Teach well and let others 'fix' poverty

Schools can’t fix poverty, writes Alexander Russo on Scholastic. They don’t have the time or the money and it’s not their job. All the talk about “out of school” social programs is a distraction — and “part of a longer-term pushback against accountability-based reform like NCLB.”

Jumping into efforts to reach children in their home lives, however, may stretch schools’ abilities to make a real difference — and may take you and your team’s eyes off quality classroom instruction and academic improvement.

. . . Previous efforts to create large-scale social service programs for families and children have suffered from inadequate funding, low quality, and weak effects. Think Head Start or Upward Bound.

Schools need to focus their resources and energy on teaching well, Russo argues.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. I think we need to work together to support students. It does take the village to support a child. Students don’t check their problems at my classroom door before they enter. Those problems impact on students’ learning.

  2. It does take the village to support a child.

    Actually it takes a family.

    Students don’t check their problems at my classroom door before they enter.

    And they don’t go away after they leave.

    The schools need to educate, teachers need to teach, parents need to parent.

  3. The schools need to educate, teachers need to teach, parents need to parent.

    But when parents don’t parent, schools need to do whatever they can to help a student.

    That is the biggest problem with NCLB–every aspect of schools is being controlled by the need to raise test scores. But there is more to life than high test scores.

  4. But there is more to life than high test scores.

    That’s why there’s scouts, and church, and sports, and dating, and…

    But what schools are about is education. That’s the best path to eliminating poverty for the next generation.

  5. Charles R. Williams says:

    It would be nice if schools and social programs of various sorts could compensate for the collapse of the family. There is no evidence that the state can accomplish this at an affordable cost. As it is, it is vastly more expensive to educate children today than it was 50 years ago because the children coming into our schools are less educable. The schools need to focus on schooling. In particular they need to make sure that disruptive and unmotivated students do not interfere with the education of students who are motivated.

  6. As it is, it is vastly more expensive to educate children today than it was 50 years ago because the children coming into our schools are less educable.

    We did not try to educate all of them 50 years ago. We pretended to. I do agree that our society is more hostile to education now than 50 years ago even though it has been a “crises” and we have thrown a lot of money at it for a long time.

    I think it is very conceited to think that government buraucrats (I am one) can replace loving concerned parents. Were orphanages more effective than what we do now? I had a friend who was raised in one, but he was a big agressive guy. I can easily imagine an orphanage turning into a juvenile snake pit.

    I think a community can help. I have helped my neighbors kids with their school work, when their parents could not.

    I agree about the disruptive and unmotivated students do not belong in school, until they change their behavior. I think their time away from school can be turned into a motivational experience, but not a boot camp.

  7. Bandit,

    Isn’t this the villiage, is that what you meant?

    “The schools need to educate, teachers need to teach, parents need to parent.”

  8. Education should be a way to get out of poverty, but education should not be used as a tool to eliminate poverty. The former focuses on the individual, and the latter focuses on statistics. There are those in education who hold individual kids hostage to their social agenda. This agenda becomes more important than individual educational opportunity. Schools have to look at individual kids and separate those who can or will from those who can’t or won’t. This doesn’t involve giving up on kids. It means treating them as individuals, not as part of a class action suit.

    There is more to life than high test scores, but don’t blame test scores. The tests are trivial. There is no poor test results path to getting out of poverty. Solving individual social issues might help a child focus on his or her school work, but low expectations (devaluing test results) is not one of those methods.

    A rising tide (statistics) floats all boats, but that doesn’t help if you are an airplane.

  9. I really had to read Russo’s article on this, because I was tempted to react to the first quote only. I disagree that “schools can’t fix poverty.” In fact, education has always been a significant antidote to poverty. I would also hold, however, that schools, in the United States, have also often served to ensure that movement upward on the socio-economic scale was limited. In short, the basic distribution of education within our school system has generally served to maintain social stratification.

    This is something that can and should change.

    But Russo was really talking about something very different, and here I agree with him. The newest distraction from levelling the educational playing field–particularly now that we have documented how deeply rutted it is–is this notion that the poorest performing schools have what they need to teach, well, the normal kids, but they are burdened with all of these, well, inadequate kids, from substandard families. Never mind that the folks who popularized the term “dysfunctional family” were largely middle-class (now) middle-aged suburban white folks sorting out the hurts of their childhoods (and their parents’ addictions). The reason that the kids who go to certain schools end up with about four years less education than everyone else has nothing to do with the education in those buildings. It’s the lack of health care, food, proper parenting and counseling these children receive. Again, never mind that the schools have been so wrapped up in themselves for the last couple of decades that they have no clue what is going on outside their buildings–let alone the status of public health, mental health, child care or any other resources in their communities (or their relationship to education). Now they have determined that these things don’t exist, or don’t exist at a sufficient level (to allow kids to be educated) and they would like to take them on.

    It’s not that these are not good things to champion. I have been championing some of them for a very long time. Long enough to tell you that I have found very little interest in schools for working with the mental health system–unless it meant someone coming into their building and taking a troublesome child out of their class for a while. When it comes to meeting with some folks who understand bipolar disorder or ADD or RAD and how to accommodate students with these disorders in the classroom–well, those folks just don’t understand what teachers have to put up with. School nutrition programs are wonderful. Why is school breakfast unavailable at so many schools that qualify?

    So–yes, yes, yes. Support the existence of these programs in your community. Collaborate with them when you share interests and concerns. Even share buildings and resources when appropriate. But Alexander is right. Schools provide education. Too many are not doing it well enough to meet the needs of the students they are responsible for. This is where they need to focus.

  10. Mrs. Davis says:

    I do agree that our society is more hostile to education now than 50 years ago

    If our society is so much more hostile to education than 50 years ago, why does it voluntarily spend so much on college and university education? Perhaps the hostility is to a failed public “education” system that fails to educate children ready to learn because it spends so much time catering to those not. Children need to learn early that actions have consequences, not that the government will provide for them regardless of their actions.

  11. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Well, it’s nice to think that bringing mental health services in will solve all our problems, but it is really of limited efficacy. I have mental health services in my building. I have been trained in teaching children with ADHD, ADD, Bi-polar disorder, OCD, Tourettes — you name it and I’ve taught a kid who suffers from it. I know how to accommodate for them and do — every year. We have a therapeutic classroom staffed with two full-time counselors, plus a separate social worker and staff psychologist (all in a school pop. of about 1400). We also have an alternative school in our regular school building that serves at-risk children (read: mostly potheads who can only manage to get to school a few hours a day). We are gradually finding things that work and have cut our drop-out rate to 2%. Are all those math geniuses now adding up how much this all costs? I’d say all these services are devoted to about 75 or so kids and are entirely separate from all the special education services (which is about 20% of our population) and gifted services (about 10%). We are not Title 1, and do not receive funding from the federal government. We do not qualify for funding from the state. All of it rides on a flat tax base sliding into recession. How long before we cut those 75 kids loose again?

  12. So we can’t properly educate most children until we’ve solved all our social ills… We have solved many of the social ills of the past like major childhood illnesses, starvation levels of poverty, and involuntary segregation. We enjoy increased life expectancy, better health care overall, high employment (relatively speaking), air-conditioning, electricity and indoor plumbing, luxury items for almost everyone, universal car ownership, high home ownership, decrease in crime rates, etc.

    We’re living in a golden age of history in an incredibly productive time of cheap food and goods, and yet we continue to blame “society” for all our failures. It might just be possible we’re overlooking some other cause for our schools’ failures…

  13. “It might just be possible we’re overlooking some other cause for our schools’ failures…”

    There are many educators who are unwilling to examine these causes. When you can’t or won’t separate the issues of education from the issues of poverty, this leads to lower expectations. They approach poverty systemically, rather than on an individual basis. Rather than focus on the educational needs of individuals, they set their sights lower and focus on eliminating poverty, a role that makes it harder for many kids to get out of poverty. Not all kids have social issues that affect education. Many kids have good homes, plenty of food, health insurance, and good dental care. They just don’t have parents at home who are able to make sure that learning gets done. These kids are ignored while schools hide behind the enormous problem of poverty. This is not one monolithic problem to solve. It’s a whole lot of individual ones. The goal should be to expand school choice and give parents the resources to solve their own problem. This will force schools to pay more attention to individual education than poverty.

  14. Perhaps not a popular view, but here’s Walter Williams on how to avoid poverty:

    “Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And, finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior. If you graduate from high school today with a B or C average, in most places in our country there’s a low-cost or financially assisted post-high-school education program available to increase your skills.”

    I think the ways schools could focus on “fixing” poverty is holding students accountable for learning, teaching what people will need in life (Math, reading skills, reasoning skills, some science, some history…), and dialing down on all the “social engineering” end of the curriculum.

    At the same time, students and their parents have the responsibility to put the best effort they can into education. Schools can’t teach students if the students don’t want to be taught, if they don’t think that education is important. People thinking education is unimportant is partly the fault of their parents and partly the result of a culture that’s basically hostile to hard work.

  15. “It is vastly more expensive to educate children today than it was 50 years ago because the children coming into our schools are less educable.”

    Perhaps it’s all the chemicals in our food, in the air, in the water these days? I think a lot of kids are growing up with a chemical lobotomy. Add to that a lack of discipline, and an anti-intellectual culture, and you have a recipe for economic and cultural disaster.

    “I do agree that our society is more hostile to education now than 50 years ago…”

    So hostile that U.S. culture has devolved into being completely anti-intellectual. The simplest (and saddest) proof is to observe what happens to students at inner city high schools who are intellectually curious and very studious. Their life is one of torture, when they should be looked up to by their peers.

    “I think it is very conceited to think that government buraucrats (I am one) can replace loving concerned parents.”

    The government as parent used to be considered a last, desperate resort; now it’s the norm. Like the State of California making home schooling illegal because all California children were considered “wards of the State”. In the U.S. today, your children belong to the State; you’ve just got them on loan, as long as the government approves of your parental behavior.

    “I agree about the disruptive and unmotivated students do not belong in school, until they change their behavior. I think their time away from school can be turned into a motivational experience, but not a boot camp.”

    Why not a boot camp? The most disruptive and unmotivated students could use some ROTC, some real discipline with real consequences. Keeping students in school who should NOT be in school is >50% of the problem with K-12 schools.

    “I think the ways schools could focus on “fixing” poverty is holding students accountable for learning, teaching what people will need in life (Math, reading skills, reasoning skills, some science, some history…), and dialing down on all the “social engineering” end of the curriculum.”

    Exactly! I love Walter Williams. 🙂

  16. Stacy in NJ says:

    We don’t have a poverty problem. We have a culture problem. There are people living in poverty all over the world: Africa, India, China. They lack basic medical care and even enough food. Many of them eagerly seek out the educational opportunites we are unable to force on our own students. They are able to learn with the most crude tools and probably inadequate teachers (who never attended Columbia School of Education).

    I don’t think we need to duplicate the situations in these places, but how about acknowledging the role that cultural expectations, or lack thereof, play in outcomes? Instead of trying to “solve” poverty, how about we address those expectations?

  17. You know, just to throw in a piece of good news, while the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y were totally anti-intellectual, the Millenial Generation is showing major signs of hope. Civics and education may become en vogue again! Just not overnight.

    (P.S. – I hate using those mainstream media names for generations… I wish there was a more standardized system for talking about generations. After all, if the average generation is 30 years long, you can go all the way back through history in every society and pick out thousands of generations of people and discuss them one at a time.)

  18. Mrs. Davis says:

    Wolf 359 Vet,

    I suspect you will enjoy Generations: The History of America’s Future 1584-2069 It gives some standard names and period for the generations in American history. A very enjoyable read and interesting way to look at the country.

  19. Stacy asks, “how about acknowledging the role that cultural expectations, or lack thereof, play in outcomes? Instead of trying to “solve” poverty, how about we address those expectations?”

    I think that’s a fine idea, as long as we look broadly enough. For instance, what is the role of teachers in transmitting cultural expectations to their students? Research frequently points up lower expectations for students on the part of teachers than on the part of students or their parents, particularly those at lower income levels, or those from minorities. Teachers/schools have a hard time seeing this, or seeing themselves as a part of the same “culture” as their students. Frequently they present as “missionaries” from a superior culture, and don’t understand why their students don’t buy in to what they believe they are offering.

  20. We can’t take practical steps to improve education if we have the mindset that we’re up against immutable factors such as “culture” and “society.” Why bother teaching most children if our entire culture is anti-intellectual or beyond help due to factors outside our control? Yet we bother because many of us don’t really believe our kids are doomed because of our culture.

    I think it’s the culture of the educational establishment that is to blame. Talk about anti-intellectual – defensive, dogmatic, and resistant to change.

    It would be a lot easier to make radical changes to our schools than to change our society and culture.

  21. Andy Freeman says:

    > That is the biggest problem with NCLB–every aspect of schools is being controlled by the need to raise test scores. But there is more to life than high test scores.

    We pay public schools to educate children. If they can’t prove that they’re doing so, why should we pay them?

    Note – if you argue that public schools can’t educate children, why should we continue to pay for them? Do you really think that the answer depends on why public schools fail?

  22. Charles R. Williams says:

    “We did not try to educate all of them 50 years ago.”

    I don’t remember any kids in my blue-collar neighborhood that the public schools did not try to educate. Who are these people?

    Every class I was in from K thru 8 was 35-36 students and there was one disruptive student that I had in my class every other year or so. I remember his name. The parochial school around the corner got better results than the public school with 50 students per class.

    The K-8 had about 1000 students, 27 teachers, a part-time music teacher and a part-time art teacher. There was a principal and a secretary. No counselors, no assistant principals and certainly no social workers.

    The world that made all this possible is gone. No amount of educational spending will bring it back.

  23. The world that made all this possible is gone. No amount of educational spending will bring it back.

    No, but changing the divorce laws might.

  24. Stacy in NJ says:

    “We can’t take practical steps to improve education if we have the mindset that we’re up against immutable factors such as “culture” and “society.” ”

    I don’t think that culture is an immutable factor. Schools and teachers can’t changes the external circumstances of their students. Excepting that and changing their focus to the things they can control would be a wonderful step forward. They can control the environment and expectations within the school. They can set standards for behavior for students, teachers and administrators. They can enforce those standards fairly and aggressively. They can set high but realistic academic standards, work tirelessly to teach, assess and test, teach, assess and test.

    “It would be a lot easier to make radical changes to our schools than to change our society and culture.”

    Exactly. First change the schools and some of those social cultural issues may diminish.

    The fight over who controls our public schools, and the philosophy/idealogy of those who control them, is the flash-point, the ground-zero in how our culture will work out the old challenges of the post ’68 era and face the new ones of this century.

    Most reasonable people know we can’t continue on the same path. Broader, Bolder is the dying gasp (hopefully) of the old way trying to recapture it’s influence.

    I have my fingers crossed for Michelle Rhee. She seems to have it, if not exactly right, nearly so.

  25. If our society is so much more hostile to education than 50 years ago, why does it voluntarily spend so much on college and university education? Perhaps the hostility is to a failed public “education” system that fails to educate children ready to learn because it spends so much time catering to those not. Children need to learn early that actions have consequences, not that the government will provide for them regardless of their actions.

    Mrs. Davis,

    I agree with most of the above, but…

    We spend a lot of money on higher education in part because our schools are perceived as so bad that some employers demand post high school education as proof of competence. Two generations many would have hired high school graduates for the same jobs they require college for today. We spend so much in part because governments provide so much loan money colleges can easily raise their prices. Also we are a much richer society and can afford to spend more on our children, but parents want to put it where it will do the most good.

  26. Charles R. Williams

    We did not try to educate them all 50 years ago. We kept them in classrooms till they were sixteen. We even graduated many, but we were not educating them. By the time they were thirteen many were too far behind to ever catch up. Special ed was holding cell where I attended school. I atended 8 schools in 5 different school districts. Were all of your peers literate and numerate? A lot of mine weren’t. I lot of my fellow recruits in the Army who were not literate and numerate enough to handle their initial MOS (9th grade level) schools.

    At some point in their life I believe they all had the opportunity to learn.

  27. The world that made all this possible is gone. No amount of educational spending will bring it back.

    Nor will all the technology in the world bring it back. That world has been destroyed by more than half a century of liberalism; yet some people are still singing the same old song, as if applying more liberal ideas will somehow fix the mess the ideas created in the first place. Liberalism gives the disease, and then liberalism tries to cure it by injecting more disease into the dying patient. No amount of educational spending can fix the cultural cancer that’s been metastasizing since the 1960’s.

  28. Stacy

    You’re right, immutable sounds good, but is inaccurate. I was trying to impart the idea that “society” and “culture” are constants that schools have to operate within. It’s the schools that have to adapt, not the society or culture. What power does our ed establishment have to change society other than through the quality of its education? That should come first.

    I agree about Michelle Rhee.

    MTH

  29. gbl3rd

    Just an addition–50 years ago there was also no requirement to educate all those with disabilities. I have a friend with a son my age who was asked to keep him home for the last 6 weeks of kindergarten–or the principal was going to lose a “very good kindergarten teacher.” She was fortunate that he started over the following year, in a special school further away, and was eventually educated–but such was not the case for all.