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OP-ED | Poverty Matters, And So Does Money

by Dianne Kaplan deVries | Apr 5, 2012 11:33am
(17) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

This week marks a new low in the disinformation campaign launched in support of Governor Malloy’s proposed school reform legislation, Senate Bill 24.  Both poverty and money are at the core of the distortions.

Do those who oppose the governor’s original plan and instead support the “severely diluted” substitute language passed by the Education Committee “blame the current state of education in Connecticut on poverty”?  That’s what the Connecticut Council on Education Reform claims.  They make clear that either one believes in education reform and therefore necessarily supports SB 24 in toto, or one supports the status quo and attributes abysmal student performance and failing school districts to poverty.  The issue is black and white, it’s an either/or.

Fortunately, Governor Malloy has not yet boxed himself into such an absurd and untenable corner, despite the goading by CCER and a few allied organizations.  Although his statewide marathon of appearances has proven less than fun when addressing crowds of individuals who seek to improve his reform proposals, he’s repeatedly acknowledged how imperative it is for this state’s future that the ravages of poverty be overcome within our public schools and that policies and state funding mechanisms be devised to ensure equal educational opportunity for all children.  He neither denies nor ignores poverty.

Just what do the “1%” who lead CCER know about poverty?  Apparently not much.  They are clearly not abreast of the research on poverty and its effects on student achievement.  Nor have they looked objectively at decades of state investments in school improvement and related policy changes within the two neighboring states they erroneously claim are evidence that poverty doesn’t matter.  Getting really tough on teachers and school takeover policies, supposedly, are all that matter.

What the Poverty Research Says

At last month’s annual meeting of the American Education Finance and Policy Association, held in Boston, I had the privilege of again hearing internationally prominent Duke University Professor Helen Ladd, a member of the National Academy of Education, talk about the impact of poverty on student outcomes. Her conference paper  notes that…

“Study after study has demonstrated that children from disadvantaged households perform less well in school on average than those from more advantaged households. This empirical relationship shows up in studies using observations at the levels of the individual student, the school, the district, the state, the country.  The studies use different measures of family socioeconomic status (SES):  income related measures such as family income or poverty; education level of the parents, particularly of the mother; and in some contexts occupation type of the parents or employment status…. Studies based on longitudinal surveys often include far richer measures of family background.  Regardless of the measures used and the sophistication of the methods, similar patterns emerge.”

Like countless other acclaimed researchers across the nation, Ladd emphasizes the urgency of gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms by which poverty impacts student learning.  Such mechanisms include poor physical and mental health, food insecurity, poor housing conditions, limited out-of-school opportunities, decaying and often crime-ridden neighborhoods, and the complex array of family stresses that affect parenting and a child’s sense of self in the world.

Alarmingly, the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families has widened substantially since the 1970s, and the gap is growing.  That’s what research by Professor Sean Reardon of the Stanford University Center for Education Policy Analysis has found.  He notes that among children born in 2001, the gap is roughly 30-40 percent greater than 25 years earlier.

Need more evidence?  Take a look at some of the studies that examine school-based poverty concentration and its relationship to student outcomes cited in the annotated bibliography  prepared by the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.  PRRAC, though based in Washington, DC, is led by West Hartford civil rights attorney Philip Tegeler, formerly the ACLU-CT litigator on the Sheff case and therefore highly attuned to the devastating schooling effects of concentrated poverty and its close relationship to de facto racial segregation.

In sum, research evidence of the strong relationship between poverty and academic achievement are seemingly irrefutable.  Moreover, the effects are greatest when poverty is concentrated within a school district, as is the case within Connecticut’s Priority School Districts, other low-performing districts targeted for “conditional funding,” and the Commissioners Network schools subject to state takeover under SB 24.

It Takes Resources To Fight Poverty in Our Schools

Nearly all education researchers agree that much is already known about how our public schools can and should be addressing the many ways in which poverty inhibits student learning.  Beginning with high-quality early childhood and universal preschool programs, the list for how best to effectively serve low-income students is very much the same list of resources that comprise an adequate education — including first-rate personnel, appropriate class sizes, a longer school day and year, up-to-date instructional materials and technology, wraparound health and social services, and intensive academic programs and support services targeted to meet the needs of at-risk students for purposes of accelerated remediation, enrichment, social interaction, English-language acquisition, and so forth.

No one in Connecticut is using poverty as an “excuse” for low achievement.  Like everyone I know, I’m sick and tired of seeing and hearing this false accusation!  It’s equally disingenuous for anyone to deny that poverty is not a salient factor in our urban classrooms and increasingly also within small town/rural schools and suburban communities.  Poverty is as ever-present as the darkness at night:  we can turn on the lights, but it’s still dark outside.  To flatly deny that poverty impacts student achievement or to mockingly shrug off poverty as an “excuse” is more than just utter nonsense.  It’s flat-out wrong and even dangerous.

Rather than stubbornly deny the pernicious influences of poverty, most Connecticut school districts focus resources on trying to ameliorate its impact.  But to do so requires money, lots more money than it takes to educate a middle-class or affluent child.  And lots more money is precisely the real story behind the student performance improvements in both Massachusetts and New Jersey that were carelessly touted by CCER.  Ironically, in both those states it was school finance litigation that brought about the serious infusions of state dollars that the highest-poverty districts desperately needed and which thus facilitated the achievement gains that enabled their poor students to out-do their Connecticut peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In Massachusetts, it was the 1993 McDuffy school finance lawsuit victory by plaintiffs that brought about enactment of the Education Reform Act, Chapter 71, ushering in substantially increased resources for schools through the foundation budget, along with state standards, the MCAS assessment system, and an accountability system.  When dollars slowed and achievement gains could not be sustained, especially in the poorest communities, the Hancock school finance lawsuit was brought and won in 2004 at the trial court level.  At that point the state once again stepped up to the plate with increased funding, at least in a sufficient quantity and fast enough to stave off the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which in 2005 decided to allow the state more time to show to continue the process of education reform, while noting that the trial judge’s finding “reflect much that remains to be corrected before all children in our Commonwealth are educated.”

The 20-year focus on Massachusetts school reform is still unfinished but moving forward, as remarkable improvements in student assessment results and graduation rates have shown.  Even sources dissatisfied with progress and various policy initiatives tell me that the sustained long-term focus on improvement has taken root statewide in terms of classroom practices and the teaching and learning environment.  Yet they note that measurable improvements in student outcomes over the years have been highly susceptible to varying levels of resources available to districts, so that some years there have been accelerated gains, other years progress has stalled, and in the years when resources were lacking, programs and staff were cut and class sizes went back up, resulting in lower student performance and an increase in the number of schools identified for higher levels of tiered state interventions.  Thus state resources have been and remain a key driver of school reform in Massachusetts.

The New Jersey saga, not to be envied, is rooted in nearly 40 years of litigation, the last 20 of which have been almost non-stop on behalf of the Abbott Districts (some 30 urban districts that serve about half of the state’s poor students) to secure or enforce court-ordered remedies.  Given the numerous successful trips to the New Jersey Supreme Court seeking additional resources for plaintiff students, any outperformance of New Jersey’s poor children over those of their Connecticut counterparts is most certainly attributable in large part to the extra resources that the Education Law Center has succeeded in securing.  It’s also noteworthy that the primary financial investment made by the State of New Jersey, requested by plaintiffs and ordered by the courts, has been in universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds with full wraparound services.  The payoff has been remarkable, particularly in districts where improvements were then implemented in the higher grades as students moved up the system.  As in Massachusetts, state resources have been and remain a key driver of school reform in New Jersey.

Both Massachusetts and New Jersey are thus prime examples of how to effectively fight poverty in the schools — i.e., with adequate resources rather than a head-in-the-sand denial of poverty itself.  In the past couple of years Massachusetts attempted to introduce its version of a “get tough” teacher performance evaluation system that then had to be softened and is still in flux; New Jersey’s attempts are only now being piloted.  Neither state has any linkage of teacher evaluations to tenure or certification as proposed in SB 24.  Sources in those two states assure me that what’s being proposed for Connecticut would be the most drastic of all and would surely lead to increased teacher turnover (a costly hidden aspect of SB 24).

Not one to pass up an opportunity to weigh in when data and solid research clash with advocacy that doesn’t pass the smell test, Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker has posted a response to CCER’s “poverty doesn’t matter” manifesto on his SchoolFinance101 blog.  Among the several eye-opening figures he presents, the histograms showing average NAEP reading and math scale scores for Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey from 2000 to 2009 based on poverty as measured by students’ eligibility for free/reduced-price meals are particularly eye-opening.  As Governor Malloy and the CCJEF adequacy and equity lawsuit rightly point out, the deplorable disparities of student performance based on income in Connecticut, as well as on race and English-language status, are simply unconscionable and must be remedied.  No “miracles” with regard to those disparities are to be found in our neighboring higher-performing states, either.  Also of great interest is the scatterplot showing the percentage of English language learners by district poverty rates in Connecticut.

Baker’s conclusions should surprise no one: 
• income and poverty are highly correlated across Connecticut;
• Connecticut is a highly socioeconomically and racially segregated state; and
• student outcome measures remain highly correlated with poverty and the racial composition of Connecticut’s school districts.

SB 24’s Version of Reform Not Unique to Connecticut

To single out CCER for their “poverty doesn’t matter, we just need to get tougher” mantra probably attributes more credit to these corporate reformers than the group deserves.  After all, most of the contested provisions of SB 24 are not at all unique to Connecticut.  Similar canned legislative measures are being pushed in many states, with countless corporate-sponsored “think tanks” and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) behind most.

Writes Stan Karp of “Rethinking Schools,” an online education journal which for the past 25 years has focused on issues of social justice:

“Look again at the proposals the corporate reformers have made prominent features of school reform efforts in every state:  rapid expansion of charters, closing “low-performing” schools, more testing, elimination of tenure and seniority for teachers, and test-based teacher evaluation.  If every one of these policies were fully implemented in every state tomorrow, it would do absolutely nothing to close academic achievement gaps, increase high school graduation rates, or expand access to college.  There is no evidence tying any of these proposals to better outcomes for large numbers of kids over time.  The greatest gains in reducing gaps in achievement and opportunity have been made during periods when concentrated poverty has been dispersed through efforts at integration, when lower-income communities have experienced economic growth, or when significant new investments in school funding have occurred, often in response to grassroots campaigns for civil rights and social justice”.  (Vol. 26:3, Spring 2012)

The 2008/2009 Open Letter to President-Elect Obama sent by Karp’s journal noted that “For too long, the discussion of poverty has been cut out of the school reform debate.  It’s as dangerous as a doctor making a diagnosis on a patient’s condition without looking at any and all environmental factors that affect the patient.”  Couldn’t agree more.

Dianne Kaplan deVries is an education consultant who also serves as Project Director for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, plaintiffs in the CCJEF v. Rell education adequacy and equity lawsuit.  Opinions expressed here, however, are solely hers and not necessarily those of CCJEF.

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(17) Comments

posted by: EdLeadershipcrisis | April 5, 2012  4:05pm

Yes, poverty matters, so do resources. We reduce poverty through education, we increase available tax resources through educaion a more educated work force.  So let’s focus on the things we have most control over.

Poverty is a contributing factor to low achievement, NOT the biggest factor.  You must read the book “Teach like a Champion” by Doug Lemov.  The book focuses on adult practices in high performing/high poverty schools that are just as resource-starved as other low-performing schools. These schools succeed because the skill set of the professionals is superior to that of the lower performing schools. The skill set and belief system (level of expectations for poor and minority children) of teachers and administrators is ablolutely the #1 factor in student achievement of students from poor backgrounds/communities. When teaching and leading are inconsistent, mediocre or poor, then the effects of poverty severly drive down educational attainment. Lemov, Reeves, Marzano, Elmore and other researchers have compelling evidence to this effect.

There is other compelling data from national-multi-state studies about poverty being a convenient excuse for the professionals in schools not having the range and depth within their professional repertoire to educate poor children.  When the skill set is there, with the right PD, time structures and staff evaluation methods to support the professionals, poor kids learn at high levels.

Yes, adequate resources will help build professionals’ capacity to succeed, as long as school teachers and leaders don’t fight any raising of the bar for their professions.

posted by: Linda12 | April 5, 2012  4:39pm

Thank you Dianne.  How do we get those voting on SB 24 to take the time to read this?

It seems that they have a full court press going to convince the public that anyone who disagrees is just for the status quo. In some respects they appear desperate. They thought they had this in the bag.

To see what this is really about, check out Jon’s April 4th and April 5th postings:

http://jonathanpelto.com/

Also, please read:

Hired Guns on Astroturf:
How to Buy and Sell School Reform

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=4240

posted by: Linda12 | April 5, 2012  4:42pm

Also, scroll down to the post by CT Dad and read all the job openings Achievement First has posted and the bill hasn’t passed yet.  Pryor has a connection to this organization and that is not a conflict of interest?  The chairman of the state board of Ed, Allan Taylor, endorses the original version of SB24 and his is on the advisory board of ConnCan.  Conflict again?  Why isn’t anyone, besides Jon, reporting this?

http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/04/05/when-are-conflicts-of-interest-conflicts-of-interests/

posted by: Linda12 | April 5, 2012  4:46pm

To Ed leadership…no one is fighting high standards and raising the bar. As a public school teacher I have read both books and used many of the strategies/techniques and so have my colleagues.  Don’t be so quick to paint a broad brush that we are all incompetent and Achievement First and ConnCon are going to come in and save the day for all the lazy good for nothing union slobs.  We are tired of the bashing..I suspect you could learn from us!

posted by: brutus2011 | April 5, 2012  7:04pm

brutus2011

Disinformation in this important context of public education outcomes and funding may be tantamount to treason.

In trying to understand just how our education managers/leaders have come to the point of falsely portraying teachers as the causality of the achievement gap in Ct., I recalled on of my favorite undgrad texts, “The Economic Way of Thinking,” by Paul Heyne, et al.

I then found an article from a generally conservative organization, the CATO Institute. You can easily access the text at:

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=4210

The title of the article is : “Pork Barrel Education”

The author, John T. Wenders, explains how the U.S. public school system wastes funds because, “The total expenditures are allocated from the top down to mop up available resources.” He goes on to make the startling statement:

“How much any public school spends depends not on how much it “needs” for efficient operation but on how much it can extract from taxpayers. These revenues are then dissipated among various squabbling constituencies to feed their continuous demand for public funds.”

Here might just be the rationale for all this spending on trying to convince a unsophisticated public to pass a law that gives public funds to private companies and to tolerate the appointment of a state official to oversee the privatization of schools that are deemed to be failing in Ct.

Please read the article and consider the above.

posted by: justsayin | April 5, 2012  7:31pm

Linda12 I agree no one is fighting high standards and no one is fighting for higher standars. The bill either version should be set aside until real serious reform is on the table.

posted by: I love teaching! | April 5, 2012  7:35pm

One thing that never seems to be addressed is the transient population in an inner city. Of my 25 children only 7 were at our school last year. Children transfer in and out at an alarming rate all year. I have one little boy who has moved six times this school year. These moves were across two states.  It is difficult to make and show progress when children are so transient.

posted by: CONconn | April 5, 2012  8:43pm

Thank you to Linda12 for providing this supporting information to these articles. It takes a lot of time to monitor all of these stories and opinion pieces, but your work does so much to keep people informed of what is really going on here!

posted by: 27Reasons | April 5, 2012  9:46pm

This bill is simply TOXIC to education. It has NOTHING to do with helping students. It’s nothing but radical, unproven, pro-charter, privatized, special interest. ConCann and StudentsFirst are ‘non-profit’ gravy-trains.

posted by: mbracksieck | April 6, 2012  4:29am

One of the troubling aspects of the CCER argument is the assumption that poverty is normal and not an issue that needs fixing.  Whether one blames poverty or not for the achievement gap is not the true issue.  Malloy said at the New Haven town hall meeting “we need to try everything…”  How about we try to enact anti-poverty legislation?  I wonder how the hedge fund managers would feel about education reform if it tried to tackle the problem at its root?  How much easier is it to just say “poverty is no excuse” and then to ignore poverty.

posted by: Linda12 | April 6, 2012  9:38am

To EdLeadership Crisis:

Just in case you don’t check in with Jon Pelto anytime soon:

I have read both the Lemov book and the Marzano book and use their practices, strategies and techniques daily. Many of my colleagues do as well.

Our critics are our students. We know immediately when they do not grasp a concept, when the task is too easy or too difficult. We adjust minute by minute, period by period, day by day. We adjust to changes, unfunded mandates, special education regulations, principal directions, new fads, old fads.

I do not rely solely on CMT results to assess my students. I KNOW their strengths and weaknesses. I KNOW their interests and aspirations. I KNOW what genres they are interested in reading and what talents they are interested in pursuing. Give the teachers of CT credit for knowing how to do theirs jobs and don’t blame us for all of society’s ills.

I have spent thousands of dollars building up my classroom library of young adult literature. I have spent thousands of dollars to educate myself and to build my repertoire of skills and to perfect my craft.

I don’t need the so-called reformers (millionaires, TFA dropouts, bankers, executives that sit on boards and politicians), who have never instructed a class of real live children, to tell me how to do my job.

Have you talked to any teachers lately?

posted by: Linda12 | April 6, 2012  10:23am

To EdLeaderhship Crisis:

I believe we do have an educational leadership crisis when:

The Superintendents and their association throw all of the teachers under the bus, while protecting
themselves. Under SB24 they have their contracts extended and guaranteed to five years and they protect their fat cat salaries and perks. They have more power and not all decisions have to be approved by their BOE’s. They can now trim their budgets since the ultimate goal of SB24 is to reduce labor costs… less experienced teachers, the lower the salaries. They support salary scales being tied to yearly evaluations and this WILL promote a quota being given to each principal. You can only have so many master teachers, x amount of professional, etc.  The teacher’s performance will not be the determining factor.

Our Commissioner needs a waiver to get his job because he didn’t have the qualifications to be in an educational leadership position. His ties to Amistad/Achievement First/ConnCan are evidently not a conflict of interest. Pryor and Achievement First are hiring right now and getting ready to pounce on the 25 lowest performing schools, so they can “reform” them. Teachers will be dismissed and TFA recruits will march in and save the day (well only for two years and then newbies will be recurited).

The chairman of the CT State Board of Education is Allan Taylor and he supports the original version of SB24. By the way, he is also on the advisory board of ConnCan, a spin off of Achievement First, created by a friend of our Commissioner, and they both opened Amistad together years ago.

Our Governor insults teachers and he has memorized 5-6 sound bites as given to him by Pryor/ConnCan/Achievement First - the “reformers” salivating while thinking of the money about to come their way. Malloy’s sound bites are repeated ad nauseam even if the facts are twisted to better suit his message.

A national reform movement is led by a TFA dropout, Michelle Rhee (www.Rheefirst.com), who is backed by billionaires whose children will never attend a lowly public school system.  And just because a billionaire and/or someone who went to an Ivy league schools says it, it must be true!

A variety of organizations, with too many letters and acronyms for me to list, are unwilling to listen to the concerns of the public school teachers or to look carefully at ALL the data before uniting to support a bill that will NOT close the achievement gap.

So, you are correct, we have an educational leadership crisis.

posted by: Linda12 | April 6, 2012  12:16pm

I have been keeping track of multiple sites. If this was posted already, I am sorry for the repeat.

I am almost done with EdLeadershipCrisis, but here is one more tidbit for you.


Our critics are our students. We know immediately when they do not grasp a concept, when the task is too easy or too difficult. We adjust minute by minute, period by period, day by day. We adjust to changes, unfunded mandates, special education regulations, principal directions, new fads, old fads.

I do not rely solely on CMT results to assess my students. I KNOW their strengths and weaknesses. I KNOW their interests and aspirations. I KNOW what genres they are interested in reading and what talents they are interested in pursuing. Give the teachers of CT credit for knowing how to do theirs jobs and don’t blame us for all of society’s ills.
I have spent thousands of dollars building up my classroom library of young adult literature. I have spent thousands of dollars to educate myself and to build my repertoire of skills and to perfect my craft.

I don’t need the so-called reformers (millionaires, TFA dropouts, bankers, executives that sit on boards and politicians), who have never instructed a class of real live children, to tell me how to do my job.

Have you talked to any teachers lately?

posted by: Truthinaction | April 6, 2012  5:08pm

Thank you so much for this important article filled with truth and facts. Facts which Malloy seems to have none of or at least care about.  Please make sure every legislator reads this!  Bravo!

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | April 6, 2012  8:27pm

GoatBoyPHD

This started to read like an intelligent commentary on poverty as a symptom.

We use the school lunch program as a proxy for poverty and poverty itself is a proxy for underlying dysfunction.

There are some incredibly rich SES studies that discuss proximate causes of poverty and their effect on student education.

None of them come to a conclusion that ‘union only’ teachers effectively address the problem. OTOH some do address the many decentralized models that do work and these models devote more money to appropriate support services because they are nimble; they hire what they need to do the job. They don’t offer cradle-to-grave employment as a condition for alleviating the proximate causes.

You can tell the union panderers in a minute: the minute they sling the word poverty and don’t offer s a single non-union solution (Pelto) than you know they are slinging hash and poverty to them is nothing more than a tool to justify union teachers.

Fight the good fight: kick the union in the teeth if they get in the way of reform.

posted by: Linda12 | April 6, 2012  11:02pm

Goat Boy,

Union or no union, if you want research and the truth, go to Pelto. If you want spin and half truths read the Courant or the Achievement First propaganda (or any of the myriad of organizations and their websites, CCER,
CBIA, CABE, ConnCon).

Who exposed the Adamowski secret pension provision?  Jon Pelto, that’s who.

Who wrote the special deal for him? No one seems to know..even our Governor claims he is not sure…..not that his word is worth anything.

You are extremely misinformed on job secrurity for teachers, but it is obvious you are set in your beliefs.

By the way it is “THEN you know they are slinging hash” not than…use that word when making a comparison.  The proper usage of these words are tested on the 7th grade editing and revising subtest of the CMT’s….just an FYI.

posted by: nora | April 7, 2012  10:05am

Poverty has impacts on learning that are not talked about enough. I work in a school that has a 50% transiency rate. That means HALF of the students here this year weren’t here last year. Students move in and out of school regularly due to custody issues, homelessness, and a variety of other things. Teach Like a Champion is a great book, and there are a lot of of ways that teachers can improve instruction, but if students are not physically there they will not learn. If they are in crisis due to shootings in the neighborhood, domestic violence issues at home, having no one to give them a regular bedtime or wake them up on time for school, there will be a negative impact on their achievement which even the best instruction cannot fix. The idea that the systems that protect teachers’ working conditions are what’s making the difference between poor kids achieving or not is patently false. The teachers who choose to work in the lowest performing districts are, by and large, those who feel CALLED to be there and and seek out whatever professional development they can, staying very late on a regular basis to advocate for their students’ needs in the face of extreme challenges. There are easier places to teach subtraction, and right now the demonizing of these heroes is going to continue to drive the very best of them away to other districts or other professions where their hard work will, at minimum, be valued.