When public officials read troubled situations less well than troubled kids actually read

In a Star Tribune story last week (July 28) about another year of no progress to speak of by students on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments – with exactly the same holding true with reducing achievement gaps between white kids and kids of color – Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius is cited as saying that problems outside of educators’ control such as homelessness and family income are at least partial causes.

The commissioner is absolutely right – at least partially.  But what she didn’t say, what people in government hardly ever say (as witness last month’s Republican and Democratic national conventions) is anything whatsoever about how homelessness and poverty, as well academic failure more generally, are direct, albeit not exclusive products of immense rates of family fragmentation.

It would be helpful if people in public life acknowledged this connection more often than they do.  If they acknowledged, with all the grace and compassion at their command, that millions of kids across Minnesota and the nation are being seriously held back academically and in other ways by absent fathers and absent mothers.  Recognizing reality in this way might not lift test scores any time soon, but at least fewer grown-ups will come across as capable of reading a very troubling situation even less well than very troubled students know how to read, period.

And here’s a thought.  Once they steel up, maybe public officials who are adamantly opposed to real educational freedom for low-income families might also acknowledge that many boys and girls who are doing poorly now might actually do better in private schools, including religious ones.  Just as first-tier research says they would.

Just a thought.