Monday, January 31, 2011

The Role of Poverty in Education - Revisited

Graph showing SAT scores in relation to family...Image via Wikipedia
I have said here before that my main problem with the education reform movement is that it  largely ignores the role of poverty upon a child's ability to learn. Even if we eliminated every bad teacher, and I concede that there are some bad teachers- I had a few myself!, children from poor families will still do worse on standardized tests than rich kids.  

Others have gone into more detail on this topic.  Poor kids come to school hungry and often scared. They are not read to by their parents and they don't have a lot of models for how to study. They have ready access to drugs, gangs and violence as the most apparent solution to problems.  They come to bat with more than two strikes.  

The best way to improve our schools would clearly be to eliminate- or at least to reduce- poverty.  We would no longer be # 18 or # 34 on the lists of national school systems. 

I was reminded of this issue last week when a poor black woman from Ohio was convicted of a felony for sending her kids to a richer school system.  The Judge sentenced her to jail time to make an example out of her.  You cannot put your poor kids in a rich school system.  Great! We cannot catch  Osama Bin Laden, but we sure got that Kelley Williams-Bolar! Here is a news article on her sentencing.

I'm not sure how this is a special education issue exactly, but I imagine that reducing poverty would help all education- special and otherwise.  Aren't we too great of a nation to allow our kids to have so little of a chance at getting an education?  

Am I wrong?  What do you think?
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  1. It's a very good thing that you are calling attention to this issue. Any thoughts about solutions to the problem? Mark

  2. Socio-economic factors continue to be the 500 pound gorilla, I encourage this line of questioning since in it you will see the problems of enviromental factors of grinding poverty have upon identfication, % of children with disability as well as qualility of curriculm and instruction.

  3. Mark,

    Always good to hear from you.

    I have some ideas, but poverty seems to be a perplexing problem.

    What would you do to reduce poverty?


  4. Dr Mauro,

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

    Why is this not discussed more?

    What can we do?


  5. As an educator who works in an inner-city school, I see first hand the effects of poverty on children's learning. For greater perspective, I left and worked in one of the most affluent schools in the surrounding areas. Students from the affluent school were truly disabled (for lack of a better term). You knew there were no other variables influencing their learning (in most cases, not all). In the inner-city setting, I often found myself wondering is this a true disability or lack of exposure-after a while the two basically become one. How do you address this-smaller class sizes, more intense interventions with smaller groups. Is this what happens? Absolutely not, inner-city schools have the least resources and the greatest demands. I do not think you can take the families out of poverty, but with the proper resources and support, we could help children expand their options by offering them a high school diploma and a college education. I think that is the starting point for reducing poverty. Including families in this process would also be a huge part.

  6. Joanne,

    Thank you for your insightful comment.


  7. I hear so much of the discussion of poverty-striken students centering on urban areas. My students are rural residents. Many of them suffer from poverty. I think rural poverty is more isolating, due to a lack of transportation and lack of communication ( internet service, cell phone service, etc. )

  8. Anon,

    Well said. One of my favorite organizations, ACRES specializes in rural special education issues. I have had conversations with the secretary of OSERS and the Director of OSEP regarding rural issues.

    Poverty is not confined to urban areas.

    Thanks for your comment.