News & Politics

Many Poor Kids in Baltimore Are Testing Badly Because They Can't See

A new program is getting free glasses to students with vision problems.

Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen with V4B Students
Photo Credit: Vision for Baltimore

Researchers from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland discovered three years ago that the reading disparity between poor kids and wealthy white kids can be tied to vision problems and a lack of eyeglasses.

Now, a public-private coalition that includes the national nonprofit Vision to Learn is working to solve the problem and give poor children the glasses they need to succeed in school.

A three-year program called Vision for Baltimore will be studying and screening 60,000 children for vision deficiencies. The program plans to distribute 8,000 glasses. Some researchers estimate that 20,000 children are in need of glasses in the region right now.

"Teaching geometry at large high school in west Baltimore, I often had class sizes over 30 students and it was common for some of my students to tell me they wanted to sit closer to the board so they could see," former classroom teacher and TeacherProps founder and CEO Peter DeCandia said.

"Sometimes I noticed them squinting or realized the issue and did my best to change their assigned seat. To be honest, with so many things going on managing a class of 35 students in my first years of teaching, I wasn't always on top of it, and the issue was overlooked. Among the many injustices my students face and the ones I tried to tackle on a day to day basis, the issue of all my students being able to clearly see the board was a low priority amid other challenges."

Experts believe that the mandatory vision screening periods for children are inadequate. Children who don't develop vision problems until partway through elementary school are going years without proper vision screening and treatment.

If the Vision for Baltimore study is a success, it is expected to become a blueprint for nationwide reform.

Chris Sosa is a managing editor at AlterNet. His work also appears in Mic, Salon, Care2, Huffington Post and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSosa.

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