Throughout its history, the United States has overwhelmingly spent on education rather than social welfare programs. Wells explains that this trend has resulted in the federal government relying on the public education system to close the expansive gap between rich and poor students. At first this goal may seem reasonable; however, the reality is that the federal government has set up a system that is inherently flawed. Wells explains that schools are expected to create social equality (presumably through closing the “achievement gap”), yet they do not have a “strong social safety net to hold up children whose families lack money for food, shelter, or health care” (Wells, 28). Instead of investing heavily in social welfare programs and trying to transform society as a whole, like many European countries, the federal government relies on the public education to teach students to learn how to rise out of poverty and how to achieve equal statuses as their counterparts in society.
While our core national value of equality amongst all remains extremely important in society, it seems as if it has misguided our policy makers and has led them to ignore the needs of certain groups in society, all under the guise of “equality of opportunity” (14). Our policy-makers have avoided giving “handouts” to the poor through ample social welfare programs and have instead relied on the idea that “self-help” through things like education is the better route to take. What policy makers fail to realize is that people cannot simply “learn their way out of poverty,” because it impossible for schools to exist outside of the social context of the community in which they are located (17). As Au explains in his first chapter, most schools in America are not helping students rise out of poverty; instead, they are reproducing the inequality that exists in society.
One of the main themes that we have focused on thus far in class is privatization and its potentially negative impacts on public education. In her article, Wells describes the “child benefit theory,” an educational policy derived by Catholic educators in 1965 and which preached the idea that money should follow each child in the system, no matter where they attend school (26). Although Wells does not extensively discuss what ultimately came of the child benefit theory, she does explain that this idea allowed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to pass through both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 60’s. Another important outcome of policies like the child benefit theory was federal spending on public education increased dramatically from about $1 billion to $3.5 billion (27). We can see a resurgence of these ideals in today’s educational policy conversation in proposed policies like school vouchers, and increased educational spending. Theoretically, when money follows children to their school of choice, the student gets a better education because schools compete for students’ voucher money. However, instead of an elevated level of education for all, with more privatization, we have increasingly seen that schools are not performing any better and are not closing the achievement gap.
Perhaps it’s time for our policy makers to take a completely new approach to solving educational issues and the achievement gap. Well’s argument that we need better social welfare programs seems to be a promising one. While improving education is not an easy task, it’s a necessary one and one that should be at the forefront of politicians’ minds. After all, aren’t the children of today the future of our country?