"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Hard Bigotry of Poverty...

The June/July 2012 issue of the International Reading Association's Reading Today has a Report from the PISA/PIRLS Task Force reviewing the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results from 2009. The report details information from Germany, Ireland, the East Asian Region (including Singapore, Shanghai, Japan and Korea), Finland, and the United States.

The United States scored 500, about average for the economically developed nations who participate in the assessment, and not much changed from its score of 504 in 2000. Looked at in detail, however, we get a clearer picture of what the United States' scores really mean.
...relative to the number one performer in the world, Shanghai-China with an overall score of 556, Asian Americans were number two with a score of 541 and White Americans ranked 6th in the world with a score of 525. On the other end of the spectrum, African Americans had an overall score of 441, 100 points below or the equivalent of over two years of school difference as compared with Asian Americans. Students in the 10% or less free and reduced lunch category had a score of 551, a close second globally, whereas students in the 75% and higher category had a score of 446. These staggering disparities in the U.S. between economic privilege and achievement as well as ethnicity and achievement are much greater than in the other countries represented by our other Task Force members.
The results clearly support the contention by critics of corporate reform that poverty plays a part in the achievement gaps, both ethnic and economic. Public education is not "failing." The problem is poverty.

In Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success Arizona State University Professor David Berliner identifies six out of school factors (OSFs) which "significantly affect the health and learning opportunities of children, and accordingly limit what schools can accomplish on their own."

The OSFs he reviews are:
  • low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children
  • inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance
  • food insecurity
  • environmental pollutants
  • family relations and family stress
  • neighborhood characteristics
Berliner says,
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.
Eric Jensen in The Effects of Poverty on the Brain takes a neurological approach and lists how the brains of children who live in poverty are damaged by their environments.
When compared to their middle- or upper-income classmates, more children from lower SES are likely to:
  • Live on or near toxic waste sites (Brody et al., 1993).
  • Live in areas that did not meet one or more of the Air Quality Standards (EPA 2000).
  • Have had more exposure to pesticides (Moses et al., 1993)
  • Have greater exposure to lead (Brody et al., 1993).
  • Have more exposure to cigarette smoke. (Childstats, 1999).
These are relevant because, for example, high levels of lead are dangerous to children because they can cause neurological and developmental impairment. The behaviors we see in the classroom may be a result of years of toxic buildup. The aggregate of exposure to multiple toxins creates damage to the brain, which manifests in behavioral, cognitive, emotional and social ways. It is the aggregate of factors that ultimately prove challenging to overcome, not any single one.
Jensen goes on to describe how chronic stress and the poverty environment impairs cognitive skill development (See also Brains R Us: The Science of Educating 2008: Teachers).

Stephen Krashen assures us that, with investment, we can counter the effects of poverty.
Until poverty is drastically reduced or eliminated, school needs to defend children against the effects of poverty. This means providing nutrition, health care, a clean environment, and books. For policy, this means continued and expanded support for free/reduced meal programs, increased school nursing care, and, of course, improved school and classroom libraries.
In a post for Valerie Strauss' The Answer Sheet Brock Cohen, a teacher and student advocate in the Los Angeles Unified School District wrote, "we can no longer afford to trivialize the critical role that poverty plays in a child’s learning experiences."
...closing the so-called achievement gap between rich and poor will first require Americans to recognize a far more uncomfortable reality: The policies employed to purportedly address the struggles of low-income children have ushered in a new era of school segregation. Claiming that poverty is no excuse for student failure trivializes the damage caused by years of actions and inactions that have widened the gaps between rich and poor communities. Good schools aren’t molded through harsh sanctions, private takeovers, or even soaring rhetoric. They emerge from healthy, stable communities. That is, they emerge from a commitment to justice.
It's clear that the methods of the corporate reformers, beginning with No Child Left Behind, have failed to equalize the economic and ethnic achievement gaps which still persist in the nation. We can't afford to keep wasting our time and money on the status quo of using excessive testing, false accountability and sanctions against the students most in need of help and their teachers.

It's time to demand accountability from politicians, policy makers, billionaires and corporate edupreneurs who are draining and destroying America's public schools.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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