This is possibly due in part to the fact that, with the focus of the election fixed on the latest gaffe or scandal, neither political candidate is talking about the issues that most substantially affect our community. In the aforementioned survey, YEP-DC members widely agreed that two of the most important issues facing students today are poverty and inequity; neither has gotten much air time from the campaigns.
Poverty is an urgent concern for students and educators in Washington, DC. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 18 percent of the population in 2012 lived below the federal poverty line. For children, this finding is even more pronounced, at 27 percent. Sure, Washington, DC is growing and developing rapidly – the population is projected to surpass one million in the next 30 years, propelled by a job growth rate of 13 percent. But as Brookings points out, neighborhoods in DC – and by proxy, the jobs, services, schools and other benefits that come with development – are increasingly divided based on factors such as race, poverty and education. As DC grows, who will benefit?
Despite the best efforts of DC educators, high-quality education can only do so much to alleviate the effects of poverty. In his seminal 1966 report on education and equality, James Coleman released what was, at the time, a groundbreaking discovery: that a student’s environment and social context are stronger predictors of future success than school-based inputs such as per-pupil funding and training of personnel. What this meant for policymakers was that education alone couldn’t be the only solution for resolving issues of poverty and inequality. To truly empower students to achieve their best, schools and cities would have to create an environment that targets the most damaging effects of poverty and creates space for students to thrive.
There are already efforts underway in DC to reduce poverty and enrich educational experiences for our city’s students. Take the Flamboyan Foundation for example (full disclosure: I was formerly employed with the organization). Flamboyan has been working with DC schools through home visits and academic parent teacher team (APTT) conferences to create a family-oriented culture and empower parents to play the role of teacher at home. So far, this has had a significant impact on student outcomes. DC students whose families received a home visit had 24 percent fewer absences and were more likely to read at or above grade level than students whose families did not receive a home visit.
Family and community engagement has always been a priority for members of the YEP-DC community. In our recent survey, 94 percent of YEP-DC members said they support strategies to engage parents and families in their children’s education. What’s more, we recently launched a partnership with Payne Elementary School through the Adopt-A-School program to conduct fundraisers, support school-based learning activities, and help build community around student learning. We will release more information about our partnership later this fall.
YEP-DC members also widely support early education, at 92 percent. As a city, Washington, DC is unique in that it offers high-quality PK3 and PK4 schooling for residents. Students in Title I schools are further able to access wraparound services such as family supports, developmental screenings, assistance accessing social services, and vision, hearing, and dental screenings through their schools. These services do not alone eliminate poverty, but they do help reduce some of its effects and help students focus on what matters most: getting an education.
In a few short weeks, the 2016 election will (dare I say, thankfully?) be over. A new president will be sworn into office and begin work implementing a new policy agenda. In DC, residents will also vote for an At-Large City Council member; Council Members for Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8; and State Board of Education members for Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8. Meanwhile, the educators, administrators, researchers, analysts, lawyers and advocates that make up the education community in Washington, DC will continue working on a local education system that allows our city’s children to learn and thrive. Issues like poverty and inequity have a way of weathering presidential transitions, but so too do local efforts to address them.
Austin Estes is the Vice President of Communications and Outreach for YEP-DC and serves as a Policy Associate with Advance CTE: State Leaders Connecting Learning to Work. You can find Austin on Twitter and LinkedIn.