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How Many of Our Students Live in Poverty?

Stephen Krashen Comment:

An important article on poverty among school children in the US by Anthony Cody,
suggesting that poverty levels are even higher than we thought, followed by
comments by Yvonne-Siu Runyon, President of the National Association of Teachers
of English.

By Anthony Cody

The number we often hear for the proportion of our students who live in poverty
is in the range of 20% to 23%. But Susan Ohanian has flagged some frightening
data from the Department of Education's Data Express. The number of students
receiving free or reduced price lunches has grown significantly, and in
2008-2009 44% of our nation's students were eligible. In the state of
California, 52% are eligible. In Mississippi, 68% are eligible, and the prize
for the lowest proportion goes to New Hampshire, with 20% eligible. In the city
of Oakland, where I have worked for the past 24 years, more than 68% of the
students were eligible.

What does this mean in terms of income? Each state sets an income level that
makes one eligible. In California,a family of four with an annual gross income
of less than $28,665 qualifies for a free lunch, while reduced price lunches are
available for students with a family income less than $40,793.

Is this a reflection of true poverty? Think about your own family's income. I
know my California household would have a very hard time getting along on this
amount, and there would be no margin of safety if someone lost a job or had
hours cut back. We are seeing elements of our societal safety net eroded every
week. Several million Americans are about to lose unemployment benefits after
having lost their jobs in the recession, and we are being told these jobs may
not return. Many of these millions are parents. How are their children going to
be affected by seeing their parents financially ruined?

College degrees do not offer much protection from the insecurity that has become
the norm, especially for those just out of college. Andrew Sum reports

Young college educated workers, particularly those 25 and under, however, have
not fared very well over the past three years. They have experienced rising
joblessness, underemployment, and malemployment problems (i.e. working in jobs
that do not require a college degree). During the January-August period of 2010,
we estimate that fewer than 50 of every 100 young B.A.-holders held a job
requiring a college degree.

In films like "Waiting for Superman," student achievement in the US is compared
unfavorably to outcomes in countries such as Finland. However, Finland has less
than 5% of its children being raised in poverty. And the country has a strong
social safety net, so that children are not in danger of eviction and

As Stephen Krashen has pointed out, poverty is closely correlated to school
achievement. Those of us who have worked in these schools know firsthand why
this is so. Poverty is associated with poor health, poor nutrition, lousy
day-care and pre-schools, dangerous and violent neighborhoods, family
instability and even violence, poor access to dental and vision care, and so on.

Our education secretary styles himself a civil rights leader. But Arne Duncan
last week gave a speech that called on us to accept that the "new normal" in
education will be budget cuts and "doing more with less." This speech before the
American Enterprise Institute, was lauded by National Review columnists
Frederick Hess and Michael Petrilli, who wrote:

In one speech, this (Democratic) secretary of education came out swinging
against "last hired, first fired," seniority-based pay raises, smaller class
sizes, seat time, pay bonuses for master's degrees, and bloated
special-education budgets. Which means he just declared war on the teachers'
unions, parents' groups, education schools, and the special-education lobby. Not
bad for a day's work.

When the unions start busing in kids, parents, and teachers to rally against
increases in class size or pay freezes, expect a lot of Republican governors to start quoting their good friend Arne Duncan.

Our schools ought to be places of refuge for children in poverty. Often the free
or reduced price lunch is their only solid meal of the day. Smaller class sizes
allow teachers the chance to give more attention to individual students, who
need it all the more when their families are financially stressed. Sadly,
Secretary Duncan appears to be doing his best to clear the way for cuts to the
schools and attacks on teachers and students. It looks like we are going to need
to start handling this ourselves. The group I started just over a year ago,
Teachers' Letters to Obama, has decided to join others in organizing a
non-partisan conference and march in Washington, DC, next July 28 to 31.

What do you think? How many of your students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches? Does this equate with poverty? Are you ready to get active yourself around these issues?

Yvonne Siu-Runyan comment:

Thank you, Anthony. Yes, this country has a lot of children living in poverty.

In a UNICEF Report (2005), child poverty in the U.S. is 21.7%. It is a lot
higher today.

Because of the economic downturn (recession/depression) in this country, we also
have an increase in domestic violence and homeless children.

Unfortunately, schools are no longer places of refuge, but places where they are
tested ad nauseam and racing to nowhere.

If we want children to have a positive educational experience, then we must
admit that in this country we do not do enough for schools in neighborhoods of
poverty. We would rather bail out Wall Street and keep feeding the military

Let's be honest. We MUST invest more in schools that have a high percent of
children living in poverty. The academic gap is a RESOURCE gap.

Some links re: Domestic Violence:






— Anthony Cody, with resources by Yvonne Siu-Runyan
Living in Dialogue blog





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