by Nick Baez
For someone who works within a school district, there usually is not a week that goes by without a discussion about “closing the educational achievement gap.” Of course, an examination of the discourse in this country over the past decade reveals multiple attempts at placing blame at the feet of our teachers. There has also been a greater emphasis on high-stakes testing, with a very significant amount of funding tied to students’ performance on such tests. There have been cries to dismantle teachers unions, close “ineffective schools,” and privatize education.
Interestingly enough, most of these bright ideas do not come from researchers, educators, or scientists whose entire careers are spent investigating educational data; rather, they come from policy-makers who cling blindly to campaign slogans and mythical “smoking-gun” cures to the educational attainment gap. Even more interesting is that perhaps the most significant factor in educational achievement outcomes is practically ignored: the number of children living in poverty.
It is staggering to note that as recently as 2007, nearly 18 percent of all children in the United States were living below the poverty line. During that same year, 27 percent of all Latino children were living in poverty. In addition to the psychosocial stressors that accompany the experience of poverty, children in this demographic have less access to resources that promote healthy lifestyles and allow for greater intellectual stimulation. Moreover, it is essential to note that an examination of the data reveals that poverty accounts for a significantly higher percentage of the variance in educational achievement when compared to both “quality of teacher” and “performance on high-stakes testing.” If you wish, for example, to predict a student’s reading literacy level, it is much more important to note whether or not that particular student qualifies for free/reduced lunch (an indicator of socioeconomic status). This variable alone yields greater predictive power than an assessment of whether or not that student has a “good” teacher.
So why, you may ask, is poverty not included in the discussions on educational achievement? Well for one, as was previously stated, many of these educational policies are written by individuals who have no formal training in the field of education, or who are unfamiliar with (or don’t want to be familiar with) the data that exists. But additionally, the subject of poverty often gets overlooked because of what it means on a grander scale. By putting poverty at the forefront of the discussion, policy-makers would be forced to acknowledge and dissect the enormous maldistribution of wealth that exists in the United States, in which the oft-mentioned “Top 1 percent” are in possession of approximately 34 percent of the total wealth. They would be forced to shed the myth that the poor stay poor (especially in Latino and Black communities) because of their dependence on “entitlements,” a myth that was previously debunked in my earlier article. The time has come, however, to stop ignoring this large elephant in the room, especially if we truly wish to give hope to our children.
To learn more about Nick, find him on Facebook.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.