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College explores school inequality

Carolynn Smith | Tuesday, April 13, 2010

 South Bend school representatives, from an elementary to university level, discussed how inequalities in education negatively affect students in a lecture at Saint Mary’s College Monday night.

The lecture, titled “Equality and Education: The Faces and Facts,” began with Notre Dame professor Maria McKenna, who spoke about the problems of poverty and the education system in the United States today.
“There are 73 million children under the age of 17 in this country. Forty-one percent live in low-income families and 19 percent live in poor families,” McKenna said.
A poor family lives on an income of $22,000 a year, she said. 
“Three out of five kids are living in conditions where their food is not secure from day to day, their housing is questionable and positive interactions in their neighborhoods do not exist,” McKenna said.
McKenna said in order to make a change, more people need to care about the effects of poverty.
“I think the future of this country rides on the fact that we need to care enough about the child and their education for them to become productive citizens. But we are failing at that. Even though there are many people out there trying very hard to not fail, we are,” McKenna said.
Yolanda Turner-Smith, president of Xavier School of Excellence in South Bend, spoke about charter schools.
“Charter schools in Indiana, as defined by the law, need to be unique, different and have high accountability,” Turner-Smith said. “This allows teachers to use different methods to reach children and teach them in different ways that they can understand.”
Turner-Smith said many of the children who attend charter schools are not at their appropriate grade level. There are many children who are in the fifth grade but  may be reading at a third grade level, she said. 
“Part of that accountability means that we have to bring students up to their level in one or two year,” she said.”This allows for teachers to be able to teach the children in different ways.”
She also said charter schools have smaller class sizes and are funded by tax dollars. If a charter school is forced to close, it is usually due to financial issues, she said.
Nancy Jacobson-Reighter, of the Coquillard Primary Center in South Bend, said Title I schools are government funded, which leads to an unequal distribution of funds between the schools. 
For students suffering from poverty, it affects every aspect of that student’s life, she said.
“Many of our students have issues with nutrition and health care. They have never seen a dentist. They have never had their eyes checked. They have never been taught about nutrition,” Jacobson-Reighter said. “This is because their parents do not have the means to provide these things.”
Olivia Critchlow, assistant director of the Office for Civic and Social Engagement, said there is a need to inform other people about these inequalities, and students can fill that need.
“Educational inequality is not something that a small group of people can change. You need to tell other people and create a large group, and that will lead to real change,” Critchlow said.
The event was sponsored by the Justice Education Department, the College Academy of Tutoring Program and The Katharine Terry Dooley Fund in Peace and Justice.