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Class and Poverty Matter
Published on December 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

One of the things I always baffling about any discussion of how to improve low-performing schools is the fact that poverty is hardly ever mentioned. There's a lot of talk of classroom size, and teachers, and whether charter schools would help, but you rarely hear anyone seriously consider the impact of poverty on student achievement. As my friend Hanna once asked, "Shouldn't we really be talking about the parents?" My feeling is

Now a New York Times op-ed is asking the same thing, pointing to data showing that the achievement gap between children from high-and low-income families over the last 50 years and now far exceeds the gap between white and black students.

The op-ed notes:

"Results of the 2009 reading tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment show that, among 15-year-olds in the United States and the 13 countries whose students outperformed ours, students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts within every country. Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?

Yet federal education policy seems blind to all this. No Child Left Behind required all schools to bring all students to high levels of achievement but took no note of the challenges that disadvantaged students face. The legislation did, to be sure, specify that subgroups — defined by income, minority status and proficiency in English — must meet the same achievement standard. But it did so only to make sure that schools did not ignore their disadvantaged students — not to help them address the challenges they carry with them into the classroom."

Of course, my feeling is that nobody wants to talk about poverty because poverty is a big huge problem, and if you wanted to fix it you'd have to discuss really sensitive topics, like why the cost of pretty much everything has been increasing at a much faster pace than wages, and why unemployment in minority communities is so much higher than it is in white communities. It's easier to argue about merit pay and teacher's unions than talk about poverty, and that's why we hear so much less about poverty, even though it's the source of most our trouble.

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