COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher wants all students to get a high-quality education, but it is a more nuanced problem than he feels is being addressed.
Belcher spoke to about 15 people Thursday afternoon at MU as part of a symposium put on by the Center for Family Policy and Research. His presentation, titled "Delivering an Excellent Education for All Students" addressed how diversity within the district and issues such as poverty need to be addressed to improve education.
"I don't think people get it," he said. "I don't think people understand when we talk about diversity what's really happening."
Belcher noted that there has been an income gap between different racial groups for the past 10-15 years and that poverty dramatically impacts learning. He said he thought poverty was getting worse and that it was more pronounced in minority communities.
"This is probably the poorest we've been since the '60s," he said.
Belcher addressed how income and economic culture interacts with family size to compound diversity and poverty issues.
"So what we're seeing is that those with income, to have access to the economy, to have the things and the success they want, are having smaller families to condense that resource for success," he said. "And then you see those that have lower income, and have less resources, are continuing to have large families, which makes the impact of the economy more pronounced on that group."
As possible solutions to issues of diversity, Belcher pointed out the importance of early childhood education and resources to make sure a student has a supportive home environment. He said that these issues aren't being talked about and that people try to make broad generalizations about why they are happening.
Belcher also addressed how the rising costs of higher education make it more difficult for students in low-income situations to go to college. He said he thought part of the reason fewer minority students get degrees was because, for those coming from low-income families, it is hard for them to understand they could be college-bound.
He said setting high academic expectations for students means that schools need support, mentioning requirements that are set by No Child Left Behind as well as the district. He also said he would like to see all students graduate with six hours of college credit, but to do that, the district needs resources. Belcher referenced national rankings that put Missouri below the majority of other states in terms of state funding to schools.
There is a great deal of change occurring at a time when there is little support for public structures, Belcher said. Solving problems in education is more complex than the simple answers that are often given.
"I still think we're one of the most wealthy nations in the world, we're one of the most intellectual nations in the world," Belcher said. "We have great technology, but I think we're just absolutely missing the mark on what we do for education."