ETS (!) has sponsored an excellent report on poverty and education. Written by Richard Coley of ETS and Bruce Baker of Rutgers (and schoolfinance101), the report says what should be obvious to any observer and what many other excellent reports have said over the past forty years: that poverty is a problem for education, but education alone is not a solution to poverty. Most of the report does the noble work of making (again) a detailed case that there is way too much poverty in the US, that we don't do enough about it, and that this poverty has serious negative educational consequences. The whole report is worthy, but I noticed a couple of things in particular:
A call for a focus on educational public health
The report's executive summary contains a wonderful sentence expressing a sentiment I wish we saw more often:
Given the strong connection between educational success and economic disadvantage, we might
expect education policy to focus on ways to overcome the effects of poverty on children.
In other words, they want schools of Educational Public Health!
What to do
Despite the report's clear implication that fixing poverty would be a good way to improve educational outcomes, the authors unfortunately choose, apparently from modesty, not to recommend any non-educational measures: "There are other strategies that fall outside of the education arena — tax policy, job creation, minimum wage policy, etc. — that also are outside of the purview of this report." The report does, however, make seven specific suggestions for actions within the "education arena", all of which ought to be common sense:
Increasing awareness of the incidence of poverty and its consequences. Child poverty costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Current poverty levels, combined with the growingwealth gap between those at the top and bottom of the distribution, threaten to destabilize our democracy and limit the upward mobility of children of future generations.
Equitably and adequately funding our schools. The economic downturn has taken a toll on state school funding and on targeted programs like preschool that can help disadvantaged children. There is a need for better coordination of federal and state education programs targeted at poverty.
Broadening access to high-quality preschool education. High-quality early childhood education programs improve the educational outcomes of all children, but particularly for low-income children. The administration’s proposed major expansion of preschool programs across the country should be supported.
Reducing segregation and isolation. Many of the nation’s schools are increasingly segregated by race/ethnicity and income. Each student should have the opportunity to attend schools with peers from diverse social and economic backgrounds.
Adopting effective school practices. School policies that have been documented by research and practice to be effective should be broadly adopted. Examples include class size reduction, longer school days and years, and tutoring.
Recognizing the importance of a high-quality teacher workforce. Attracting and keeping high-quality teachers in high-poverty classrooms should be of the utmost priority and may require special incentives.
Improving the measurement of poverty. The poverty rate is an important social and economic indicator that is used to allocate resources for scores of federal, state, and local programs. Work should continue to expand the official definition of income to include government spending directed at low-income families and to recognize cost-of-living differences across regions.
These aren't new ideas, but as the poet says, it is necessary to write about the same old things
in the same way, repeating the same things over and over. And who knows, maybe this report will get a lot of attention, and we'll stop spending so much time designing ways for schools to compete for the richer students (in Hirschman's terms, we need a system where change is based on voice, not exit). And, yes, we need a lot less poverty.