Monday, August 15, 2011

School Achievement and Income


Several articles were posted this weekend on Mlive and carried across the state in various local editions of Booth newspapers. The articles lay out the premise that income and school achievement are linked. This is not new news by any means but the 2010 census and achievement as measured by NCLB-mandated test scores appear to validate what educators have known for decades.

School achievement closely tracks with family income in Michigan, Census 2010 figures show

Differences in family incomes, education levels reflected in student test scores
Income gap can be bridged, starting with expectations, educators say 

The articles miss the boat in that they isolate economic status and fail to look at other critical factors that may in fact be more causal than how much money a family earns. In many cases, family income may in fact be the end result of other social conditions, such as:

  • level of education for each parent (past research seems to indicate the mother's education level is a greater factor than the father's)
  • single or two-parent family
  • English language proficiency (both for the parents and the children)
  • whether the children who do not speak English as their first langage are proficient grammatically in their first language
  • transiency of the family and the amount of time a child has spent in the same school or district
  • whether reading is valued in the home and books, magazines or newspapers are available
I suspect there are more social and personal conditions that contribute to whether a child is ready for school, whether it be the first day of kindergarten or the first day of any school year. And while schools have to confront all of these conditions and do their best to overcome them - the same as a military unit on the battlefield has to overcome a myriad of obstacles between it and the objective - communities that hide their heads in the sand and ignore them only make it more difficult for schools that serve predominantly low income students to succeed.  

The state and federal government can begin by cutting back on administrative red tape and requirements that have little to no connection to student learning, thereby freeing up existing school funding to be used to support longer school days, extended school years, and rigorous teacher training. This would certainly be a giant leap forward to helping our kids break the cycle of poverty.

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