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NCLB Outrages

Spending too much to educate poor children?

State School News Service offers e-mail and online Policy Updates in the interest of informing citizens who care about the Illinois education system. But when Jim Broadway writes about NCLB and issues of poverty, we should all pay attention.

By Jim Broadway

We focus a good bit here on the relationship between poverty and education, so much that it must become tedious for folks who believe - as we would wish to believe - that growing up poor does not inflict learning deficits that better schools cannot erase. There is nothing we will not try as we seek to prove that better schools can overcome the effects of poverty.

We give poor students free lunches, and breakfast too on test day. We try to motivate the best teachers to serve in the inner-city. We try to close the "digital divide," hoping technology is the answer. We struggle to motivate poor parents to get involved in their kids' education. We tutor during and after school. We mentor kids through Big Brother/Big Sister and Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

We reinforce our faith with slogans: "All kids can learn." We are encouraged by exceptions to the rule: "Look at Booker T. Washington, and Barack Obama. They grew up poor but they turned out fine." But when the test scores come in, we shake our heads and bemoan the "failure of our schools."

We'd like to stop writing about Out of School Factors (OSFs) as the alleged main cause of the "achievement gap," but every day brings one more report of scientific research suggesting that the gap will be with us always - just like the poor. Here's another, from the National Academy of Sciences.

The report is only five pages long but it's highly technical. Essentially it asserts a strong conclusion that stresses associated with growing up in poverty cause changes in how the brain works. By young adulthood, memory is impaired in ways that pedagogy cannot overcome. An educator who communicates with his peers around the country read this report and raised the ultimate question:

"Does it suggest that spending on K-12 education above a minimum level be better directed to alleviating the family poverty which seems to both cause and perpetuate poor educational outcomes?"

We don't want to believe that. We wouldn't be able to articulate it even if we did believe it. It is too destructive of our aspirations. We know our society will never homogenize economically. We know in fact that the income gap between the poor and the affluent will only grow. That's an inescapable fact that arises from the very core of the American culture. The poor will be with us always.

So we will not eradicate poverty-related OSFs. The best we can do is try to attenuate them.

So we will do all that we have done, and we will think of more tactics as time goes by, and we will have some measurable effects. Another push is being made in that regard through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and budget proposals of President Obama. (See http://www.stateschoolnews.com for a brief video clip advocating for pro-children federal policy.)

We will narrow the achievement gap on occasion. If we become satisfied with our most recent results, it will grow again until we attack it again in some effective way. Will this go on forever? As a practical matter, that is, through the lifetimes of all who read this, that seems likely. If we must believe, as we Americans seem to, that the poor will be with us always - so will our struggle to close the achievement gap.

— Jim Broadway
State School News Service


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