Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

October 18, 2010

Poverty and Schooling

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 1:44 pm

The limits of Moco schools’ economic integration study

Washinton Post-October 15, 2010 Valerie Strauss
There are big limits to the study released today showing that several hundred low-income students who went to school in low-poverty schools in Montgomery County did better on standardized math tests than kids who went to high-poverty schools:
1) Scores on standardized tests don’t actually show that kids are really learning anything. A rise in scores could mean better test prep.
2) The suggestion in the results of this study is that the school makes all the difference, and there is substantial research that shows that things are more complicated.
You can read about the report in this story by my colleagues Michael Birnbaum and Stephanie McCrummen.
It tracked the performance of 858 elementary students in public housing scattered across Montgomery from 2001 to 2007. About half the students ended up in schools where less than 20 percent of students qualified for subsidized meals, and most of the others went to schools where up to 60 percent of the students were poor and where the county had directed extra resources.
After seven years, the children in the lower-poverty schools performed 8 percentage points higher on standardized math tests than peers at higher-poverty schools. Students in these schools scored modestly higher on reading tests, but those results were not statistically significant.
But consider the report released recently by the Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization that advocates for policies to help poor children and families, titled “Early Warning!: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters,” the latest in a series of “Kids Count” analyses.
The authors take the 2009 reading test results released in March from the National Assessment of Educational Progress — considered to be the gold standard in K-12 standardized assessment — and break down the numbers to show how well different groups of disadvantaged students are doing: 

  • 90 percent of low-income black students in high-poverty schools were not reading at grade level by fourth grade.
  • 83 percent of poor black students in schools with moderate to low levels of poverty did not reach the goal.
  • 88 percent of Hispanic students in high-poverty schools missed the mark.
  • 82 percent of Hispanic students in schools with low or moderate rates of families living in poverty did not read at grade level.

It’s not JUST the school. That’s not to say that schools don’t matter. Of course they do. Kids who attend schools that are well-resourced, well-managed and well-staffed are bound to perform better than kids who attend schools that aren’t, and, the more troubled schools in our country are almost always found in high-poverty areas.

And, of course, integration of neighborhoods and schools should be seen as rooted in the country’s core values
But the stubborn fact remains that without attacking the roots of poverty, we will never close the stubborn achievement gap. Putting poor kids in middle-class schools will help some of them, and that’s a good thing, but the real answer is alleviating poverty.
David Berliner, regent’s professor emeritus at Arizona State University, a prominent researcher and educational psychologist, has studied how achievement is affected by poverty-induced physical, sociological and psychological problems that children bring to school.
These are six out-of-school factors Berliner has identified that are common among the poor and that affect how children learn: (1) low birth weight and nongenetic prenatal influences; (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; and (6) neighborhood characteristics.
A change in school Zip Code can address some of these issues, but not all of them.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and other like-minded schools chiefs like to say that it is just an “excuse.” They ignore the education and social science research showing the strong link between family income and standardized test scores.
Meanwhile, new Census Bureau figures show that one in seven Americans live at or below the poverty line, defined as an annual income for a family of four of $22,000.
We can build zillions of charter schools and give standardized tests to kids every day of the week and fire tons of teachers and close a lot of traditional public schools.
Our problems won’t go away in education because we still will be ignoring the obvious.
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