There is only one answer to improving education, closing the achievement gap, and producing graduates who are capable and have a sense of purpose: Give poor kids what the children of the educated and the affluent already have.
We know that middle and upper class students in the United States receive from their public schools the best education in the world. We also know that the reason for the achievement of those more affluent kids does not come exclusively from what their schools offer them but also from what their families and communities give them as well. So let’s give poor kids those same family and community advantages of the more affluent and see what happens.
Harris Rosen did just that. Since 1993, he has given $12 million to a poor community of about 3,000 people in the metro Orlando, Florida area named Tangelo Park. He gives about $500,000 a year, less than his start-up yearly contributions, directly to preschool and prekindergarten programs he established and for all graduating seniors who are going to college.
Tangelo Park has a population that is 90% African American and, until recent years, was best known for its drugs, crime, and shuttered houses. Thank to Mr. Rosen’s involvement, Tangelo now has free preschool for all children ages 2-4 and prekindergarten classes with access to parenting classes, vocational courses, and technical training for their parents. Children, according to their teachers, now arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. The high school graduates all of its seniors, most of whom go on to college on full scholarships, funded by Harris Rosen. The scholarships are for anyone who is accepted to a Florida public university, college, community college, or technical school and covers tuition, room, board, books, and travel costs. There is a 75% college graduation rate of Tangelo high school graduates who go to college, which is the highest rate among ethnic groups in the nation. Tangelo now also has increased property values and plummeting crime rates. Harris Rosen’s investment, over the past 21 years, has changed lives and transformed a community.
What created the changed lives and the transformed community?
For Harry Rosen, the changed lives of the people of Tangelo Park and the transformation of that community is all about an element absent in many impoverished American neighborhoods: hope.
“If you don’t have any hope,” Rosen says “then what’s the point?”
The children of educated and affluent parents are raised in a culture of hope; they, to quote Emily Dickinson, ” dwell in possibility”. They are also given the cognitive skills to make the possible real for themselves. That is why they succeed.
Harry Rosen questioned why students would devote countless hours to school and their families would emphasize education to their children if college is out of reach. He decided to make hope real for the community of Tangelo Park.
We, as a nation, can do what what Harris Rosen did for Tangelo Park. We can give all kids hope. What it will take is universal early childhood education, which emphasizes cognitive and social development, and college scholarships for all.
Philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, The Walton family (Walmart), and Eli Broad could put their money into funding early childhood education and college scholarships, instead of trying to micromanage something about which they have no knowledge or expertise: what goes on in classrooms. Federal, state, and local taxes could help to fund quality early childhood education and college scholarships instead of paying for useless standardized tests and the curricular materials to prepare students for those tests. Individual volunteer efforts could focus on developing the vocabulary and thinking skills of 2, 3, ,4 and 5 year old children or in helping high school seniors and their parents to explore college options and complete the required application and financial aid forms.
We could then see in 2018 the beginning of a national effort that would make for real student achievement, for real equity, and for real education reform. We could build a culture of hope. Let’s do it.