“Care Counts,” a program created through a partnership between Teach for America and Whirlpool Corporation, “installs washers and dryers in schools to improve attendance by giving kids access to clean clothes,” a video on the Whirlpool website states. The program has installed washing machines and dryers in 10 districts and 58 schools, including six Chicago Public Schools (CPS) locations, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in January.
‘No Easy Solutions’
Lennie Jarratt, project manager for the Center for Transforming Education at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says the Care Counts program is compassionate but won’t solve the underlying problem.
“This is a sad situation and highlights the rampant poverty levels in our urban centers,” Jarratt said. “This project fills an immediate need for students in these underserved areas, helping them stay in school and continue their education.
“There are no easy solutions, however, and education alone cannot solve this problem,” Jarratt said. “There are steps that can be taken to help lift these students out of poverty, and the best long-term solution is full educational choice: expanding the educational options students can access, especially those in poverty.”
‘Pattern Is Unsustainable’
Vicki E. Alger, a research fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Failure: The Federal “Misedukation” of America’s Children, says CPS should focus on improving classroom education if it wants disadvantaged children to succeed.
“The donation of washers and dryers at six Chicago public schools is a testament to the generosity of the private and nonprofit sectors to help meet the most basic needs of disadvantaged students,” Alger said. “But helping disadvantaged students escape a life of poverty requires a candid look at what happens after the spin cycle.
“In spite of notable recent improvements in student achievement, test scores of CPS elementary- and middle-school students indicate they are up to one-and-a-half grade levels behind the national average,” Alger said. “Alarming achievement gaps among low-income and minority students also persist. Meanwhile, CPS costs are rising even as enrollment declines. This pattern is unsustainable for students and the taxpayers in their communities.”
Calls for More Choice
Alger says education choice programs would help impoverished children tremendously.
“Programs such as Illinois’ Invest in Kids tax-credit scholarship program for low-income and disadvantaged students expand their educational options to higher-performing and safer schools for thousands of dollars less [than what CPS spends per student],” Alger said. “Education savings accounts put parents and guardians in charge of a portion of their children’s education funding so they can purchase the online curricula, tutoring, special education therapies, tuition, and other approved educational services that best meet their children’s unique needs. These programs, operating in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, empower parents to customize their children’s learning at unprecedented levels.
“Putting parents and guardians in charge of the children’s education works and encourages a greater diversity of providers to better ensure that students find the educational fit that works best for them,” Alger said.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas