Can Rising Poverty cast doubts over Ed Reform Success?

As a recent publication of scores by the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows, the gap between poor students and their more affluent peers didn't grow during the recession as was predicted by some. Studies like this give weight to the No Excuses movement of education reformers have argued that poverty shouldn't be used an excuse for writing kids off, writes Sarah Garland at Hechinger Ed.

However, research has found that concentrated poverty is associated with lower academic outcomes, and that more poverty makes the job of educating children more difficult. This is concerning, as the number of people living in concentrated poverty rose substantially over the past decade, according to a Brookings Institution report published on Nov. 3rd:

"After declining in the 1990s, the population in extreme-poverty neighborhoods—where at least 40 percent of individuals live below the poverty line—rose by one-third from 2000 to 2005–09."

As the Hechinger Report wrote, kids living in poverty often have to deal with other problems. Problems like homelessness, domestic violence and health issues can make it hard for them to concentrate on their schoolwork, and often their parents are less likely to be well-educated than other parents.

And as a recent study by John Fantuzzo, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests, even kids in impoverished areas who don't suffer from problems like homelessness or abuse, can have their achievement negatively affected by just being surrounded by environments were these issues exist for others.

Above and beyond the effect of poverty at the individual level, concentrated poverty can make bad situations exponentially worse. Among other things, it's much harder to attract and keep quality teachers in poor neighborhoods, writes Garland.

However, concentrated poverty is not rising everywhere.

New York City, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New Orleans, and Los Angeles all experienced a decline in the number of people in high-poverty neighborhoods.

But that's not a trend that reaches all part of the country. In other education reform hotspots, however—including Denver, Houston and Memphis—it's on the rise.

Taking inspiration from more successful areas, two universities in New Jersey are trying to replicate the whole-neighborhood approach pioneered by the Harlem Children's Zone of improving parenting skills, health, and other outside-school factors. Though the effectiveness of these measures are currently under doubt, as Congress scaled back the budget for the program this year.

11 7, 2011
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