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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Best reform in education? End poverty

There is an interesting article in the DeMoines Register about the biggest affect on education.  Read it at this address:
Select parts are below:

RICHARD DOAK • August 17, 2008

You can't concentrate in school if you hurt. Or if you're hungry. Or abused. Or worried about your parents being evicted. Or if your parents are druggies who take the Ritalin that was prescribed for you. Or if your older sister entertains gentlemen callers in the next room all night. Or if your mom has a new live-in boyfriend every few months. Or if your job-losing parents keep moving you from school to school with long truancies in between. Or if you don't know where you'll be sleeping tonight because your dad's in prison and you get shuffled from one relative to another, and no one really wants you.

Any teacher in Iowa can tell stories that both tug at the heart and stir anger. Such stories are probably more common, in large and small schools alike, than Iowans would like to believe.

What's remarkable is not that the stories are commonplace - anyone who knows a teacher has heard them - but that they are heard so little in the public discussion about education………...

If fundamental improvement is going to occur, it must happen primarily outside the classroom.

The most firmly established link in education research is the correlation between family income and student test scores. Poverty is the single biggest predictor of low scores. It's a greater factor than class size or per-pupil spending.

Low scores are not a sign of a poor school. They are a marker of an impoverished neighborhood.

A student's low scores are not evidence of bad teaching. They're most likely a reflection of the child living in poverty.

Yet this overwhelming truth is virtually absent from the political debate over education………….

Finland, South Korea, Canada, Japan and other countries that outperform the United States in education are not as wealthy as America, but their gaps between rich and poor are not as wide. The wealth they do have is more evenly distributed. So is their student achievement.

Politicians dodge issue of educational underclass……………………..

The political establishment has not faced up to the problem. Looking at poor student achievement, politicians find it convenient to blame the schools, bash teachers and demand non-solutions such as vouchers. The political right chants a mantra that is uttered like one word: thefailingpublicschools.

Wrong. It is not the public schools that are failing. It is the larger American culture and economy……………….

Perhaps politicians fall back on non-solutions because the real solution - ending poverty and the conditions associated with it - seems impossible……………..

No law could persuade every couple to delay childbearing until they are financially secure. No government program can ensure that every parent provide a secure, stable, encouraging environment. No magic wand can rid America of the family-destroying ravages of drugs. No public policy can undo the damage done by incompetent parents or those who are scornful of education. No amount of scrimping can make the minimum wage a living wage…………………..

Richard Doak is a retired Register editor and columnist, a lecturer in journalism at Iowa State University and an adjunct in history at Simpson College.

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