Thursday, February 06, 2014

Let Me Repeat That: It's The Poverty, Stupid!



This is something I'll bet you didn't know: if we only count the US schools with a student poverty rate of less than 10 percent, our students outperform the kids in China, Singapore, and yes, even Finland on the Programme for International Achievement tests in reading, the very benchmark tests that have caused corporate education reformers to shriek, "The Chinese are beating us!"

US schools that serve a student population with a poverty rate over 75 percent wind up ranked near the bottom of the list. 

The evidence is crystal clear. Poverty is really the only national education reform issue that matters. Poverty is by far the number one reason children "fail" in school. Poverty, poverty, poverty. To phrase it as Bill Clinton might: It's the poverty, stupid. It's not a lack of a progressive play-based curriculum, it's not a lack of accountability, it's not about lazy teachers . . . Say it with me: it's the poverty.

The reason you probably didn't know this is that the corporate education reformers don't want you to know it. Guys like Bill Gates, the Koch brothersArnie DuncanMichelle Rhee, and Barack Obama do not want you to look behind that particular curtain. They want you to believe that it's all about cracking the whip on those lazy asses and voila the kids (and their teachers) will chase those carrots and run away from those sticks all the way to the head of the class. They don't want you to know that the problem is poverty because they can't make money off of solving poverty the way they can off drill-and-kill education reform. So as part of their business plan, the American people have been subjected to an all-out public relations campaign in which they are attempting to claim the mantel of civil rights leaders. And it's working, but only to an extent: over 80 percent of us give our public school system as a whole, the devil we don't know, the ones other people's kids attend, a "C" or lower. When asked about our own public schools, the devil we know, the ones our own children attend, we hand out "A's" and "B's."

I don't think our educational system is perfect by any means. This whole blog is about better ways to educate children, but the assertion that our public schools are failing is, on its face, false. The failure is in an economy that leaves so many children in poverty. And that's actually something about which these Wall Street types really could do something, given that they have their hands on the levers of power and all. The Finns and Singaporians have strong safety nets that insure their poverty rates don't exceed 10 percent and just like US schools with low poverty rates the kids excel. Poverty is the national education emergency and it's on that front the Finns are beating us.

And if you've read this far and still need convincing, check out this fantastic piece from The Washington Post Answer Sheet entitled The Hard Bigotry of Poverty

In education, there are choices to be made that can indeed move the needle of student achievement. Developing a collaborative model, for example, can lead to improvements in the skills and study habits of disadvantaged children. But closing the so-called achievement gap between rich and poor will first require Americans to recognize a far more uncomfortable reality: The policies employed to purportedly address the struggles of low-income children have ushered in a new era of school segregation. Claiming that poverty is no excuse for student failure trivializes the damage caused by years of actions and inactions that have widened the gaps between rich and poor communities. Good schools aren’t molded through harsh sanctions, private takeovers, or even soaring rhetoric. They emerge from healthy, stable communities. That is, they emerge from a commitment to justice.


I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share
-->

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I live in the UK, so whilst I dont have to deal with your government in regards to education, I have to deal with my own. According to my government, my family & I (we have 2 boys under 6), are just under the 'bread line'. Not sure what that means these days. Yesterday, my 5 year old came home from school in pieces, after a 6 year old in his class had been making fun of him, us (his family), and where we live. I don't know if we are richer or poorer than this other boy. All I know is that I sent my boy back in today, with his head high, knowing that he is far richer than this boy in the adidas trainers and tacky sports jacket, as my boy has manners & grace. So hopefully he pulled it off today in class, while I came home and cried. Apparent wealth & government agenda means nothing. We, the parents, the educators, the family mean a hell of a lot more.

courtney gardner said...

You're on a roll this week, This is the "readiness" conversation that needs to happen. We don't prepare children for school with inappropriate academics. We prepare them we we insure their basic needs are met.

Sara said...

Ruby Payne is a great author to study poverty and education.

gilberthcardenas said...

I agree. I work with preschoolers in an impoverished community. And education will go far: getting out of poverty will go farther.

becky said...

It's really great that you are out there saying this. I've been saying it (not in print) for years, after teaching and seeing how unprepared for school the poorer children arrived. What made this point even more obvious was seeing a report of high school test scores from our town. There are two high schools--one has mostly better off students than the other. I am quite certain the curriculum, funds, materials, and teaching methods (as well as overall/averaged out teaching ability) at the two schools are the same, given they work for the same school board. Guess which school had far lower test scores? It's so sad that so many people are negatively affected (kids' lives, teachers drowned in paperwork, all kids' education driven by testing) because politicians care more about money than doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

I certainly understand that children who grow up and live in poverty in the U.S. face many challenges w/ re/ to school success. I also understand both the negative and positive unintended outcomes of accountability policies and high stakes testing. Supporting those children and families is my life's work. I do question your use of international comparisons while isolating data sets when it comes to student success. Interesting that high stakes testing results are used to make that point. When one also looks at international poverty levels, and numbers of children being formally educated one sees a different and more complete picture.

Teacher Tom said...

@Anonymous . . . Last time I looked, the US has the highest poverty rate of any industrialized nation.

The reason we use these tests (which are not considered high stakes because they are not linked to funding and teacher's careers) is because it is the favorite petard of those who favor increased testing of US students.

There is, of course, no fully satisfying way to compare various nations, but this is what we have so we use it.

Anonymous said...

I also am in agreement with this, but as a child,I came from a poor family and teachers you do such an injustice to these poorer students when it is so obvious that you also are the problem. It was very obvious that my teachers wanted to give more time to those who were dressed better, pretty hair and came from a nice family. I felt it then and I still see it now. So really try to give these children who are hungry for more then food, the attention they desperately need, stop blaming everything on Government....

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your premise. I am a frustrated teacher who teaches in a public school with a free and reduced lunch rate of 80%. In our district we are going through "equity" training. This training along with so much of the information we are getting from the media, is blaming the education gap on "white teachers inability to teach students of color". I agree that there is a gap between white students and students of color. I don't agree that white teachers or race are the causes of the gap. As you said, it is an economic problem, a societal problem. And unfortunately a large number of the people living in poverty in our country are people of color. Our leaders need to help fix the problem. Society needs to stop claiming that teachers and schools are to blame. We can't fix the problem alone.

Teacher Tom said...

@Anon #3 . . . I have never blamed "the government." In fact, government is the solution. I blame wealthy dilettantes with libertarian ideologies, for-profit education corporations who place profit over education, and politicians who support them. Government -- as in "we the people" -- is the solution, as it always is.

Blaming government these days is essentially the stance of nihilism.

Anonymous said...

Ruby Payne's book has very little basis in actual research and promotes stereotypes of people in poverty.
http://www.tehamaschools.org/files/iss50/ResearchonRubyPayne.pdf

Kelly B. said...

Teachers are desperately trying to fin ways to reach and understand what is truly behind disrespect,lack of motivation, poor communication, students shutting down and lack of parent involvement. I agree with some of her critics that at times her teaching moves toward stereotyping and perhaps even prejudice, but some of her suggestions and insights have validity. Whatever we are doing now is not working. It is unlikely that the changes in our societal structure will change dramatically or quickly to even the gap between the socioeconomic inequities. That said, like all new ideas and solutions; take what makes sense to try and as long as it does not harm, try it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Technorati Profile