IBJOpinion

SIDDIQUI: Conflict, ideology devalue education

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SiddiquiRecent ISTEP test scores seem to indicate a correlation between academic success and economic prosperity. These test results show that school districts in affluent neighborhoods have better scores than schools in poorer neighborhoods.

Regardless of whether one agrees with the ISTEP tests as a measure of academic success, we should all be concerned with this disparity. A student’s test scores should not depend upon economic circumstances regardless of the weight we give to those scores.

If we look beyond local political allegiances, we will find models that can be adapted to meet our needs as Hoosiers.

During an interfaith trip to Kenya, I saw firsthand how alleviating hunger can dramatically improve attendance, academic success and the drive to achieve.

During this trip to witness the impact of philanthropic contributions of Indianapolis congregations to alleviate hunger for orphans and vulnerable children in Kenya, I met a principal who has turned her school around. Her schoolchildren receive some of the highest test scores in that region despite extreme poverty.

This school was turned around by an amazing educator who asked the most troubled children in her school why they wouldn’t study and created problems instead. Their answer: They were hungry.

She was determined to solve the poverty and hunger issues to resolve the academic issues. By empowering her students to grow food, start micro businesses and engage with their school beyond classroom learning, she has established a model for poverty-based school programs the world over.

The Harlem Children Zone (HCZ) is another good example of how a comprehensive approach toward poverty can influence academic success. HCZ has a block-by-block approach to tackling poverty. It includes a baby college for children ages 0-3, all-day kindergarten, extended-day charter schools, health clinics and community centers, youth violence prevention efforts, social services, and college retention programs.

The ideas exist across the world. Many of these programs also exist in Indianapolis.

What we seem to lack is a coordinating body that can marshal all these resources to help save children one block at a time. This coordinating body should help education funders, policymakers and activists come together and focus on our children’s education.

The coordinating body should focus funding and initiatives to help improve schools one block at a time. This incremental approach will help uplift our communities and assist in economic development sustainably.

Initiatives like these should include important partners like Indianapolis Public Schools and charter schools alike. Institutions like IUPUI, University of Indianapolis, and Butler, Marion and Martin universities should be included as key players. These institutions have the history and resources to further such work.

IUPUI in particular has centered its work in the urban core of Indianapolis and is driven by its mission of being an exemplary urban university. Its programs like education, social work, public affairs, philanthropy, public health, law and education provide it a comprehensive scope to lead the fight against poverty to achieve stronger educational achievement. IUPUI and Indianapolis would be well-served to anchor such an initiative.

Unfortunately, disunity among education advocates devalues our educational initiatives.

People on all sides of the education debate have a choice between pursuing a purist, fragmented approach or putting aside their differences and finding unifying principles that can lead to a comprehensive approach to achievement.•

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Siddiqui is an attorney, doctoral student at Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, and publisher of Siddiqui Public Affairs Review. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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