Poor kids, good teachers

Teachers can make a difference for low-income students, writes Eric Jensen in Ed Week.

Jensen, the author of Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind, just finished a study of 12 high-poverty schools. Half scored in the top quartile in their state; the other half were in the lowest quartile. The demographics were the same for the high and low performers. The values were similar.

When I offered statements such as, “I believe in my kids,” both school staffs said, “I strongly agree.” So, what was different?

It’s not poverty that makes the difference; it was the teachers. The difference was that the high-performing teachers actually “walked the walk.” First, the classroom and school climate was MUCH better at the high-performers. Secondly, the teachers at the high-performing schools didn’t complain about kids not “being smart” or being unmotivated. They made it a priority and built engagement, learning, thinking and memory skills every day. In short, they didn’t make excuses; they just rolled up their sleeves and built better student brains.

His list of “what we have learned (so far) to boost student achievement in high-poverty schools” includes:

High expectations are not enough. Help students set crazy high goals, and then actively point out to them how their daily actions connect to their long-term goals.

The most important cognitive skills to build are: 1) reasoning, 2) working memory, and 3) vocabulary usage.

Increase feedback on the learning and zero it in on the specifics of effort used, strategies applied or attitude engaged.

A positive attitude is “priceless,” if it leads to action, Jensen adds. If it doesn’t, it’s “useless.”

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  1. I’m willing to bet that the higher-performing schools are safer and more orderly than the lower-performing schools. I’ve never even heard of a decent school that was not; appropriate school climate is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. Even good teachers can’t be effective if students are allowed to be disruptive. That’s admin’s responsibility. Sending kids to school decently socialized is the parents’ responsibility. Good teachers matter (as does good curriculum) but they need support.

  2. Sure, let’s put the best teachers in the worst schools. But are you going to pay them enough to put up with the suffering? Are you going to force them? (If you think that K-12 teachers only teach for 5 years or less now…)

    • Sorry, I couldn’t get past your first sentence.

      How are these “best” teachers to be identified?

      • Good question. I think most people “know when they see it.” How would you identify them?

        • Nice dodge but the question remains unaddressed let alone answered.

          And for the very good reason that the only people who give much of a damn whether a teacher’s any good are parents. And parents, all attempts to saddle parents for as many of the ills of public education as worried ideologues can come up with, are the only people who can be relied upon to care whether a teacher’s any good.

          Hey! You think maybe parents “know when they see” a “best” teacher? How about a “worst” teacher?

          Parents are people, right? So by your lights most parents should be able to discern good teachers from bad.

          Maybe we’re not that far apart on the subject!

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Strikes me that the three items in the last graf–reasoning, working memory, vocab usage–are the things we should be able to depend on parents for. But, clearly, not in all cases.
    And you’re going noplace without them.
    Congrats on teach drilling down the the most fundamental of the basics.