Education Letter to the Editor

Obama Needs to Address Poverty, the Root Cause of Many Problems

February 22, 2011 1 min read

To the Editor:

The Commentary “A Letter to My President—The One I Voted For” (Education Week, Feb. 2, 2011) is a heart-wrenching appeal from a 5th grade teacher who is on the front lines of a battle with poverty, breakdown of the family unit, massive teacher turnover, and financial constraints that prevent the offering of programs in areas such as music and art.

Last semester I decided to take on the responsibility of leading, on an interim basis, a very poor school which closely resembles Commentary-writer Paul Karrer’s description of his California school district. I have been in education since 1965 and have worked in many school districts, first as a teacher and then as a school administrator. I thought I saw poverty during my career until I worked in a school similar to the one described in this letter. These were the most difficult four months of my entire career. Food and clothing were major issues for many of these students, as well as the breakdown of a family structure. I saw first-hand the effects of poverty on educating a child.

While national educational policymakers devise solutions like charter schools, vouchers, testing, and better teacher evaluations, the root cause of the problem—poverty—never gets addressed. Paul Karrer is not unique. There are teachers like him who are on the front lines battling the same conditions every day. Many of these teachers leave education, creating a revolving door for others to follow.

Unless we confront the root causes of this problem and stop supporting quick solutions to complex problem of poverty, teachers like Paul Karrer will become professional victims who leave education. President Obama: Listen to Paul Karrer, and address the root cause of the problem. We cannot afford to lose another Paul Karrer.

James Sheerin

Monroe, N.J.

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2011 edition of Education Week as Obama Needs to Address Poverty, the Root Cause of Many Problems