At-Risk Need a Mix of Good Teachers, Social Service Help

Jay Matthews:

Karen Kaldenbach, an 18-year-old high school senior in Arlington County, remembers vividly what life was like when she was 11: “I saw Social Services almost as much as I saw my mother, who was always drunk. Her best friends, alcohol and money, were always there for her. She spent so much time with them, she couldn’t raise my little sister and me. Social Services always came to talk to me at school. They asked questions about my family. My response? A lie, always.”
Such stories are not uncommon in the Washington area. They often end unhappily. Yet these days, Kaldenbach is thriving, with a supportive adoptive mother, plus awards, scholarships and an acceptance letter from George Mason University.
We are in the midst of a national debate, its outcome uncertain, over what should be the emphasis of efforts to fix public schools. Some say the focus should be on improving teaching. Only in the classroom, they say, is there a chance to give students — particularly those in poverty — the tools they need to succeed. Others say teachers cannot reach those children until their family lives, shaken by parental joblessness or mental or physical illness, are straightened out by government action.