Poverty’s Impact on School Reform
Why are more than 100 organizations and businesses in the District, as well as several thousand residents, asking candidates for office this year to make defeating poverty a top priority?
Just take a look at today’s Washington Post article on school reform : “Analysis of test scores by ward shows the persistent gulf in achievement between the city’s poorest children and its most affluent. In 2007, 27 percent of Ward 8 elementary students read proficiently, compared with 78 percent of their peers in Ward 3….This year, the Ward 8 children were at 29 percent and those in Ward 3 at 86 percent.”
Reporter Bill Turque quotes Chancellor Michelle Rhee saying, “It’s maddening and it’s hard….Have our ward 7 and 8 schools progressed? Absolutely. But the gap is still ridiculous.”
It’s fair to say that even the most state-of-the-art classroom and talented instructor cannot overcome the impacts of malnutrition, abuse and economic insecurity on a child’s ability to learn. Turque’s article notes the emphasis Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty place on raw data in assessing success. Here are a few more numbers: One in three DC children live in poverty. Nearly half of all substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect come from DC’s poorest neighborhoods. Two in five DC families report that they at times don’t have enough money to buy food. Very simply, it’s hard to pay attention in class when you’re hungry or you didn’t get a good night’s sleep because your family lives in a car.
These factors contribute to the fact that even within the same school, poor children score lower on math and reading tests than classmates from higher-income families. Research shows that costly social ills—including poor health, illiteracy, and violence—are tied to poverty. So failing to address the problems kids bring with them into the classroom will take school reform only so far.
In these final weeks of the campaign, we urge you to ask candidates about their plans to make work pay, to make work possible and to make basic needs affordable. Check out the Defeat Poverty DC website. Improving DC’s public schools is key to a successful future, and so is making sure we do everything possible so children are ready to learn when they arrive in the classroom.