POVERTY AND TESTING
Stephen Krashen repeats…and repeats…and repeats…facts about the relationship between poverty and test scores. his first sentence is telling…”The media has learned nothing…”
Published in San Francisco Chronicle 12/03/2013
The media has learned nothing from the extensive research done on international test scores in the last decade ( U.S. Students Get Stuck in Middle of the Pack on OECD Test, December 3). Study after study shows that the strongest predictor of high scores on these tests is poverty, a conclusion that is backed by a number of other studies showing that students who live in poverty have poor diets, insufficent health care, and lack access to books, all of which contribute to low academic performance. When researchers control for the effect of poverty, the US ranks near the top of the world.
In contrast, no studies show that increased testing, increased rigor, and a more controlled curriculum help school achievement. The solution, in other words, is not the common core, which Susan Ohanian has described as “a radical untried curriculum overhaul and . . . nonstop national testing.” The solution is to protect our youngsters from the impact of poverty.
— Stephen Krashen
Diane Ravitch posted this analysis of the PISA scores. American students who attend schools with low poverty score near the top of the world, as Krashen has repeatedly said. The problem is poverty, not America’s public schools.
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=556 [1st in the world]
Finland – ranked 4th in the world
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=559 [1st in the world]
Finland – ranked 5th in the world
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=540 [5th in the world]
FInland – ranked 11th in the world
USA Today, not the usual source for pro-public education information, tells us what we’ve known for decades. Poverty matters and it’s the national “crisis” not education.
Poverty is the most relevant factor in determining the outcome of a person’s educational journey, and in Finland, the child poverty rate is about 5%. In the U.S., the rate is almost five times as high. Unlike us, the Finns calculate the rate of poverty after accounting for government aid, but the differences remain substantial…
Here’s one data point worth remembering. When you measure the test scores of American schools with a child poverty rate of less than 20%, our kids not only outperform the Finns, they outperform every nation in the world…
Two new studies on education and poverty were reported in Education Week in October. The first from the Southern Education Foundation reveals that nearly half of all U.S. public school students live in poverty. Poverty has risen in every state since President Clinton left office.
The second study, conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, reveals that poverty — not race, ethnicity, national origin or where you attend school — is the best predictor of college attendance and completion.
It’s understandable that Americans would want to deny such an embarrassing situation. The United States has one of the highest levels of child-poverty in the developed world. That we would allow almost one fourth of our children to live with food insecurity, poor or no health care, poorly funded education facilities, and homelessness, is shameful and it’s a reflection of our national morality that it continues.
If a foreign power were to subject one fourth of our children to this treatment we would go to war…yet the mostly wealthy, mostly white men who make up our congress (google: millionaires in congress), both Democrats and Republicans, generally agree that public schools are to blame for low achievement and do nothing to change the status-quo which favors their own mostly wealthy, mostly white children.
That our poverty numbers have risen to such a high level exposes the fact that as a society, we are choosing to ignore the needs of tens of millions of Americans—as we have done for much of the period since the War on Poverty went out of fashion and the harsher politics of Reaganism set in. These ignored Americans include kids like the ones I interviewed in Los Angeles, forced to choose between applying to college or dropping out of school and getting dead-end jobs to support parents who had lost not only their jobs but their homes, too. They include the elderly lady I met outside Dallas, who was too poor to retire but too sick to take the bus to her work at Walmart. Her solution? She paid her neighbors gas money to drive her to a job that paid so little she routinely ate either 88-cent TV dinners or went to bed hungry. They include, too, the residents of New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward I met in 2011, who, six years after Hurricane Katrina, were still living in appalling conditions in a largely obliterated community…
Think money doesn’t matter in public education? The article below discusses exactly why money matters…and why poverty matters. This was written in the UK. While the child poverty rate in the UK is only 12.1 compared to America’s 23.1 it’s still high. The research can help us as well…if we listen.
- This review identified 34 studies with strong evidence about whether money affects children’s outcomes. Children in lower-income families have worse cognitive, social-behavioural and health outcomes in part because they are poorer, not just because low income is correlated with other household and parental characteristics.
- The evidence was strongest for cognitive development and school achievement, followed by social-behavioural development. Income also affects outcomes indirectly impacting on children, including maternal mental health, parenting and home environment.
- The impact of increases in income on cognitive development appears roughly comparable with that of spending similar amounts on school or early education programmes. Increasing household income could substantially reduce differences in schooling outcomes, while also improving wider aspects of children’s well-being.
- A given sum of money makes significantly more difference to children in low-income than better-off households (but still helps better-off children).
- Money in early childhood makes most difference to cognitive outcomes, while in later childhood and adolescence it makes more difference to social and behavioural outcomes.
- Longer-term poverty affects children’s outcomes more severely than short-term poverty.
- Although many studies were from the US, the mechanisms through which money appears to affect children’s outcomes, including parental stress, anxiety and material deprivation, are equally relevant in the UK.
Adding Insult to Injury
We spend less money on our students who need more. It seems that, where our children are concerned the US is a “leader” in exactly the wrong areas. We lead the developed world in child poverty as well as low education funding for our poor students.
“The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students,” writes Eduardo Porter for the New York Times. This is because a large percentage of funding for public education comes not from the federal government, but from the property taxes collected in each school district. Rich kids, then, get more lavish educations…
This makes us one of the three countries in the OECD — with Israel and Turkey — in which the student/teacher ratio is less favorable in poor neighborhoods compared to rich ones. The other 31 nations in the survey invest equally in each student or disproportionately in poor students. This is not meritocracy and it is certainly not equal opportunity.
The voucher plans in places like Milwaukee, Louisiana, Indiana, Washington DC and elsewhere are designed to divert public funds to private schools.
Fifty years after the March on Washington, D.C., ardent voucher proponents such as Jindal would have Americans believe that they are something like modern Martin Luther King Jrs., seeking enhanced opportunities for all. They claim that parents should be able to use taxpayer money to educate their children as they see fit rather than being locked into certain schools, and they say taxpayer-funded “scholarships” – a euphemism for vouchers – are the only way for low-income families to escape failing public schools.
But the reality is far different. Despite the best efforts of “school choice” advocates to spin the effectiveness of vouchers, decades of accumulated evidence paints a different story: Vouchers do not improve educational outcomes, they take money away from struggling public schools, they’re cash cows for institutions offering questionable education, they aid students already attending private institutions and they ignore the needs of special-education students.
Privatizers want to close public schools and replace them with voucher accepting private schools. When some charter schools “failed” in Fort Wayne, Indiana they were reopened as private schools so that they wouldn’t be subject to closure for lack of success. Grading schools using an A-F measure isn’t meant to improve education. It’s meant to blame poverty on public education.
…that’s the point of, for an example, the A to F grading system. No school ever got better because it was given a D or F grade—that’s a way of setting them up for closure. And we’ve never, I mean, I look back as a historian, and we’ve never in the history of American education had a movement that was designed to close huge numbers of schools.
A recent report by the General Accounting Office has shown that the Washington D.C. voucher plan does exactly what voucher plans were designed to do…
…an investigation last year by The Washington Post found that the amount of the vouchers, $8,000-$12,000, is not enough to pay the annual tuition at the exclusive private schools in the region – most of which don’t want voucher students anyway.
As a result, vouchers in D.C. are largely subsidizing Catholic schools or private schools of questionable quality that sprang up to take advantage of the program….
It turns out that the program simply lacks any serious oversight.
The GAO report found that the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, a non-profit group that is supposed to run the program, “does not effectively oversee participating schools, has not implemented effective policies and procedures, and is unable to efficiently manage day-to-day program operations.”
…Let this be a lesson to all of us: Voucher proponents talk about “choice” and “options” and merely wanting to try a new approach to see if it works. The D.C. fiasco has shot down all of those arguments. There are precious few choices, and the option to admit students always remains with the people who operate private schools, not the parents.
Still the plan lurches along. Maybe it’s time to admit that the forces driving this scheme are hatred of public education (and indeed government-sponsored programs generally), a desire to undermine church-state separation by propping up flagging Catholic schools and a data-proof belief among anti-government ideologues that a private system is always better than a public one.
Click the link above to read the details behind each point…
1. It’s not about racial justice and equal opportunity.
2. It’s not about making public education stronger.
3. It’s not about supporting teachers.
4. It’s not about giving parents what they want.
5. It’s not a bipartisan, secular movement.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.