Monday, May 24, 2010

Poverty Matters

Here's one of those things that didn't exactly surprise me when I saw it, but is worth noting anyway. A report out of the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found that poverty has a negative effect on fourth grade reading levels.

I know. Not really shocking stuff. What makes it worth noting, though, is this finding:
The figures show how poverty and different school contexts can exacerbate the proportion of students having trouble mastering reading. While 83 percent of poor black students in schools with moderate to low levels of poverty failed to hit the grade level reading target, for example, the corresponding percentage for low-income African-American students in school with high concentrations of poor students was 90 percent.

Let's think about that for a minute. Not only does a student's own poverty affect his learning, the poverty of those around him affects his learning. That's a big deal. And it should make us think - at least a little bit - about how we approach poor neighborhood schools.

I think it's safe to assume that how much money is in the bank account of a child's parents doesn't actually have a direct impact how well a child reads. It's not the money itself that makes the difference, it's what the money allows for. A child living in poverty without adequate nutrition or medical care is going to have trouble reaching those all-important grade-level targets. A child with an unstable home life or uncertain housing is going to have trouble learning in school. The evidence is clear that those things matter. We need to take those into account when we're trying to teach the kids. More than that, we need to work to make sure that those conditions are improved wherever they can be. If we don't, we're going to be missing a real opportunity to better the lives of kids in need.

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