Continued unabated, this gap between
the “information haves” and “
information have-nots” could lead to even
greater social and economic inequality
in our society that will be difficult, if not
impossible, to reverse.
Changing the Trajectory
I have painted a bleak picture of the gap
between poverty and privilege not to
suggest its inevitability but to galvanize
people to action. So what can we do?
Consider the following steps.
Un-level the Playing Field
Programs like Title I are based on a
policy of “leveling the playing field,”
ensuring that education resources for
poor communities are equal to those
for the more affluent. But the notion
of providing equal resources is only
helpful when none of the competing
partners has an advantage at the outset.
As we have seen, that is certainly not the
case for students who come from poor
neighborhoods when compared with
more affluent peers.
We need to tip the balance not by
equalizing funding but by providing
more resources and additional supports
to students in poor neighborhoods.
Not just extra funding, but additional
human resources are needed. Training
paraprofessionals for such simple
activities as reading one-on-one with
children in libraries like those in the
Badlands could have enormous benefits
Strengthen Parent Involvement
School programs often profess the
importance of parent involvement, but
schools rarely offer sustained, intensive
parent involvement training programs.
We need programs that help parents
become the advocates they wish to
be by teaching them about the skills
and strategies children will need to be
successful in school. Such programs will
help them make judgments about what
kinds of language and literacy experiences to look for in preschool and child-care settings, what to look for in initial
knowledge, the haves
gain it faster.
reading instruction in kindergarten and
the early grades, what to ask principals
and other policymakers who make decisions regarding reading instruction, and
how to determine whether their child is
making adequate progress in reading or
needs additional instruction.
Engage Students’ Minds
Far too often, people underestimate the
capabilities of students who live in poor
neighborhoods, equating poverty with
low ability. In reality, however, these
students are eager to learn and develop
greater expertise when given opportunities to do so.
In public policy, our targets for
these students have been to help them
graduate from high school and become
college-ready. In fact, if students from
poor families are to have a fighting
chance, they will need far more. They
will need a rich knowledge base. They
will need to learn how to participate in a
new kind of information fabric in which
learning, playing, and creative thinking
interact in ways that not only use
existing knowledge, but also advance it
in new directions. We deceive them and
ourselves if we expect any less.
Economically Integrate Schools
Schools today reflect their neighborhoods. Throughout the United States,
schools are economically segregated,
exacerbating the problems of inequality.
Schools in poor areas struggle for
many reasons, but among the most
prominent are their rotating faculty of
inexperienced teachers and adminis-
trators and their low-level curriculum.
In contrast, schools in affluent areas
are more stable, with more highly
trained teachers, rigorous curriculum,
fewer discipline problems, and more
support from volunteers. Studies have
shown that economic integration
can begin to change this scenario
Reclaiming the Dream
Americans are a resilient people. We
remain a formidable force in the
knowledge economy. Nevertheless, the
last decade’s economic chaos and rising
inequality has led some to question
whether there is a future for the
American dream. For those of us who
believe that this concept is still what
defines us and makes America great, it
is time to renew our determination to
recapture the American dream and
make it a reality for all our children. EL
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middle-income children. Reading Research
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Neuman, S. B., & Celano, D. (2012). Giving
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Susan B. Neuman (sbneuman@umich
.edu) is a professor in Educational
Studies at the University of Michigan
in Ann Arbor and professor of Teaching
and Learning at New York University.
She is the author, with Donna Celano,
of Giving Our Children a Fighting
Chance: Affluence, Literacy, and the
Development of Information Capital
(Teachers College Press, 2012).