Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence

There is a growing body of research about the detrimental impact of poverty and non-academic factors on student achievement. A new paper published by Helen F. Ladd, the Edgar T. Thompson Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, compiles a great deal of this research and provides four recommended policy changes to decrease the impact of poverty on children and education. The paper, “Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

One of her four recommendations is to directly address the educational challenges face by children with low socioeconomic status. Ladd, also co-chair of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,  advocates for increasing early childhood and pre-school programs, adding school-based health clinics and social services, more participation in after-school and summer programs, and improving the quality of schools for disadvantaged students.

At City Connects, we know that linking children to a tailored set of services aligned with their individual strengths and needs across academic, social/emotional, health, and family domains, has a real positive effect. The resource-rich settings in which we work, Boston and Springfield, allow our School Site Coordinators to link students to a host of services and enrichment opportunities based in the community. This suggests that in addition to creating services in schools, students would benefit from taking advantage of the services that already exist.

Ladd and Edward Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, co-authored an op/ed in Monday’s Times based on the paper, titled “Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?” Largely summarizing the conclusions in her paper, the op/ed challenged education reformers:

“…Let’s not pretend that family background does not matter and can be overlooked. Let’s agree that we know a lot about how to address the ways in which poverty undermines student learning. Whether we choose to face up to that reality is ultimately a moral question. “

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Out-of-School Factors In the News

Central to our philosophy at City Connects is that the out-of-school factors affecting students have a great impact on their ability to learn and thrive in school. (You can read about how we address out-of-school factors for children here.)

Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute has written beautifully on the subject, most recently in an issue brief, “How to Fix our Schools.” In the brief, Rothstein reiterates research that demonstrates only one-third of the achievement gap in schools is due to quality of instruction.

“Decades of social science research have demonstrated that differences in the quality of schools can explain about one-third of the variation in student achievement. But the other two-thirds is attributable to non-school factors,” he wrote.

Two great articles published recently advocated for addressing out-of-school factors. Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville and Jeffrey R. Henig, professor of political science and education at Columbia University, jointly authored a commentary, “Why Attention Will Return to Non-School Factors,” in Education Week. Reville and Henig wrote:

“Our vision of the future of education reform is simple: American schools won’t achieve their goal of ‘all students at proficiency’ unless they attend to nonschool factors.”

They propose a multi-tiered solution comprising data that links student outcomes to services, quantifiable indicators of success that are measured long-term, and benchmarks that can provide feedback on student progress. Reville wrote an accompanying blog post, “Closing the Poverty Gap: The Way Forward for Education Reform,” about the relationship between poverty and student achievement in Massachusetts.

In the New York Times, Lisa Belkin considers attempts to increase parental engagement in schools in her article, “Whose Failing Grade Is It?“. Belkin introduces several pieces of state legislation aimed at mandating parents’ involvement in their children’s schools as a means to improve student performance. Belkin quotes Diane Ravitch, an education historian, who argues that parent education should be targeted to parents when their children are born up to age five. Ravitch goes on to say:

“…We need to acknowledge that the root problem is poverty.”

These two pieces call attention to the impact out-of-school factors can have on children–something we believe in strongly at City Connects. Our systematic approach to supporting students strengths and needs has proven effective; you can read about our results here.