Education is intended as the great equalizer, the equalizer that allows poor children the chance to compete with their more affluent counterparts. But education is also the great segregator when poor children don’t gain the education that allows them to compete.

In Nebraska it is clear from nine years of statewide testing that many poor children are behind before starting school and simply fall further behind over time, condemning many to failed adult lives.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was signed 54 years ago as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. It provided federal money to states to distribute to poor school districts, expecting these schools to close the education gap. For 54 years this approach has failed. This failure and the continual reliance on a failed theory have sentenced millions of Nebraska’s poor children to a failed adult life.

No Child Left Behind was signed into law 17 years ago. It went further than the earlier law by demanding that teachers close the education gap or they would be fired. For 17 years this law— and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act — has again been a failure at closing the education gap, despite the threats.

It should be clear to everyone that we need a new approach; schools cannot close the education gap. Research is clear that preschool helps, but it is the home life before preschool age that must be addressed if we hope to close the education gap.

Despite the research, policymakers, teacher training colleges and many educators continue to believe the fairy tale that schools and teachers can turn Omaha Public Schools into Elkhorn Public Schools. This malfeasance is condemning many thousands of our children to failed adult lives every year it continues.

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