IS IT REALLY FAIR TO COMPARE OUTCOMES FOR A TEACHER IN A CLASS FULL OF KIDS WHO LIVE IN POVERTY TO A TEACHER WHO HAS A CLASSROOM FULL OF AFFLUENT KIDS?
A lot of my teacher friends are getting hot and bothered by teachers being blamed for the country’s allegedly poor education performance. I use the word “allegedly” because some claim the rankings are unfair.
For instance, they say it is unfair to compare the Finland system, which is ranked number one in the world at this time, with ours because Finland doesn’t have a diverse population, few students are not native speakers. And Finland has almost no children living in poverty.
Not only does the United States have great diversity, it also has the highest poverty level of any of the world’s rich nations. If it is agreed that Mexico is a rich country, it would edge out the United States for number one.
According to a UNICEF study, the child poverty rate in Finland in 2005 was 2.8 percent. The United States child poverty rate is 21.9 percent. And, yes indeed, a child raised in poverty is far more likely to perform poorly than one raised in affluence.
Now, if you live in a place like my home town, Columbus, Georgia, the poverty problem is much larger than the national average. This is often true in urban areas. Overall, schools in suburban districts score better on standardized tests.
In the Muscogee County School District sixty-five percent of the students come from families who live in poverty, based on how many qualify for free and reduce-priced lunches. The rate in some schools goes as high as 95 percent. I asked Muscogee County School District Superintendent Susan Andrews to explain the extent of the poverty problem and how the MCSD is coping with it. This is what she told me.
“Sixty-five percent of our students receive free and/or reduced price lunch. Many other children are on the borderline of this poverty line. Generational poverty is a persistent problem and a formidable foe. In order to work on the issue and ensure that children who live in poverty receive a quality education, we begin by serving as many students as the State will provide us slots in the prekindergarten program and by partnering with programs such as Head Start. Early childhood education is a key in developing children’s vocabulary at an early age. Children who live in poverty have significantly smaller vocabularies than students from middle class families. The gap in achievement between students from poverty and other students is present when students enter our doors. Schools with high levels of poverty are provided more support in the form of personnel (family service coordinators, more assistant principals, more academic coaches) than schools without a high level of poverty. The purpose of the federal ESEA is to provide funding for additional support for schools with high poverty so these schools (we refer to them as Title I eligible schools) receive additional funds for supplies, equipment, and professional development. This funding cannot supplant other local and state funding but must supplement the local and state funding.
“Our Partners in Education program, as well as other community involvement projects, assist our students who live in poverty to have the opportunities and mentoring they need. Columbus Scholars is another program designed to reach out to students who need additional support.”
But, you may say, there are children who start out in poverty, but do quite well, ending up with college educations, thanks to the work of excellent, dedicated, caring teachers. I believe that is true. But, there are those who say reports about that can be misleading. We’ll look at that in a future post in our The Education Solution series.
If you would like to find out how a school performs anywhere in the United States, just click on this link to NBC’s Education Nation Scorecard.