We Can Overcome Poverty’s Impact on School Success

Today’s post is a commentary found on the Education Week website. The authors are Michael A. Rebell and Jessica R. Wolff. Michael A. Rebell is the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University. Jessica R. Wolff is the campaign’s policy director.

In passing the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, Congress stated that one of the law’s main purposes was closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their better-off peers by ensuring that all students in the United

States would be proficient in meeting challenging academic standards by 2014.

But, over the past 10 years, we have made only incremental progress toward reaching that goal. There has been some small gain in 4th grade reading and math scores, but no gain whatsoever in 8th grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and significant achievement gaps remain between students from different racial and ethnic groups.

Implicitly acknowledging this reality, President Barack Obama announced last fall that his administration would grant states waivers that would, among other things, postpone the 100 percent proficiency goal until 2020. But neither that target, which is inherently unattainable, nor a substantial closing of the achievement gaps, which is achievable, will, in fact, be met by 2020 or any other time in the foreseeable future, unless our policymakers acknowledge the most blatant gap in NCLB and the educational policies of most states. That gap: the failure to recognize and act upon the severe impact of poverty on the chances for the school success of millions of American schoolchildren.

America does not have a general education crisis; we have a poverty crisis. Results of an international student assessment indicate that U.S. schools with fewer than 25 percent of their students living in poverty rank first in the world among advanced industrial countries. But when you add in the scores of students from schools with high poverty rates, the United States sinks to the middle of the pack. At nearly 22 percent and rising, the child-poverty rate in the United States is the highest among wealthy nations in the world. (Poverty rates in Denmark and in Finland, which is justifiably celebrated as a top global performer on the Program for International Student Assessment exams, are below 5 percent). In New York City, the child-poverty rate climbed to 30 percent in 2010. <Read more.>