It seems odd, almost irrational, to hear all the talk of the new Common Core teaching methods and tests to measure student and teacher performance without first figuring out how to address the biggest problem many schools face: poverty.
We might have come up with the most-efficient way to structure classroom lessons and administer standardized exams, but as a society we haven’t been able to make sure students aren’t going to school hungry.
Experts have been telling us for decades that children do not do well in school when they are hungry, poorly clothed, suffering from poor hygiene or otherwise traumatized. Most people believe those experts, but you wouldn’t know it from our political response to the problem.
We might offer free or reduced-price lunches in school, but we haven’t done enough to eliminate the need for those free meals. And we know this is true.
The poverty rate nationally and locally continues to soar. In Otsego County, the latest statistics show that 16.4 percent of the population lives in poverty.
In Delaware County, the rate is 17.1 percent. In the Oneonta City School District, one of the wealthier districts in Otsego County, the poverty rate has jumped from 15.7 to 20 percent during the past decade.
And our government has responded to this crisis by cutting back on funding for the food-stamp program.
In recent weeks, more than 47 million people who get food stamps faced a cut in benefits as Congress began talks on whether to slice another $4 billion a year from the program. Observers say that food stamps help lift about 5 million people above the poverty line.
The impact on children is greater. In Otsego County, 22.5 percent of children under 18 live in poverty; in Delaware, it’s 26.7 percent. That’s why 44 percent of the schoolchildren in Otsego County qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Unfortunately, not enough families take advantage of the program.