Thursday, December 9, 2010

MyNotes - How poverty affected U.S. PISA scores

"34 million people live in poverty in the United States." (Source)

Over the last few days, I've read where several have written that it is POVERTY that is the reason why students in U.S. schools are scoring poorly on high stakes tests, international tests, etc. The argument goes, "The reason those kids in Finland are doing so well is that they have low single-digit poverty rate, while in the U.S., it's 21%!"

Some of the factors related to poverty that may place a child at-risk for academic failure are: very young, single or low educational level parents; unemployment; abuse and neglect; substance abuse; dangerous neighborhoods; homelessness; mobility; and exposure to inadequate or inappropriate educational experiences...The teacher may be the dependable and caring adult, often the only adult of this kind, who is a consistent and reliable figure in their lives of unpredictability and change (Bowman, 1994). 
(Source: The Effects of Poverty on Teaching and Learning)

In many ways, this argument is not unlike ones teachers have made in the past--"It's their home life that's getting in the way of learning. You can't honestly blame me for being unable to improve academic achievement in low socio-economic environments."
Past research has shown that teachers at high socioeconomic level who teach poor children tend to regard their pupils in a more negative light, in terms of behavioral characteristics (maturity/immaturity), academic expectations and performance, even in the early school years. These teachers were also more likely to view the school and classroom contexts less positively than teachers of children at higher socioeconomic levels, possibly creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which these children begin to act, behaviorally and academically, in line with their teachers' thoughts at very early ages. Some have argued that in order to mitigate the powerful effects of poverty and its correlates on children's school outcomes, teachers must allow students greater autonomy and decision-making, have positive expectations for all of their students, possess good management, disciplinary control, and exemplary organizational skills, and provide a variety of challenging, yet meaningful tasks. (Source: Poverty and Education)

The response to this argument is usually the same, no matter where you work--you do whatever it takes to make up the gap. If that means extra tutoring sessions after school and on Saturday where you provide the kids a meal to show up, so be it. Teachers know, though, that they only have so much to can only offer so many tutoring sessions after-hours (often unpaid at some points since there's only so much funding for these activities that take place AFTER the school day, a tacit acknowledgement that what happens DURING the school day is ultimately ineffective or insufficient to get the job done).

Those points aside, do I believe teachers can make a difference in spite of poverty and other "home factors?" YES, I do. But this kind of answer is not going to be enough, is it?

And, somehow, I doubt that citing poverty as an indicator of failure will be enough to ward off sanctions against schools and districts whose students fail. And as "white flight" continues towards private, charter schools, failure may increase simply because those left behind must overcome obstacles 8 hours of schooling and two meals a day just won't.

The Answer Sheet - How poverty affected U.S. PISA scores
    • How poverty affected U.S. PISA scores By Valerie Strauss
      • By Stephen Krashen
        • "Two countries with similar levels of prosperity can produce very different results," Ángel Gurría, the O.E.C.D. secretary general, said in a statement on Tuesday. "This shows that an image of a world divided neatly into rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly educated countries is now out of date." (The New York Times, "Western Nations React to Poor Education Results," Dec. 8).
          • data available now tells us that poverty, as usual, had a huge impact on PISA reading test scores for American students. American students in schools with less than 10% of students on free and reduced lunch averaged 551, higher than the overall average of any OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development country. Those in schools with 10% to 25% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch averaged 527, which was behind only Korea and Finland.
            • American students in schools with 75% or more of children in poverty averaged 446, second to last among the 34 OECD countries.
              • high poverty means less access to books at school, at home and in the community (e.g Krashen, 2004, The Power of Reading). Less access means less reading, and less reading means lower performance on tests such as the PISA.
                • the underperforming poor are poor because they don't value education.
                  • Posted by: peonteacher | December 9, 2010 12:40 PM
                    • The background knowledge needed for high levels of literacy and academic success cannot be acquired without sustained, coordinated exposure in classrooms and/or a great deal of individual motivation and mentoring. Posted by: speakuplouder

                      Image Source
                      Family in Poverty -
                      Girl in Poverty -

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