fire under themselves -- because it is their skin and their future at stake. Do they want to live hand-to-mouth at minimum wage jobs the rest of their life?  If our kids don't get those skills, young adults from other countries will be taking their place in the better paying jobs. These American kids will be taking orders instead of giving them or taking luxury vacations.

Kids in China and India have had to struggle with extreme poverty. They have the drive to excel, more than our own kids.  We need that same motivation. You’ll find my Global American roadmap to success here and “Agenda for American Greatness.”  

I know it is possible because of our American values and opportunities. If you don’t think so, stay tuned…

We have excellent role models for these kids in the likes of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who may soon become Obama's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

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