Monday, October 06, 2008

Poverty and Education

In Iowa, the conversation of the link between poverty and education is a public one. In CT, we still insist on that the political red herring of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has veracity.

While we genuflect to the fraudulent science of NCLB, real children continue to suffer and public education remains in the dark ages of high-stress testing and get-tough political rhetoric.

Maybe we can learn from Iowa some self-evident truths. From Best reform in education? End poverty by Richard Doak:
You can't concentrate in school if you hurt. Or if you're hungry. Or abused. Or worried about your parents being evicted. Or if your parents are druggies who take the Ritalin that was prescribed for you. Or if your older sister entertains gentlemen callers in the next room all night. Or if your mom has a new live-in boyfriend every few months. Or if your job-losing parents keep moving you from school to school with long truancies in between. Or if you don't know where you'll be sleeping tonight because your dad's in prison and you get shuffled from one relative to another, and no one really wants you.

Any teacher in Iowa can tell stories that both tug at the heart and stir anger. Such stories are probably more common, in large and small schools alike, than Iowans would like to believe.

What's remarkable is not that the stories are commonplace - anyone who knows a teacher has heard them - but that they are heard so little in the public discussion about education.

As another school year is set to begin, the focus is once again not on the kids themselves. It's all about test scores, teacher quality and education standards. This year features a national advertising campaign from Strong American Schools, partly financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The campaign notes that schools in most other industrial countries outperform American schools. It advocates higher standards, more time in school and better teachers. The Register's editorial page has been urging higher, uniform standards for Iowa, too.

All well and good, but once again the discussion studiously avoids the elephant in the room.

Student achievement in this country is never going to significantly improve until attention is directed to the root causes of low achievement: failing families in a low-wage economy.

Sure, teaching can get better and schools can adapt their methods to help low achievers. Individually, caring teachers do what they can to overcome poor parenting, but they have the children only a few hours a day. The larger influence is at home.

If fundamental improvement is going to occur, it must happen primarily outside the classroom.

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