Robert Putnam, a Harvard University professor and author of “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” was invited to come to Atlanta to help the community try to figure out how to bridge the “Opportunity Gap.”
In “Our Kids,” Putnam shared two alarming facts about Atlanta: our city has the most rapidly growing gap between rich and poor of any major city in America, and greater Atlanta has the second-lowest rate of intergenerational social mobility – second only to Charlotte, North Carolina.
So how do we bridge that gap?
One of Putnam’s focal points was education.
He stressed the need for extracurricular activities – such as sports, drama and music – to be available to all students. Those activities are often “pay-to-play” in today’s schools – because students have to pay for uniforms, instruments or supplies. That leaves lower-income students short-changed on learning how to be part of a team or developing their creative abilities.
Putnam also said this problem must be tackled at a grassroots level, and he outlined a plan:
Boost jobs and wages. Reform the criminal justice system. Provide high-quality early learning opportunities for all children. Help parents with family leave and coaching. Invest in public education. Fully fund extracurricular activities. Pay top teachers more to teach in low-income schools. Provide more intensive mentoring of kids. Open up new opportunities for students through community colleges, vocational training and apprenticeships.
Now it’s up to Atlanta leaders to take action.
Maria Saporta is editor of SaportaReport.