If poverty is destiny, what about Maine?

If the education crisis is all about poverty, what about Maine? Maine is a poor state — especially for blacks — yet graduation rates are high, writes Michael Holzman on Dropout Nation. Some 84 percent of black males in Maine complete high school compared to 89 percent of white males. Nationwide, 49 percent of black males and 73 percent of white males earn a diploma. That means those low-income blacks in Maine are outperforming the national average for whites by a healthy margin.

Of course, there aren’t many blacks in Maine. They’re not concentrated in inferior schools, writes Holzman.

 They attend the same schools as their white peers, have the same teachers, and must meet the same expectations. They are not herded into “drop-out factories” and expected to fail.

I’d guess ghetto culture hasn’t taken root in Maine. We drove up there  in late September to meet our future son-in-law’s family, who live way up north in potato-and-moose country. The week after we were there, his grandmother shot a moose. There was talk of serving it at the rehearsal dinner, but it was an old, tough moose which apparently requires injecting pig lard and cooking for several days to be edible. So maybe not.


About Joanne


  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    One problem with Maine is concentrating on income– a lot of the people who live there have other means of non-monetary support– hunting/fishing, gardens, wood stoves (so they’re chopping trees, not paying for heating oil) etc. So the question might really be, are they food/shelter/clothing/utilities poor? Or just CASH poor?

    There’s a lot of work going on in Maine that doesn’t add a salary– so the situation of a poor kid in Maine who helps his dad get the family’s meat for the winter may be very different from that of a poor, urban, child who never sees an adult actually do anything other than collect benefits.

    It’s the culture, not the cash.

    (Heck, with 5 kids and a stay at home Mom, our family looks poor on paper, but culturally we more closely resemble a family of academics……)

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    DM makes a good point.

    Here’s another one:

    If poverty meant an inability to have academic success, then mankind never could have done anything intellectually interesting. Ever.

    Mankind did do some intellectually interesting things.

    Ergo, it’s not true that poverty means an inability to have academic success.

  3. North of 49th says:

    We also don’t see the same “poverty gap” in most Canadian school systems as you do in the U.S. Child poverty is still relatively high (12% or something like that) but many schools with low-income students, including mostly minority and ESL populations, perform at or above middle-class norms. Poor kids in Canada are far more likely than their peers in the U.S. to graduate from university, enter professions, hold middle-class jobs. There is a much higher degree of social class mobility.

    My own school (K-8, inner-city, virtually all minority, low SES) outperforms suburban middle-class schools. The teaching is very strong, administration is excellent, community involvement is above average for a school of this demographic. I suspect the “poverty” issue is only part of a complex web of factors that influence student achievement.

    • That’s not the universal experience, unfortunately.

      “According to Labour Force Survey data, for 2007/2010, the dropout rate among First Nations people living off-reserve, Métis and Inuit aged 20 to 24 was 22.6%, compared to 8.5% for non-Aboriginal people. By Aboriginal group, the dropout rate among young off-reserve First Nations people (North American Indians) was 25.8%, and for Métis, 18.9%.”

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Aren’t most urban Canadian poor the children of fairly recent immigrants? That could make a difference. I mean, back in the first 1/2 of the 20th C., the complaint was that poor urban Russian Jewish kids performed too WELL. But again, there was a cultural difference….

  5. From the article: “Here’s a theory: There are too few black students in Maine to concentrate in inferior schools. They attend the same schools as their white peers, have the same teachers, and must meet the same expectations. They are not herded into “drop-out factories” and expected to fail.

    If that theory is correct, the experience of black students living in poverty in Maine points to a way out of our continuing education — and socioeconomic — crisis.”

    So to replicate the Maine success story, all we need to do is have every single white woman produce the same number of offspring as Michelle Duggar, then spread around the minority population to make up no more than 5% of any single state.

    That is a plan to be taken seriously.

  6. The social diversity crowd will tell you that there is such a thing as a tipping point in demographics.

    That’s the percentage at which a group’s influence overtakes the majority influence. Remember yesterday, the article about Finland? It stated that critics of Finland dismissed their achievements as being in a country that is too homogenous.

    The same could be said here; Maine is too homogenous for serious consideration. However, Tim’s plan seems to be the best option.

  7. If it were true that putting URM kids in with suburban kids would fix their performance, we never would have needed NCLB and we wouldn’t have an achievement gap in suburban schools.

    So either Maine has much lower standards so blacks stay in school, or blacks in Maine are very high functioning for reasons we don’t understand. In order to know which, we’d need to see test scores.

    • tim-10-ber says:

      from what I recall Maine’s standards are better than average…my niece and nephew live in maine and attended public school…I agree with the comments about cash/paper poor…Maine, to me, is a whole different way of doing things…people work in ways not showing up in pay stubs to get by…Watching my brother’s family I have seen it in many ways — the wood stove (use the oil only when necessary), chopping of wood, community gardens, hanging clothes to dry vs using the dryer, etc…Very, very hearty group of people…

  8. North of 49th says:

    Aren’t most urban Canadian poor the children of fairly recent immigrants?

    There certainly is a sizable number in this category, but I’m not sure you could make a case for “most.” and how recent is recent? We have some demographic groups who began settling here in large numbers after WW2; many of them have moved up into the middle class, but not all. Currently the Toronto area is experiencing a large surge in population who originated in Africa, the Balkans, Central and south Asia, the Carribbean, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. It’s pretty varied but a majority of the newcomers are people of colour and Muslim.

    Other low-income groups in the urban areas are people who have migrated to the cities from economically depressed areas, First Nations reserves, and Atlantic Canada.

    I think some of the factors that have been mentioned as contributing to Finland’s success also apply here however. One is very high standards for entry into teaching, a lot of support and PD for new teachers (we retain over 90% over a five-year period, a much higher rate than the US, and we draw them from the top of their university graduating class).

    Another is limited tracking and and emphasis on preventive intervention. I heard Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish educator, speak here not long ago. He said half their students receive Special Education services at one time or another, but very few students actually get labeled or classified; they just pour on support where it is needed. Lots of team teaching, co-teaching, flexible grouping. We have been headed in that direction in a big way. I was a sceptic but am seeing it can work well.

    One thing we don’t have that both the US and FInland do have is school meals for poor kids. We really have not addressed the hungry kid issue.

    • I like the focus on really getting services to the students quickly once a problem is seen, helping them not get behind and then they keep going until something else may arise. The main problem I see with the special education students that I service is lack of keeping up with standards but being progressed and falling so far behind in reading levels and vocabulary aquisition that they need serious one on one attention and dedication to make up for the difference. But with the stigma being so high on holding back and parents not wanting it to happen, we really need support to happen to take its place.

  9. Lightly Seasoned says:

    1. Who has done the herding?
    2. Then why hasn’t deseg worked?

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Over on instapundit, there is an occasional reiteration of a confused state of affairs.

    Some people–liberals–think the reason people are poor and not middle class is because they don’t have middle-class levels of money, so if you give them more money, they’ll be middle class.

    Others–conservatives–think that if the poor acted like the middle class, they wouldn’t be poor.

    Applying this confusion to Maine would lead us to believe that Mainiac black kids are doing middle class stuff, even if they aren’t as well off as other middle class folks. That would apply to school, as well.

    Did you ever think the Little House on The Prarie Ingalls were poor? Did you read the entire set of books, as opposed to the television show? If you didn’t think the Ingalls were poor, why not? Think about that and you’ll have a more nuanced idea of poverty. Compared to them, the inhabitants of the dreadful projects of, say, the South Bronx, with $30k-$50k of social support in cash, kind, and services on the sole condition they not get caught committing honest employment, are richer than the Sun King. At least the poor have plumbing.

    I live in West Michigan, with frequent occasions to travel to the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. The use of venison to fill the freezer is quite common and if you walk in the woods–not during hunting season–it would not be uncommon to find a deer skeleton or decomposing body showing signs of rough butchering.

    Joe Heywood writes a series called Woods Cop, about Conservation Officers in the Upper Peninsula and, among other things almost as background noise to the actual plot, their constant fight with deer poachers. Good reads. If he’s only half right about the venison poached, it’s huge.

    • “Some people–liberals–think the reason people are poor and not middle class is because they don’t have middle-class levels of money, so if you give them more money, they’ll be middle class.”

      Do you have a “for instance”? I’m having a hard time thinking of somebody who takes that position.

      “Others–conservatives–think that if the poor acted like the middle class, they wouldn’t be poor.”

      Should we approach that as a truism – if “acting like the middle class” means finishing high school, getting a college degree and perhaps a graduate degree, getting a white collar job and going to work on time, then yes, odds are if you do all of that you’ll end up in the middle class. If not, in what aspect do conservatives believe the poor should act like the middle class?

      I am reminded of a man who was recently bragging to me about his daughter, who had finished high school with honors and was heading to a top university on scholarship. He was an uneducated single father, raised in inner city Chicago. He made a decision to do what it took to move to a different environment where his daughter could enjoy safe streets, quality schools, and a culture that supports educational achievement. Is that what it means to “act like the middle class”? If so, do you think he would have achieved the same outcome had he done everything in the same way, but put his child through inner city schools? Because although it happens, most middle class families don’t have to move to avoid bad schools, or high rates of neighborhood crime and violence.

      • I’ve read studies that show that when family income increases student achievement at school increases as well. So the liberal view of families with better incomes can create more stability in the home life that allows students to achieve more at school creating upper mobility.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Aaron. As to who believes the first part: Liberals and the Great Society. Built on that. See about changing culture. You may recall that the Seattle Board of Ed once said officially that future time orientation was an indication of white culture. Implicitly, judging somebody on future time orientation was racist. The Seattle morons took that down after some fuss. They’d had other stuff up as well, crapping on middle class values and actions.

    Walter Williams and numerous others say, over and over, that if a woman graduates from high school, gets a job, gets married and has kids, in that order, the likelihood she’ll be poor is under ten percent. Mess up the order or leave something out and it’s over fifty percent.

    Your friend did a middle-class thing. Made long-range plans and worked his plan. It may be tough to escape the lousy schools in the inner city, but the lousiness is primarily a function of the students’ being unsocialized, uninterested in learning. To get out, you have to be different from your neighbors. One study, or perhaps it was one of a number of similar studies, asked kids what the minimum grade was they could get and stay out of trouble at home. Asian kids said, on average, they needed an A. White kids something less, Hispanics less than that and black kids quite low. Your friend took a middle class view of the matter.

    So, yeah. He acted like the middle class. Middle class people don’t end up in middle class ‘burbs or neighborhoods by accident. It’s not random. They make the choices. Ask any realtor what he’s supposed to know about schools in the various districts in which he shows houses. Your friend took proactive steps, rather than being resigned to a culture and a social and governmental structure which is designed to foster resignation and interest in immediate gratification.

    • Richard, “Liberals and the Great Society” is not a response to the question asked, and your “Seattle Board of Ed” anecdote changes the subject. There are lots of prominent liberals in our society. Name some who take the position that you attribute to all liberals. Can you name even one?

      No, my friend did not “act[] like the middle class” because as I already explained it’s not part of the normal middle class experience to have to move to provide a child with decent schools and safe neighborhoods. Sorry, no, “They make the choices” isn’t it – take a look at where middle class people live and you’ll see a pretty uniform experience, not people moving when their kids reach school age – they’re already in middle class neighborhoods. When somebody does ten times as much as you to accomplish the same end, it’s an extraordinary exercise in ego to say, “See, I told you that you would succeed if you acted like me” or, “that’s the same choice I made when I bought my McMansion in a neighborhood with excellent schools over the one in a neighborhood where schools were merely outstanding.”

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Middle class people rarely have their families where they themselves grew up. That is to say, they have to find another place to live. They choose middle class locations because they can’t afford the upper class places and they don’t want to live in lower class neighborhoods. One issue in making the choice is the school system. See, as I said, your nearest realtor on this subject.
    Your friend made the choices it was in his power to make, which includes doing what was necessary to get his daughter to a good school. From time to time, and I think one incident was discussed here, a parent is busted pretending his or her kid actually lives in a good neighborhood–when that’s not the case–in order to get the kid into a good school.
    As to whom by names? I don’t know your lib friends, so I don’t know their names, but I’d say probably eighty or ninety percent. You can probably figure out who’s which.
    Libs in general. Do you see libs trying to promote middle class values? Of course not. In fact, Seattle school morons were trying to discredit one middle class value. I don’t have to–because we’ve all heard it so often–mention how racist, misogynist, homophobic, judgmental middle class values are and how it’s just awful to tell other cultures how to live their lives.

    • You can’t identify even one person who fits your caricature of a “liberal”? No surprise there – the joy of creating the hollow man, an apocryphal person onto whom you can project views that are ridiculous, us that it’s easy to dismiss their views. The problem is, the person doesn’t actually exist, leaving you with nothing but excuses when you can’t identify a single actual person who holds the supposedly typical point of view.