Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's the Poverty, Stupid

Lots of edu-links in my history cache of late, so let's call this a Teacher Tuesday and I'll just upload a few of them on you.

We start with the ubiquitous Diane Ravitch, who, along with Harlem schoolteacher Brian Jones, was interviewed recently by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales:
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, to me, the big issue today is there’s a narrative that says teachers are the problem in American education. I have been arguing poverty is the problem. We tie right into your segment on Dr. King. Poverty is the problem. Thirty-five percent of black kids live in poverty. Twenty percent of all American kids live in poverty. That’s the problem.
There has been some lively discussion of the influence of poverty on educational outcomes over at Daily Kos this week. The diary "The Myth of Failing Schools" offers anecdotal evidence, but the comments section is full of links to supporting data. In response, diarist leftyparent offers a contrarian view; that regardless of income levels, the Critical Pedagogy movement offers a model to improve our schools on a metric independent of the debate over test scores.

Other links at the HuffPo Education Page survey some other solutions. Joe Kutchera looks at a writing program that succeeds in inspiring low-SES (sorry, edu-jargon...impoverished) students. And Gloria Bonilla Santiago reminds us of the research showing how ECE (sorry, early childhood education, AKA preschool) can help alleviate the disadvantages faced by students raised in poverty.

Smithsonian Magazine takes an in-depth look at the world's best school systems: those of Finland, where, not coincidentally, the child poverty rate is dramatically lower than in the US of A. At the same time, Michael Petrilli, in "One Size Fits Most," counsels a cautious approach in trying to replicate Finland's successes. and offers a possible compromise between competing pedagogies.

Back in these here United States, the one named Indiana has a voucher program producing predictable results: a giant sucking sound as funding and students are drained from the public schools systems.

A Missouri judge has blocked implementation of a law prohibiting Facebook contact between teachers and students. The broad language can be interpreted to ban text messages, voicemail and email contact as well, and has First Amendment advocates feeling a chill wind. Randy Turner, a teacher in the Show Me State, gives this idea the withering scorn it deserves.

A new paradigm in Nevada schools offers an alternative to the lunatic NCLB insistence on 100% proficiency by 2014: measure growth, not test scores. But it's still a testing paradigm, and offers the tempting route of blaming teachers for outcomes beyond their control. As one advocate puts it:
"It has to be used as a way to financially reward good teachers and get rid of poor teachers," he said. "You can't control if kids are poor, don't speak English or high truancy. Teacher quality is the greatest school control."
Actually, you can control if kids are poor, as LBJ's successful anti-poverty programs (largely abandoned by Nixon and Reagan) show us. We've simply given up on trying to do so. Budget deficits, doncha know.

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