Want to Fix Education? Start Addressing Poverty.

Let me ask you a simple question:  How closely associated do you think consuming a boatload of alcohol and dying of cirrhosis of the liver are?  Stated another way, how convinced are you that people who spend their lives on the wrong side of the bottle are more likely to die of cirrhosis than the teetotallers in your community’s Anti-Liquor League?

If you guessed that the odds are pretty darn good that people who drink like fish are more likely to die of cirrhosis than people who don’t, you’d be right.

According to Dr. Michael Freemark, Professor of Pediatrics at the Duke University Medical Center, linear regression tests — which are statistical measures used by medical researchers to study the correlation between two or more variables   — prove that alcohol consumption and death by cirrhosis are strongly related, with an R2 value of 0.4-0.5.

Now let me ask you another simple question:  How closely associated do you think struggling academically and growing up in poverty are?

Ready to be shocked: Writing about a linear regression test that he completed using recently released 2013 testing data from public schools in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, Freemark found that the correlation between a child’s economic condition and the likelihood of passing North Carolina’s end of grade exams is 0.85 — TWICE as high as the correlation between spending your life chugging Kentucky bourbon and dying of cirrhosis.

Freemark — along with Raleigh-based attorney Anne Slifkin — summarize the findings of their linear regression testing like this:

This very high value signifies that 85 percent of variability in school performance is explained by the economic well-being of a child’s family, as measured by eligibility for subsidized lunches, and/or is associated strongly with, most factors that determine performance during the elementary and middle school years.  For one factor to have such a powerful impact on educational outcome is revealing and must be addressed.

What does this mean for those who are passionate about fixing education?

Given that recent data released by the US Census Bureau show that the percentage of students living in poverty has risen by 32% since 2001, that 48% of all students in America’s public schools qualify for free or reduced price lunches, and that students living in poverty are now a majority in 17 states, it means that if we are REALLY serious about seeing students succeed, we simply must start investing in struggling communities.  Asking schools to close achievement gaps while ignoring the economic gaps that exist between students growing up in wealth and students growing up in poverty is just another #edpolicy disaster waiting to happen.

More importantly, asking schools to close achievement gaps while ignoring the economic gaps that exist between students growing up in wealth and students growing up in poverty is just another NATIONAL disaster waiting to happen.

#simpletruth

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 Related Radical Reads:

Living a Silent War

What Parents Don’t Understand about High Poverty Schools

The Crappy Refrigerator Approach to Fixing Schools

 

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3 comments

  1. Larry

    Don’t agree. Part of the problem is the definition of ‘po6verty’ which changes decade to decade – at what point is someone in poverty. Its also a comparison definition – poor compared to who or what? There is stress involved with many in poverty and lack of good nutrition but many times what a household chooses as their foods are the decisions of those in charge or what they let others eat and drink, which does not feed the brain well.

    I recently read about a man who was down on his luck, lost a lot and could only afford what he could buy at the 99 cent store. He bought all his food there – vegetables, fruits, protein, etc. and lost weight, ate better than he had in years, was in decent health and since he didn’t have a car for a while, walked everywhere for some months. Its in the choices you make to some degree that determines what you eat and drink.

    We’ve had a war on poverty since the Lyndon Johnson days, the 60s, and we have more poor now, according to definitions of poverty today but more poor people are living with more resources from the government (all the services and money the poor get) and with more things in their lives (air conditioners, refrigerators, cars, entertainment components, TVs, computers, etc.). What we call poor is in comparison to what we say the middle class or wealth or rich have. Living conditions in a neighborhood and problems between parents may cause more stress than actual poverty of material goods. Its how you learn to handle things that counts and perhaps many just don’t know how to do it.

    • Bill Ferriter

      Larry wrote:

      Living conditions in a neighborhood and problems between parents may cause more stress than actual poverty of material goods. Its how you learn to handle things that counts and perhaps many just don’t know how to do it.

      - – - – - – - -

      This is where we agree, Larry. But my argument would be that if we made an effort to attack poverty — to make sure that people had easy access to job training programs, to make sure that kids in poor neighborhoods had enough to eat and had access to after school programs that focused on academic skills, to make sure that a living wage was available to everyone — the living conditions in a neighborhood would improve and problems between parents would decrease.

      And I’m not saying that the responsibility for fixing these problems rests solely with the government. I’m all for community organizations stepping in to serve those who are in need — whether that’s churches or foundations doesn’t matter to me.

      But to ignore the impact that poverty has on educational performance is short-sighted at best and ignorant at the worst. Having taught for 20 years, I can tell you story after story of capable kids who spent their entire lives behind the eight ball. There’s little in the 6 hours a day and 180 days a year that schools can do to close the gap that poverty throws into the lives of kids through no fault of their own.

      Any of this make sense?
      Bill

  2. Mary Davis

    Just started working in a Title 1 school this year. Been spoiled working in the suburbs for 20 years. Send me anything you have on what works in high school. I know that is broad. You’ll figure it out. I plan on making a difference.