Sunday, January 18, 2015

Map Comparison: Level of Poverty to Level of Performance

          Today we are going to consider two very similar maps.  The map at the top is a map of public school ratings based solely on the students test scores.  The map underneath is a map showing the percentage of poverty.  The similarities are striking.  You can almost overlay one on top of the other. These images give additional weight to the plethora of evidence found on studies of test scores and poverty. Childhood poverty is the highest its been in 20 years.  The United States has a child hood poverty rate of 21% overall but it is not evenly distributed.   Poverty is a significant factor in school performance.  The stress of living with want makes learning difficult as I discussed a few weeks back in the post called Stress, Poverty and Learning.  If we are serious about improving our performance we must address the handicapping conditions of poverty.  We need to abandon programs which are not working at least as well as the public schools had prior to their inception such as ASD and CC/PARCC and instead try something new.
          Take the lowest performing school in your state and update it.  Bring in wrap around services and teachers with masters degrees.  Pay the teachers handsomely and trust them.  Set up the school so the teachers will not be punished for the poverty of the students.  Create wrap around services with small class size and family interventions/assistance.  Test in three years.  Skip the wasted time and money for the annual test.  It's a reasonable hypothesis that you will have academic growth, happier kids, happier families, and happy teachers.  With the funds saved on testing the state can afford to pilot a true reform which is child centered.

           I would like to point out one surprising and, for me, thrilling exception on the map,  the state of Tennessee.  Our state has some of the lowest funded, highest poverty schools in the nation. Our teachers and students have performed above what anyone would expect. Tennessee has out performed all of the other high poverty states and we should be celebrating. Instead, we have succumbed to the Global Education Reform Movement.  There is little tenure protection in our 'right to work state'. GERM has caused teachers to be capriciously fired or subjected to constructed dismissal because the principal just wanted to hire someone else and had the authority.  This is demoralizing for the school population when it happens.  Although allowing for easier dismissal helps clear out those who cannot teach it also seems to be clearing out many of our higher achieving educators as well.  It's trimming the bell curve from both ends.
         When I began in the profession veteran teachers were expected to have taught 30 to 40 years.  Now the average teaching term is five years.  Veteran teachers have 10 or more years. We are hemorrhaging talent.  The teachers in our state who performed this miracle are headed out the door.  If we want to retain our talent we need to find a way to balance power. We also need to recognize the expertise of our educators and trust the view points they share.  They know poverty schools will perform better with wrap around services.  Create a lab school and test it.  Many can tell you the affects of yearly tests and yearly observation and review.  They will have solutions that can be tried and measured.  We need to trust our teachers and give the schools, teachers, and students the support needed to overcome anything that prevents success. 
          If you would like a resource to understand poverty Ruby Paine wrote a book on this subject.  The link is provided here:


  1. Another thing we could look at are teachers who teach both high and low income students.

    During the school year, I teach art in a high poverty NYC public middle school. But for several years I also taught art in a summer camp for affluent children about the same age.

    Even though one setting was 'mandatory' and one was 'voluntary', the lessons I delivered were identical (why reinvent the wheel, right?). I have a very student-centered curriculum anyway...

    The resulting work speaks for itself - the rich kids took on more advanced projects, went farther, got more done, learned skills more quickly, were less inhibited, followed instructions more closely and were more likely to collaborate.

    The differences? The rich kids were in smaller groups, have access to better equipment and materials, have more mature work habits, more sustained focus and usually two supportive parents involved.

    The inner city kids are visibly more stressed - easily distracted, more sensitive to intrerpersonal conflict, more loners, averse to risk-taking, often have one or less parents involved, and are more competitive for materials.

    In short, the greatest differences are social-emotional factors driven by economic status - the teacher was the same in both cases.

    This is also not rocket science - economic privilege predicts a lot more than educability, it predicts the number or parents on the home, parent age, parent education, parent involvement, literacy level in the home, housing and food stability, access to tutors, internet, books, cultural experiences, healthcare, sleeping conditions, etc.

    The attack on teachers has no data behind it, which is why we now have inaccurate tests dictating retention decisions. If the science was any good, it would show that teachers are not the biggest factor driving the achievement gap.

    1. Excellent perspective. Thank you for sharing. I completely agree.