Nowhere is the inadequacy of American public education more striking than in high-poverty, urban schools populated by disadvantaged minority students. Despite decades of legal, policy, and scholarly efforts aimed at addressing the challenges facing these schools, the academic prospects of poor students are currently as grim as they have been in recent memory. Reformers seeking to address this problem have largely focused on transforming public education from within by focusing on school conditions or teacher performance.. These efforts have largely failed to bring about real progress: despite decades of litigation and reform, our nation’s most disadvantaged children continue to lack access to meaningful educational opportunity.

This Article argues that prior reforms have enjoyed little success because they have failed to address head-on what we believe is the predominant factor in perpetuating educational inequality: the numerous challenges disadvantaged students must overcome in their home and neighborhood environments. These well-documented challenges include a lack of household resources, suboptimal parenting practices, and the prevalence of neighborhood crime, violence, and other risk factors, all of which inhibit poor children’s ability to succeed academically.

Recognizing that the societal conditions that perpetuate these encumbrances are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, this Article argues for the creation of voluntary, public boarding schools as an option for educating disadvantaged children from as early as Kindergarten. As the SEED Foundation and others have demonstrated, there is a significant demand for boarding school education among members of poor communities and considerable private and public sector support for innovative education reform efforts. Recognizing that this proposal nonetheless will likely be met with resistance, this Article addresses a number of potential objections, including the suggestion that it is motivated by a desire to deprive underprivileged children of their cultural identity and that it is not financially feasible.

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