This short letter to the editor by Stephen Krashen raises a critical point about education in America.
When researchers control for the effect of poverty, U.S. students score near the top of the world on international tests. Our overall scores are unimpressive because of our unacceptably high child-poverty rate, now about 21 percent. The problem is poverty, not teacher quality.
How can we expect children to learn when they’re hungry, sick, and stressed? We know that poverty reduces cognitive bandwidth: Survival issues take up more and more brain power when those needs are not being met. So it should come as no surprise that children living in poverty cannot perform well in school.
What’s also distressing is how many politicians approach these problems in such unhelpful ways. Requiring more high-stakes testing is not any kind of solution. Focusing on teacher tenure and performance evaluations isn’t really addressing key problems. Closing neighborhood schools in high poverty areas, thereby forcing children to travel farther to study in larger classes seems counterproductive in many cases. The idea that failing schools should *lose* funding is insane. Of course, throwing more money at schools, per se, isn’t necessarily a solution either. Anti-poverty programs targeted at children might yield better results, along with better funding for things like school meals for needy students and pre-school. Addressing the systemic problems in America that lead to 1/5 of our children living in poverty would also be swell.
UPDATE: Just saw this article on my Facebook feed, talking about the negative effects of poverty on brain development in children. Worth a read.