Poverty and the Achievement Gap
Students of poverty face a myriad of unique problems that may affect their learning. Poverty can manifest itself in hunger, homelessness, and moving from school to school, or even from district to district. On this page you find an ever-growing archive of articles, tools, and resources focused on effectively teaching these students.
In a previous article, I asked educators to consider the stories they could tell using culturally-situated data dialogues. Here I return to the significance of centering culture in data dialogues, because discussions about student academic performance and overall development are inadequate and potentially harmful when excluding explicit examination of how issues of race, ethnicity, gender, language, and social class shape instruction and learning outcomes. Oftentimes students who have been historically disenfranchised by the educational system are the subgroups of focus for academic intervention (e.g., low-income students, boys of color, English Language Learners). Using data dialogues to better understand how culture mediates school leadership, parent engagement, teacher instruction, and student learning can result in more focused goal-setting for school improvement plans and identification of expectations that are culturally relevant and responsive.
In a previous article, I charged educators with spending time self-reflecting on their successes and failures at enacting critical multiculturalism in schools and classrooms. As part of this process I suggested administrators and teachers create an Action Plan that identifies short-term and long-term goals for growing their critical consciousness for better leadership and practice in schools. This type of work is primarily for individual growth as an educator. It is necessary work as a first step in having a larger conversation as a content-area team, school staff, administrative team, or even district staff as to how educators can create and maintain anti-oppressive teaching and learning climates for all children. This is necessary if we are going to be most effective in educating all children. The disheartening statistics regarding low literacy and math skills of many poor children and children of color throughout this country (particularly in urban and rural contexts) present educators and the larger society with a moral obligation to "do right" by each child that is served in the public school system. However, educators cannot be effective in the work they are doing in culturally diverse learning spaces without ongoing professional support that engages them in personal and collective reflection, goal-setting and action that supports high academic and life success for our neediest children.
As a former high school math teacher I remember all too well the week following the last day of school. I always returned to the building to gather some of my things, and I could recall the voices of rowdy teenage girls and boys, the clutter left by scattered homework assignments that had not been retained in the proper file folders or personal backpacks, and the student work artifacts that were still posted on walls and tabletops around my room that I would collect in my keepsake file box. I was looking forward to having the summer all to myself to spend time at the beach, enjoy family and friends, play with my dog, or just do nothing! However, the thoughts of such joys were clouded by my continued concern for students who had barely passed my algebra or geometry classes or miserably failed one of them. I wondered what would happen to these students next year and if they would be engaged in any activities over the summer that would help them strengthen their mathematics skills. I also wondered what I could have done differently, if anything, to help them have a more positive experience in my classroom.
We are in a critical time in education, perhaps now more than ever before, as we reflect on the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision and the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act. In many areas of our educational system, inequities have widened and not narrowed. As we think about opportunities for children to learn in school, we have to consider the structural barriers that prevent students from maximizing their learning potential in schools. The problem of inequitable access to quality learning opportunities is compounded by many factors in high-needs schools and communities, yet we find similar structural barriers in well-resourced communities as they play out for varying demographics of students (e.g., race/ethnicity, social class, religion, etc.). It is important for educational leaders from the school board to the community to consider how they can most effectively advocate for and implement policies and procedures that support equal access to opportunities for learning for all children.
Close connections between schools and their communities reflect maxims such as 'It takes a village to raise a child' and are a centerpiece of the neighborhood schools movement. The public debate and consternation about school closings and/or reorganizations are clear indications of how we value school-community relationships.
Although school-community partnerships are inarguably 'a good thing,' we don't always think as carefully about how and why they are contributors to student success. Despite the fact that excellent thinking about school-community interactions as 'mesosystems' dates back over thirty-five years (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), the importance of the interaction between these two systems is often ignored.