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Poverty and Schooling: Can Schools Change the Landscape for Children in Poverty?

March 8, 2012

Justice in Education comes with Justice in our Society

This article in Education Week, Growing Gaps Bring Focus on Poverty’s Role in Schooling, alerts us to research that says without changing the poverty issues in the US, we cannot hope to make an impact on closing the achievement gap that plagues us.

The fractious debate over how much schools can counteract poverty’s impact on children is far from settled, but a recently published collection of research strongly suggests that until policymakers and educators confront deepening economic and social disparities, poor children will increasingly miss out on finding a path to upward social mobility.

This quote from the article shows how wide the achievement gap has grown.

The achievement gap between poor children and rich children has grown significantly over the past three decades and is now nearly twice as large as the black-white gap, according to Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist.

We know that wealthy people spend enormous resources developing their child’s skill sets outside their schooling.  They spend monies on enrichment classes and experiences, vacations, and other resources that position their children to be ready to learn.

As the income gap has grown, so too has the disparity in how much money and time affluent parents invest in the development of their young children compared with such efforts by low-income parents. For example, between birth and age 6, children from high-income families now spend an average of 1,300 more hours in “novel” places outside their homes, schools, and day-care centers than children from poor families, a trend documented by Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Russell Sage Foundation and Spencer Foundation published the report, Whither Opportunity: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances, that the article references.  The findings from their research show that

in multiple ways, how widening gaps in economic and social resources between rich and poor children over the past few decades have eroded public schools’ ability to overcome those disadvantages.

Pedro Noguera has also written extensively about the negative impact of poverty on student’s ability to manage their work in school.  (click here for blog post on Noguera’s work) While not all students are impacted in adverse ways, the research is very clear that students who grow up in poverty have tremendous obstacles to overcome.  They struggle competing with their wealthier schoolmates who have all the advantages wealth provides.

The study referenced below from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice found that there were six out-of-school factors common among the poor that are obstacles to successfully achieving the health and learning opportunities of children.

  1. low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children;
  2. inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance;
  3. food insecurity;
  4. environmental pollutants;
  5. family relations and family stress;
  6. neighborhood characteristics.

All six of these are profoundly impacted by the poverty in which many children grow up.  Unless we change the inequity of wealth in this country and help families escape from the chains of poverty, we cannot hope to close the achievement gap between rich and poor children.  The statistics are discouraging.

  • Poverty for a family of four is an annual income of $22,000 (people with million dollar salary make this much money in 10 days)
  • In 2010, 16.4 million children live in poverty in the United States.
  • the 16.4 million represents about 1 out of 3 children in school.

Schools do not have the power to change the economic reality that these 16.4 million children face everyday.  They can affect some change, but it will be limited for the vast majority of children who grow up in poverty.  Out political and educational leaders must face the reality that NCLB, Race-to-the-Top or any school reform movement will have a huge impact unless we address issues of poverty and all the factors associated with it.

Resources:

Poverty and School Performance

Poverty and Education: The Challenge of Improving Schools

The Impact of Poverty Upon Schools

A broader and bolder approach uses education to break the cycle of poverty, an excellent article by Pedro Noguera in PDK (abstract)

Saving Black and Latino Boys, an article by Pedro Noguera in Education Week

Saving Black and Latino Boys: What schools can do to make a difference, Pedro Noguera, abstract from a PDK magazine article.

Impact of poverty on the educational outcomes of children, a study of the challenges in Canada, abstract.

Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice published a 2009 study.

Are we measuring up, blog post by the CFT on education statistics in US

School Reform: A complex issues in the face of poverty, blog post by the CFT.

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