Robert Reich clearly explains the importance of poverty on educational achievement.
He writes (see his article for the links to sources):
“American kids are getting ready to head back to school. But the schools they’re heading back to differ dramatically by family income.
“Which helps explain the growing achievement gap between lower and higher-income children.
“Thirty years ago, the average gap on SAT-type tests between children of families in the richest 10 percent and bottom 10 percent was about 90 points on an 800-point scale. Today it’s 125 points.
“The gap in the mathematical abilities of American kids, by income, is one of widest among the 65 countries participating in the Program for International Student Achievement.
“On their reading skills, children from high-income families score 110 points higher, on average, than those from poor families. This is about the same disparity that exists between average test scores in the United States as a whole and Tunisia.
“The achievement gap between poor kids and wealthy kids isn’t mainly about race. In fact, the racial achievement gap has been narrowing.
“It’s a reflection of the nation’s widening gulf between poor and wealthy families. And also about how schools in poor and rich communities are financed, and the nation’s increasing residential segregation by income.”
Because property taxes supply about 42% of school funding, schools in poor neighborhoods never have the resources of SCHOLS in affluent communities. Many states cut their school budgets since the Great Recession of 2008-09 and never restored what they cut. In poor communities, the schools must make do with larger classes, a narrowed curriculum, and often no arts or librarians, and not enough social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists, teaching assistants, and other support staff. And of course, despite their tight budgets, they must spend more on testing and test preparation.
Reich points out, “The wealthiest highest-spending districts are now providing about twice as much funding per student as are the lowest-spending districts, according to a federal advisory commission report. In some states, such as California, the ratio is more than three to one.”
“As a result of all this, the United States is one of only three, out of 34 advanced nations surveyed by the OECD, whose schools serving higher-income children have more funding per pupil and lower student-teacher ratios than do schools serving poor students (the two others are Turkey and Israel).
“Other advanced nations do it differently. Their national governments provide 54 percent of funding, on average, and local taxes account for less than half the portion they do in America. And they target a disproportionate share of national funding to poorer communities.
“As Andreas Schleicher, who runs the OECD’s international education assessments, told the New York Times, “the vast majority of OECD countries either invest equally into every student or disproportionately more into disadvantaged students. The U.S. is one of the few countries doing the opposite.”
The U.S, under the complementary policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, pretends that more and more testing will improve achievement, but after nearly 15 years of high-stakes accountability, it should be obvious that these policies have failed.
The U.S., encouraged by President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and a bipartisan mix of governors and legislatures, imagines that school choice–charters and vouchers–will close the achievement gaps and compensate for the unequal funding of schools in poor and affluent neighborhoods. No other nation in the world is pursuing so foolish a path. If anything, school choice exacerbates segregation, and there is no evidence that it leads to better education for the nearly one-quarter of the nation’s children who live in poverty. Advocates of choice point to anecdotes, to one school, or one charter chain, to show that they did get higher test scores, but no one can identify an entire school district where choice has obliterated the effects of poverty. Even the anecdotal evidence of a successful charter, charter chain, or voucher school has to be carefully scrutinized for attrition and other statistical legerdemain.
One need not be cynical to conclude that choice through charters and vouchers has become a means by which wealthy and powerful policy elites change the subject and avoid talking about inequality of resources. To quote Reich, “Money isn’t everything, obviously. But how can we pretend it doesn’t count? Money buys the most experienced teachers, less-crowded classrooms, high-quality teaching materials, and after-school programs.”
There is no way around the conclusion that poor kids need what affluent kids expect and get: smaller classes, experienced teachers, well-resourced classrooms, beautiful facilities, after-school programs, medical care, and a full curriculum.