Only Effective Teachers and Principals Can Save the Lives of Children in Poverty

Jul 16, 2013 by

We Face an Enormous and Crucial Task; The Haberman Research Will Make a Difference for the Children and Youth of America


The very title, “Educating Children in Poverty”, presents what one could easily think of as a daunting or impossible vision. When one considers the large numbers of children in poverty in America as well as internationally, the count feels overwhelming: fifteen million children live in poverty in our country. If parents or other caretakers are included, the numbers increase significantly. We are failing these 15 million miserably: in June of 2006, some seven years ago, we learned that seven thousand children in our nation drop out of school every day, accurately predicting a life of poverty for 2,555,000 additional youth and families each year. Considering what we see and read in reliable sources, it would behoove Americans to stand up and say, “No more!”


No more will we stand by and see the waste of resources while children and students suffer; no more will we watch as children go hungry, without shoes, clothes, food, a decent environment, health care, or someone to assist with homework! No more should children go to schools in this country where termites infest walls, windows leak, bathrooms don’t work and the overall look of the school house is that of a jail. How long will we wait before America itself ranks as a third world country? To most, that idea is repugnant and always seems so far away from our everyday reality. We should, as a believing nation, shout “No more will we ignore our children- our nation’s most precious resource- who are needy!”


Righteous indignation is not, however, what we see everyday in America. Apathy is what we see. We see the American way of life before our eyes, which includes poverty, crime, drugs, gangs, the” miseducation ” of children, people attending all-white churches, all-black churches, all-Asian churches, etc.; sometimes these houses of worship are integrated. Most of the time, integrated or segregated, the believers are content in their beliefs. They are good people who believe they are on the right track in their lives. They are good people who may never see the third world coming to their back door, but their grandchildren and great grandchildren may live to see an entirely different and bleaker picture if we continue to stand back and live with the status quo.


Accepting the status quo will bring America to its knees. And while starting on our knees is an appropriate beginning, sincere Americans must make an intense examination of what needs to be done to stop the decline of our country’s educational system, and act! In the next decade, school as we know it will have to radically transform, and we will have to expand and make relevant the ways we instruct our youth. Graduating all of our youth is the key to saving America from being the next third world, and teachers and principals who are leaders are the solution to ensuring this happens.


In the next few paragraphs of this attempt to bring hope to a seemingly unpromising terrain, there is specific information as to what might be done to help each child graduate and have access to the fullness of the American dream.


Only Schools Can Save Children in Poverty


One researcher in this century, perhaps more than any other, who continued to bring the plight of children in poverty to the forefront, was Dr. Martin Haberman, Distinguished Professor of Education, Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. (1932-2012) Few have matched his efforts to crusade for excellence in educating children in poverty in the United States. In 2005, Dr. Haberman’s book, Star Teachers: The Ideology and Best Practice of Effective Teachers of Diverse Children and Youth in Poverty (reprinted 2008 and 2010) His first book, “Star Teachers of Children in Poverty sold more copies than any other publication from Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society for Educators. Dr. Haberman is known nationally and internationally as an expert on specific strategies to meet the educational needs of children and youth in poverty. In order to understand the power of the strategies proposed, one must understand the role of school in the lives of children and youth in poverty. Notes from Dr. Haberman:

“For children in poverty being successful in school is a matter of life and death. For those without a high school diploma, the likelihood of ever having a decent job- one with adequate health insurance and some form of retirement account- is extremely remote. Being a drop-out or a push-out dooms people to dead-end jobs, living in unsafe neighborhoods, and never being able to fully provide adequate health care for themselves and their families. It also means that those who are miseducated never develop the individual potentialities that would give their lives greater meaning and society the benefit of their participation and productivity.” Martin Haberman (p.98)

How can we find teachers and principals who agree that school for children in poverty is a matter of life and death? How can we ensure that every child has a teacher and leaders who see it as their job to identify individuals for each classroom who are on a mission?


We need teachers and principal who think of themselves as airline pilots. You would not want to get on an airplane with a pilot who says, “I’m very good at flying. I fly this jumbo jet everyday. I’m very good at taking off as well. I have that maneuver down pat. Now…. sometimes, I have trouble landing. I land 90% of the airplanes I fly. But, you know, win some; lose some!”


You’d get off that airplane right away! Yet children have no choice like that, unless you define dropping out as a choice. This society makes all children attend school, whatever that building looks like. We schedule them into classrooms with whoever is standing at the front of the class. That individual may or may not understand their job, particularly with children and youth in poverty, as a matter of life and death.


Some teachers and principals see their job as this fundamental, and they define that job as insisting that all students master basic skills, do well on tests, and graduate. Certainly this is a beginning. However, if this is all they do, the deaf-defying drop-out rates will certainly continue.


“Star” teachers and principals see it as their central job to motivate and engage students and to make them lifelong learners, problem-solvers, and contributors to this nation’s democratic way of life. The vision of educators as enablers of social justice is the cornerstone of each school that truly saves children in poverty. It is the rationale for doing whatever it takes to ensure that each child has full opportunity. It is not enough to close the achievement gap on minimum skills tests so state departments of education stay happy. What is needed is a pervasive and thoroughly shared ideology and belief system that, when in full implementation, makes the school the hub of the neighborhood- a place where parents and members of the faith community, local organizations and businesses, and diverse newcomers to this great country feel totally welcomed and served.


The children and youth of America and beyond deserve the opportunity to pursue the American Dream! It won’t happen without a good to great education; that one fact, we all know for sure.

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