2020 Medley #5: The Education of American Children Living in Poverty

Poverty disrupts school achievement

In 1965 President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which established Title I, the section of the program that set aside funding for children in poverty. Title I is still part of the Federal Government’s response to poverty in American education, because, as a nation, we accept the fact that poverty has an impact on school achievement.

The United States needs to reduce child poverty. At around 20%, child poverty in the United States, one of the Earth’s wealthiest nations, is too high. Compared to other OECD nations, The United States ranks in the bottom third, well below the OECD average. How do countries like Finland, Sweden, France, and the United Kingdom achieve lower child poverty rates than the U.S.? Do they care more about their children than we do? Do they have more money than we do?

Those higher child poverty rates yield lower scores on international tests, which are then used by privatizers and “reformers” to wail about the United States’ “failing schools.”

But our schools are not failing. Our nation, which allows such high rates of child poverty, is failing…failing to provide equal opportunities to all our children. Our future is threatened by such conditions.

In his 2004 book, Setting the Record Straight, the late Gerald Bracey wrote,

What do I say when people say, “Poverty is no excuse. High-poverty schools can achieve high academic performance.”?

[I] say, “You’re right. Poverty is not an excuse. Poverty is a condition, like gravity. Gravity affects everything we do. So does poverty.”

In a 2009 Report, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, David C. Berliner, wrote,

…six [out-of-school-factors] common among the poor…significantly affect the health and learning opportunities of children, and accordingly limit what schools can accomplish on their own: (1) low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children; (2) inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance; (3) food insecurity; (4) environmental pollutants; (5) family relations and family stress; and (6) neighborhood characteristics. These OSFs are related to a host of poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological problems that children often bring to school, ranging from neurological damage and attention disorders to excessive absenteeism, linguistic underdevelopment, and oppositional behavior.

If all we want to do is increase student achievement test scores, then we must reduce child poverty.

From Stephen Krashen

When Congress passes
Every Child is Well-Fed,
Every Child has Proper Health Care and
No Child is Left Homeless,
Then we can talk seriously about
“Every Child Succeeds”

WRAPAROUND SERVICES

RAND Study Affirms the Importance of Ameliorating Family Poverty as a School Reform Strategy

When the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in 2012, they understood that children in poverty need wraparound services to help them overcome the effects of poverty. Their report, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve, now in its second iteration, describes the services needed by children who live in poverty. The RAND study discussed in this article says that, in New York City, those same wraparound services proved to be effective.

“The Community Schools program…. seeks to use the school as a community gathering place where children can get counseling, eyeglasses or dental care; where after-school programs help with homework and keep kids engaged; and where parents can get involved with schools, take a class or pick up extra groceries… The program costs about $200 million a year and is funded with federal, state and city dollars… Studies have generally found modestly positive effects. But the idea has never been tried—or evaluated—on the scale found in New York, where some 135,000 students attend a Community School. Over three years, RAND studied 113 New York schools and measured their results against similar schools not in the program. The program found several statistically significant improvements and no areas where things got worse.”

The following articles from the last two years drive home the impact of poverty on our children and their school achievement.

ECONOMIC SEGREGATION DRIVES ACHIEVEMENT GAPS

Achievement gaps in schools driven by poverty, study finds

From September 23, 2019

Racial segregation and high poverty are a two-pronged attack on the well-being of millions of American schoolchildren.

“If you want to be serious about decreasing achievement gaps, you have to take on segregation.”

They found that the gaps were “completely accounted for” by poverty, with students in high-poverty schools performing worse than those from schools with children from wealthier families.

“Racial segregation appears to be harmful because it concentrates minority students in high-poverty schools, which are, on average, less effective than lower-poverty schools,” concluded the paper by academics, led by Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

POVERTY HAS CONSEQUENCES

Poverty in America has long-lasting, destructive consequences on children: So targeting programmes at the younger generation makes the most sense

From September 26, 2019

Before Medicare and Social Security, the elderly accounted for the largest number of people living in poverty in the US. Now, with those programs in place, it is children.

This American tragedy is an ignored one. Poor children neither vote nor hire lobbyists. It is also morally senseless, punishing children for the sins or misfortunes of their parents. It is economically pointless, too. Poor children who grow up to be poor adults have not just reduced incomes, but shorter lives and a higher risk of criminality. The safety net, although important, does less to blunt poverty in children than in adults.

POVERTY CHANGES THE WAY CHILDREN’S BRAINS DEVELOP

How Poverty Shapes a Child’s Mind and Brain

From October 14, 2019

For decades, we’ve known that poverty affects children’s health and academic success. Poor children usually experience more stress and hardship — such as poor nutrition or witnessing violence — than their wealthier peers, and they have fewer tools to address these problems. On average, poor children also experience more developmental delays, emotional problems, and lower academic achievement.

But, up until a few years ago, the missing piece in all of this was the brain. A growing body of research now shows that poverty changes the way children’s brains develop, shrinking parts of the brain essential for memory, planning, and decision-making. Scientists are also tapping into the brain’s capacity for change, uncovering ways to reduce these effects.

THE YOUNGEST ARE THE POOREST

New Census Data Reveals Continued Child Poverty Crisis in America

From September 10, 2019

Shamefully, the youngest children are the poorest children. During the most critical stage for brain development, 3.5 million children under 5 were poor in 2018, with 1.6 million of those children living in extreme poverty. Poverty is defined as an annual income below $25,465 for a family of four with two children (less than $2,122 a month). Extreme poverty is half of that level: an annual income of $12,732 for a family of four (less than $1,061 a month).

The odds continue to be stacked against children of color. Children of color made up nearly three-quarters of all poor children in 2018. Nearly one in four children of color in America is poor, with children of color more than 2.5 times more likely to be poor than White children.

WHAT IF WE INVESTED IN OUR CHILDREN?

Countries investing more in social programs have less child poverty

From June 1, 2018

Perhaps we ought to invest more of our wealth in our children.

The data show that on average, the relative child poverty rate tends to be lower in countries that choose to invest more of their national income in programs that alleviate poverty and material hardship. For example, Denmark and Finland are among the nations with the most generous social expenditures (each spending close to one-fifth of their GDP) and the lowest post-tax post-transfer, child poverty rates (both below 4 percent). The United States, in contrast, is much less likely than peer countries to step in where markets and labor policy fail in order to lift their most disadvantaged citizens out of poverty. In 2014, the United States had the second highest post-tax, post-transfer child poverty rate (20.2 percent) among the developed OECD countries included in the graph and spent the third lowest share of GDP on social programs (12.0 percent), after Slovenia (11.3 percent) and Slovakia (11.7 percent).

WE COULD SAVE MONEY BY REDUCING POVERTY

Research Shows the National Child Poverty Rate Could Be Cut in Half

From 2018

Is it too expensive for us to spend more money on our children? Not at all. We are, apparently, spending more now than it would take to reduce poverty. [emphasis added]

Child poverty costs for the U.S. range between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion annually, based on the estimated value of reduced adult productivity, increased costs of crime, and health expenditures associated with children growing up in poor families. The committee found that more than 9.6 million children lived in families with annual incomes below the poverty line in 2015, based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The 2015 poverty line for two-parent, two-child families was about $26,000 for renters and homeowners with a mortgage. That same year, roughly 2.1 million children lived in “deep poverty,” defined as having family resources below half of the poverty line. The highest rates of poverty and deep poverty were found among Hispanic, African American, and American Indian/Alaska Native families.

Poor children develop weaker language, memory, and self-regulation skills than their peers. When they grow up, they have lower earnings and income, are more dependent on public assistance, have more health problems, and are more likely to commit crimes. Robust research evidence has shown that low income itself, rather than other conditions poor children face, is responsible for much of these negative impacts on children’s development. Given the evidence that poverty harms children’s well-being, policies designed to reduce poverty by rewarding work or providing safety-net benefits might be expected to have the opposite effect. The report confirms this supposition, finding that many programs that alleviate poverty – either directly by providing income transfers, or indirectly by providing food or medical care – have been shown to improve child well-being.

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