Poverty Hurts Our Schools, But We Can Fight Back with Good Policy

Posted on: Thu, 06/29/2017 - 08:37

The impact of poverty on student achievement has been well documented for over 50 years. You can find some scholarly examples here, here, and here

In the 1960s, President Johnson declared a “war on poverty” and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) became the policy vehicle used by the Federal government to address the issue of poverty affecting students in our public schools. While some of the initiatives started by ESEA in the 1960s (such as Head Start and Title I) did help students living in poverty to improve performance, our country still hasn’t figured out a way to win the “war on poverty.”

Yet we know that breaking the vicious cycle of poverty will improve educational outcomes, health and wellness outcomes, and economic outcomes. So, what types of modern educational policies would continue to battle poverty and benefit children and families in the 21st century? Here are a few examples.

First, educational policy that supports early childhood education for parents and children ages birth to 3 whose lives are impacted by poverty is essential. Universal pre-school for all children impacted by poverty is another policy that research demonstrates would help to eliminate the achievement gap. Those first 5 years of learning are critical to future success—and a proactive approach is always a better investment than a reactive approach!

Next, policies that would address access to technology or the “digital divide” (as it used to be called) are also critically important as our 21st century learners prepare for jobs that require significant technological skill. Some communities have provided wireless networks for large geographical areas. Funding for technology is woefully inadequate in most school districts across the country, and frequently in schools most impacted by poverty.

Finally, as students enter high school, policies that support access to more career technology education, dual enrollment in community colleges, and apprenticeships can benefit all students but particularly students living in poverty.  Providing these opportunities may mean rethinking our traditional models for defining graduation requirements.  Counting credit for seat-time in courses is not the kind of thinking that will produce innovative, creative students and leaders in the 21st Century!  We can and must do better.

In this last area, in Frederick County, we’re trying to re-invent high school through our LYNX program.  LYNX stands for Linking Youth to New eXperiences. As we planned for LYNX, one of the first things we sought was legislative relief from policy and mandates that would inhibit our ability to create this 21st Century individualized learning experience!  Policy matters!

Poverty is a perennial and pernicious issue. We’ve been fighting it for decades in this country and I fear that the fight will continue for decades to come. But as the battle continues, there are concrete policies that we can put in place today that would make real and tangible gains for our students and families. Why aren’t we moving faster?

How has poverty impacted your school or community? What more could we be doing? Tell me what you think on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And whether or not you agree with this post, if you enjoyed it, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.