Kevin Carey has a great post on the intersection of poverty and education. He starts with University of Colorado Education Professor Kevin Welner Answer Sheet critique of the education manifesto by the superintendants of the New York City, Washington, DC, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, Denver, Philadelphia, Kansas City, New Orleans, Charlotte, and Indianapolis schools systems. Welner writes:
It is disgraceful for these leaders who are in charge of 2.5 million students – disproportionately students in impoverished, urban areas – to act as enablers for those who dismiss the need to address issues of concentrated poverty.
“Welner believes that by asserting that poor children can learn, the superintendents are hurting the cause of making poor children less poor,” Carey writes. But the question isn’t “Does poverty matter?” The question is: “How much does poverty matter and, knowing that, what should we do?”
The Broader / Bolder manifesto outlines a number of things that would help children be less impoverished in their health, housing, nutrition, and homes. I agree with all of them.
But let’s assume poverty isn’t abolished immediately. How do we educate poor children?
If certain levels of poverty made it impossible to learn, that would be one thing. But we have evidence that this isn’t true, both in the cases of specific poor children who learn, and in high-poverty schools where many children learn.
. . . My quarrel with the Broader / Bolder folks is that they always stop short of explaining the specific, actionable implications of their convictions about education and poverty are for education. We should “account for” the effects of poverty, apparently. How? They never say. If “no excuses” is the wrong approach, what excuses are appropriate? What does that even mean?
We’re a long way from having “schools that are well-resourced, well-run, and well-staffed enough to help poor children learn as much as they’re able,” he writes.
I don’t believe that even the best teachers can completely overcome the huge deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development that poor students bring to class through no fault of their own. They can help narrow the gap between these students and those from advantaged backgrounds, but they can’t eliminate it.
Maybe the causation is backwards, writes DeRosa. Suppose middle-class families “possess traits like self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, and cognitive ability that will allow them to stay out of poverty and do well in school.”
I agree that it’s unlikely the best teachers could erase the performance gap between low-income and affluent students, just as it’s unlikely that deluxe social programs could erase the gap. So what? Let’s educate all students as well as possible and see how much the gap can be narrowed.
Huffington Post finally ran my first submission (a rerun from the blog), Doomed by poverty.