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Education and poverty

Written By: - Date published: 11:32 am, August 5th, 2012 - 45 comments
Categories: class war, education, poverty - Tags: , ,

The Nats are running their various ideological policies in education, claiming (while contradicting themselves in the process) that they are trying to address the “one in five children” who do poorly at school. I’ve written on the subject of one in five children before, concluding that post with this quote (pdf):

Can it be mere coincidence that there are similar proportions (one in five) of New Zealand children in the Ministry’s “tail of underachievement” as there are children in the greatest poverty that is, non-working, beneficiary-dependent families?

If the Nats wanted to do something serious about addressing educational underachievement, they would be addressing child poverty, not farting about privatising education. Below is an impassioned plea from an American teacher. Because of it’s relevance to what is going on in NZ right now I’m going to quote quite a bit of it:

The hard bigotry of poverty: Why ignoring it will doom school reform
By 

This was written by Brock Cohen, a teacher and student advocate in the Los Angeles Unified School District who contends that we can no longer afford to trivialize the critical role that poverty plays in a child’s learning experiences – and that true school reform begins with social justice. Brock’s students were recently featured in an NPR piece that charts some of his students’ daily struggles as they pursue their education.

By Brock Cohen

…  What had grown increasingly clear to me was that my students’ academic struggles did not simply stem from inaction, ineffective parenting, drug use, or neglect. While these elements were usually present in various forms, or to greater or lesser degrees, they weren’t the root causes of their failure; they were the effects of poverty. What I’d learned in less than a semester of teaching was that poverty wasn’t merely a temporary, though unpleasant, condition — like a hangover or the sniffles. It was a debilitating, often generational, epidemic.

While my teaching credential classes were perpetually bogged down with trivialities like journal reflections, acceptable formatting options for the three-tier lesson plan, and tales of woe that rivaled A.A. meetings, discussions or assignments that sought to unravel the poverty-learning conundrum never took place. In pursuit of other alternatives, I commenced my own research.

Study after study validated my experiences and observations from spending the past five months with disadvantaged teens. Healthy children require a nutritious diet, ample sleep, stable households, regular physical exercise, and access affordable health care. They require regular cognitive stimulation to give them the neurological foundations required for complex learning tasks. And they require affection and positive reinforcement to engender them with self-worth.

Most jolting to me was a 1995 study that remains every bit as relevant today. Published by psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risely,Meaningful Differences details the magnitude of a child’s early learning environment. It concludes that low-income children are typically burdened with a 32-million word gap by age 4, as well as deficits in “complexity” and “tone,” which measure the depth and intensity of verbal exchanges.

While I continued searching for answers, either Congress or the Bush administration could have thrown me a life preserver. They opted for an anchor. Rather than instantly improving the state of public education by proposing legislation that attacked poverty at its core, they put their bipartisan muscle behind one of the most onerous, ineffectual, and wasteful slabs of federal legislation in decades.

What was then billed as a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), No Child Left Behind made quick work of common sense, setting multiple-choice standardized tests as the touchstone by which the nation’s students, schools, and, in many cases, teachers would be evaluated. The law’s founders assured Americans that what high-poverty kids needed was not better health care, smaller class sizes, expanded access to pre-K education, or supervised instruction in using 21st-century technology. They needed to be tested more. Teacher and school accountability, tied to test scores, would rescue poor children from the brink of failure. (After all, it wasn’t cynical policymakers or a misguided electorate who were failing our nation’s public schoolchildren: The real bogeyman was “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”)

Put another way, a first-generation El Salvadoran teenager, crammed into a Van Nuys apartment while acting as the primary caregiver for three younger siblings, would ultimately be held to the same performance-level expectations on the same high-stakes tests as a girl from Palo Alto whose parents attended Dartmouth. Failure of schools to ensure this would (and has) lead to monetary sanctions, mass firings, state and private takeovers, and school closings.

And so, with the stroke of our President’s pen, the act of leveling the playing field was ostensibly underway.

But then the National Alliance for Educational Progress (NAEP) started producing stacks of data that divulged what many educators had already predicted: Testing the bejesus out of high-needs kids probably wasn’t going to make them smarter. Given to a cross-section of the nation’s public school students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade each year, NAEP test results perennially revealed that the policies of NCLB have had no discernable impact on bridging the still seismic math and literacy gaps between low-income children and their wealthier counterparts.

Rather than reversing the wayward course of NCLB, however, President Obama’s approach has proven even more ineffectual — and draconian. …

Darling-Hammond has galvanized opposition to the brigade of privateers, economists, public officials, and think-tankers who insist that poverty isnot a towering roadblock to a child’s cognitive development. In a piece that rails against the government’s fusillade of sanctions aimed at so-called failing schools, she writes:

Poverty rates make a huge difference in student achievement. Few people are aware, for example, that in 2009 U.S. schools with fewer than 10 percent of student in poverty ranked first among all nations on the Programme for International Achievement tests in reading, while those serving more than 75 percent of students in poverty scored alongside nations like Serbia, ranking about fiftieth.

… In education, there are choices to be made that can indeed move the needle of student achievement. Developing a collaborative model, for example, can lead to improvements in the skills and study habits of disadvantaged children. But closing the so-called achievement gap between rich and poor will first require Americans to recognize a far more uncomfortable reality: The policies employed to purportedly address the struggles of low-income children have ushered in a new era of school segregation. Claiming that poverty is no excuse for student failure trivializes the damage caused by years of actions and inactions that have widened the gaps between rich and poor communities. Good schools aren’t molded through harsh sanctions, private takeovers, or even soaring rhetoric. They emerge from healthy, stable communities. That is, they emerge from a commitment to justice.

I don’t think I have anything to add.

45 comments on “Education and poverty ”

  1. Excellent post, Anthony, you have clearly expressed the real issues around educational under achievement and provided useful evidence for why our Government’s approach will inevitably fail.

    I was concerned that the panel on Q&A missed mentioning the huge effect poverty has on education underachievement. Instead they still blamed schools for not dealing with the deficits that children bring to their learning. Of course teachers make a difference but as respected educationalist Margaret Wu claims, of all the influences on a child’s academic achievement (parents, socioeconomic factors etc) teachers only contribute 10%.

    National Standards won’t make a difference, league tables won’t help, Charter Schools are doomed to failure, we just need to lift the incomes and aspirations of our growing population of struggling poor!

    • Dv 1.1

      I think I heard Key saying on the news that if charter schools fai, he would dump them?

      That begs the question of what failure is and who will pick up the kids from the failing charter schools.

      Thank you Rob for the article.

  2. Dr Terry 2

    Thanks for this fine article, and thanks Dave for comment. Great to see that intelligence is still used in this manner! (I am concerned about the effects of MENTAL poverty among leaders).

  3. No it isn’t a coincidence, and yes, all we’ve got to do to reduce educational underachievement is reduce poverty. Or, in other words, all we’ve got to do to fix this relatively minor problem is first fix a relatively much more difficult and complicated problem. I’m sure you can figure out why that piece of information doesn’t actually get us very far along.

    • McFlock 3.1

      On the contrary: the first step to solving any problem is to correctly identify it and its cause.

      • Kotahi Tāne Huna 3.1.1

        +1

        Oh, and other countries have found solutions. The barriers are political not practical.

      • Psycho Milt 3.1.2

        As an identifiable cause, this one files under Well, duh. It’s as obvious to the people in govt as it is to us, the difference is they have a professional interest in pretending otherwise. This is as true under Labour as it is under National because neither of them has a solution for the problem of poverty, it being as described above “a relatively much more difficult and complex problem,” ie one without an obvious and easily-achievable solution. Pointing out the nature of the problem is easy – the tricky bit is where you come up with proposed solutions.

        • Colonial Viper 3.1.2.1

          Its not difficult to address poverty in NZ. Simply get the vast capital stocks which have been hoarded and accumulated on the sidelines (many tens of billions worth according to Bernard Hickey below), moving once again through local communities, and into the physical, tangible economy.

          There’s no scarcity of money in the NZ economy, just a scarcity of the movement of money through local communities.

          http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10824614

        • mike e 3.1.2.2

          this country has done this before but has lost the balls to deal with it instead we have psycho rwnj’s telling us it can’t be done.
          RWNJ”S cover up solutions by spreading cynicism!

        • Kotahi Tāne Huna 3.1.2.3

          PM – not “the problem of poverty” – the problem is increased inequality. It’s not the same thing, and other countries have addressed it successfully.

  4. Craig Glen Eden 4

    Very sad to see Matt McCarten spouting the same right wing bullshit about one in five and blaming schools and their teachers. Quite frankly I am sick of people like him and brain dead pollies talking about stuff that they have no education in or done any real reading in. Labour Politicians like Jacinda and left wing commentators like Matt keep repeating the one in five line. One question about the one in five is who makes up the one in five? How many of the one in five have English as their second language, how many are special needs, how many come from poor homes, how many have learning difficulties how many are the suffering the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome bla bla.
    How all these issues are the fault of teachers who people like stupid John Tamahere blame again and again is just beyond me. For goodness sake when is someone on the left going to smash this one in five line out of the park.

    • Kotahi Tāne Huna 4.1

      One more question about the “one in five” – is it even true? The pass rate for NCEA level 2 is 85%…

      But it’s the old story – it doesn’t matter how well versed you are in the facts when your debating “partner” is happy to invent their own facts. No-one has yet figured out how to deal with a Gish gallop in a live broadcast – the lie races ’round the world in the time it takes the truth to get its shoes on.

    • Rodel 4.3

      At last. Someone speaks sense. The crap that is presented as statistically valid,by all politicians and even by some academics is appalling. Thanks..Craig but who will take notice?

  5. Adele 5

    Tēnā koe, Craig

    Matt McCarten does have knowledge of the educational under-achievement of Māori students within mainstream education. Mainstream education will blame the students, the parents, the communities, the drugs, the alcohol, fetal alcohol syndrome, the ozone layer – without ever thinking that maybe it is failing those students – who aren’t middle class, or white, or smart, or cute, or pleasant, or agreeable, or able. Students that generally won’t allow mainstream education to feel good about itself.

    Matt McCarten is ideally positioned to comment on educational under-achievement and poverty as both issues disproportionally impact on Māori. He also knows alot about institutional racism and bigotry.

    • Yeah, it’s all the education system’s fault – all the loonier Kiwiblog commenters seem to agree on that one.

      • mike e 5.1.1

        PM Sonkeys strategyTwo birds with one stone.
        Shift the blame
        Them make the teachers the scape goat

      • Adele 5.1.2

        Psycho Milt

        In terms of Māori being educated I would categorically agree with you – it is the system’s fault. The lack of recognition that perhaps non-Western peoples have a different way of acquiring knowledge or that cultural context is important to learning outcomes continues to be a failing of mainstream education. . .

        I am not too worried about loony Kiwiblog commentators – its the psycho-standardnistas that cause my eyes to roll.

        • Psycho Milt 5.1.2.1

          See the comment 5.2 by Kotahi Taane Huna below – that’s the main reason you and the Kiwiblog commenters are wrong about this.

          However, it’s also worth noting that our education system has great success with pupils of many cultures. Which means making Maori underachievement about culture is not only wrong, it’s a free gift for racists.

    • Kotahi Tāne Huna 5.2

      Adele, teacher effect accounts for about 10% of educational outcomes. Schools cannot make up for the problems caused by institutional racism and inequality. By blaming them you are buying into a completely false narrative.

      • Adele 5.2.1

        Kotahi

        The false narrative is yours. Schools are contributors to institutional racism and inequality. The 10% of effort that teachers contribute to educational outcomes generally miss the mark completely when dealing with Maori students.

        As long ago as the early 1960s Maori teachers teaching in a ‘Maori’ way were making great strides in improving learning outcomes for Maori students. One such teacher (who was a renowned Maori artist and has since passed on) used to teach in a rural school in Northland. Most, if not all the Maori students there were labelled failures because they generally failed the tests provided by the school. He took to examining the class on subjects flavoured by Aotearoa. Where was this place, mountain, river, who was this Maori rangatira, etc etc. Of course the Maori students did spectacularly well whereas the non-Maori students failed.

        Even today there is marked improvement in outcomes when Maori students are taught in a particular way. The kohanga reo movement is a classic case in point. Whole families have been successfully engaged in the learning outcomes of tamariki – despite the deprivation and the social context.

        That movement was started by kuia on behalf of their mokopuna. 25 years later those kuia are now in their mid-eighties and still involved in the movement. In many ways the kohanga reo movement is a forefunner to charter schools.

        • Psycho Milt 5.2.1.1

          He took to examining the class on subjects flavoured by Aotearoa. Where was this place, mountain, river, who was this Maori rangatira, etc etc.

          In other words, like many teachers in small rural schools before and since, he found the local kids lacked much interest in reading and writing or maths and sciences, so he concentrated on giving them some basic stuff that would be useful to them in their future lives as peasants, labourers and housewives. It’s not an inspiring story, it’s a depressing one.

          • Adele 5.2.1.1.1

            Psycho

            The only thing depressing in this scenario is your opinions.

            Unlike you this teacher saw the potential in these children. Why do you assume that Maori children from rural or isolated communities would lack interest in reading and writing or maths and sciences. He reframed the teachings to be inclusive of their worldview. Rather than learn about the English Royal Family and the geography of Europe – they learnt instead geography using local and regional locations and the whakapapa of Rangatira. Having engaged their minds and their hearts these children would have a greater appreciation for knowledge acquisition of whatever sort.

            The teacher himself came from a similar background and his artworks now hang in galleries and private collections world-wide. Far from being stuck in a provincial rut he propelled Māori art into a contemporary age. Not bad for someone from a densely poor and rural background. And I guess the thinking was that if he could succeed when the dominant culture says – you’re a failure – than so could the children under his tutelage.

            Your type of thinking in a teacher is what is dimming the light on the potential of Maori children.

            • Kotahi Tāne Huna 5.2.1.1.1.1

              “…what is dimming the light on the potential of Maori children”?

              Is it teachers? Is it schools? Or is it the relentless grinding inequality and discrimination that Māori experience on a daily basis?

              Inequality that has increased faster in New Zealand than anywhere else in the developed world. That has been shown to affect rates of crime, violence, stress, health, and yes, educational performance.

              Now you may think that statement is controversial – it isn’t. Unless you get your opinions from politicians, that is…

              • UpandComer

                If that logic held then no one from a poor background would ever do well at school. Clearly, it’s rubbish, and it’s not just down to those kids having semi-decent IQ’s.

                Also, Kotahi tane huna, why are you opposed to something that might help to change the intractable depressing statistics on Maori educational achievement? You are actually at odds with the majority of Maori with your stance, Maori who are constructive, progressive, pragmatic and tired of useless attitudes and blame-mongering. As Adele says, why don’t you blame the Ozone layer too while you are at it.

                • Kotahi Tāne Huna

                  Is that what passes for logic in your mind – “no one from a poor background would ever do well at school.”

                  Do you think this is a strong argument, as opposed to a pitiful strawman?

                  You also appear to think that proposing a solution for “the intractable depressing statistics on Māori educational achievement” is the same as being “opposed to something that might help to change the intractable depressing statistics on Māori educational achievement”.

                  I conclude that you have diminished mental capacity. I will attempt to address this issue on an emotional level:

                  Inequality hurts people. If you want to make them better, reduce inequality.

                  • Adele

                    Kotahi Koretake

                    It is laughable that you try to educate Māori on inequality – you pompous twat. Its your type of hypocrisy and mealy-mouth platitudes that cause most brown people to vomit.

                    Your type of attitude is damaging to the efforts of brown people that understand the issues and realise the solutions and if you cannot support their efforts then get the fuck out of the way.

                    And as for suggesting that I am hating on teachers – if you read my posts with both eyeballs focussed in front – you will note that I was in fact praising the efforts of one particular teacher – or don’t fully qualified Māori teachers count in the scheme of your warped sense of social equity..

                    • Kotahi Tāne Huna

                      I am not the pain in your mind, and I’m not lecturing Māori, I’m schooling a potty-mouthed ignoramus, specifically, you.

                    • Kotahi Tāne Huna

                      PS: Is Papaarangi Reid “lecturing Māori”? Get a clue.

                    • Adele

                      Kotahi Hōhā

                      ‘Potty mouthed ignoramus’

                      Wow, such a ferocious backlash. Actually, I am chuffed and will share this with my pakeke roopu in the weekend:

                      Kuia 1: You were called what?

                      Me: A potty mouthed ignoramus.

                      Kuia 2: Honey, you’re too young to be using a potty.

                      Kuia 3: No, no, put your hearing aid in – some arsehole was calling her a dumbarse.

                      Kuia 4: Well, you go and bring him to us and we’ll sort the fucker out.

                      Koroua 1: That’ll be right – their husbands are all dead.

                      Kuia 4: And you can shut up.

                      From the ludicrous to the absurd – don’t quote Paparangi Reid to me, I work in health. Inequality is created by people like you thinking that they know better than people like me and Paparangi Reid.

                    • Kotahi Tāne Huna

                      Good, I’m glad I could bring some joy to alleviate your bigotry and prejudice.

                      Did I say I think I know better than Papaarangi Reid? No: that’s just a pitiful strawman you invented. In fact, Papaarangi Reid and others in the medical profession inform my opinion on this subject.

                      I note that the ethnicity of the messenger has a profound effect on your ability to understand the message.

                    • Adele

                      Kotahi Hōhā Koretake

                      You haven’t actually said anything meaningful at all in your posts accept to accuse me of introducing strawmen (wrong) and throwing in a Māori (Reid) to add credence to your white privilege posturings.

                      Ethnicity does in fact play a large part in the debate on inequality because it is largely along racial lines. So yes I do focus on your ethnicity especially when you as a white person attempt to lecture me as a brown person on what is inequality in this country and how inequality can be addressed to the benefit of the dis-possessed.

                      Inequality is driven largely by people like you in positions of authority – be it as politician, policy maker, purse-holder. I would rather deal with the likes of Crimp who is absolutely open about his prejudices than with people like you.

                      The last word is yours.

                    • Kotahi Tāne Huna

                      You work in the health sector, which puts you in a far higher “position of authority” than I will ever hold.

                      Your entire contribution has been to dismiss my opinion on the basis of my ancestry. Accusing me of “saying nothing” in these circumstances is a tad ironic, no?

                      Strawman No.1: ” you cannot support their efforts”

                      Strawman No.2: “don’t fully qualified Māori teachers count in the scheme of your warped sense of social equity.”

                      Strawman No.3: “people like you thinking that they know better than people like me and Paparangi Reid.”

                      If you want a lecture fuck off back to school. All I’m presenting here is my opinion, though I have a bit more than anecdotes about pioneering teachers to back it up.

                      We allocate massive resources to combat crime, to improve physical and mental health, to educate, etc. etc. Negative outcomes in all of these areas are driven by increased inequality. That we would be much better off addressing the inequality, rather than the symptoms, is self-evident.

                      As for your elegant justification for your racism: I’m sure Louis Crimp has one for his; perhaps that explains your preference.

        • Kotahi Tāne Huna 5.2.1.2

          Adele schools reflect the society they’re in? What an amazing revelation! Once again: teacher effect accounts for no more than 10% of academic achievement; no amount of hating on teachers in going to change that.

        • UpandComer 5.2.1.3

          Thank-you for this excellent comment.

          It simply puzzles me why it is that those who place complete faith in the public system in the face of decades of long-standing Maori/Pacific Island underachievement are so viciously opposed to anything that might change the status quo.

          • Kotahi Tāne Huna 5.2.1.3.1

            The answer to your puzzlement is simple – you’re wrong. The complete faith you imagine doesn’t exist, and neither does the opposition. However, when you grow up you will perhaps come to understand a well known phrase – “Something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done!”

            • Rob 5.2.1.3.1.1

              Yes, a similar approach was tried in World War 1 in trench warfare. Wave after wave of young soldiers went sent over the trench wall to advance slowly upon the enemy. That kept all the bosses happy too that at least they were doing somehing. Still didn’t make any sense or difference did it.

              Juts mindlessly repeating failed actions is not a good idea.

  6. Carol 6

    Basil Bernstein said it back in the late 60s/early 70s:

    “Education cannot compensate for society” – he was talking about social class inequalities, but it could also refer to the any students from non-white middleclass backgrounds tend to find the education system a bit of a struggle. Our education system so often incorporates the values of the dominant groups in society.

    And, yes, education may go some way to help students from less well-off backgrounds, but poverty , as Anthony’s post indicates, has negative impacts on a child’s education in many ways.

  7. lefty 7

    I get very sick of people who say lack of education is a reason for individuals failure to be able to get good jobs and support themselves.

    The education system cannot lead to change. It will always reflect the society it is based in, and the fate of individuals in it will reflect the fate of individuals in society as a whole.

    If we structure our society to produce winners and losers our education system will always reflect that, regardless of how good our teachers are and how big the education spend is. The best any improvements in the education system can do while our society is structured to glorify individual wealth accummulation as its main purpose is to produce better educated losers.

    In other words it’s pretty much a percentage game and the percentage of those failing at school must reflect the percentage of those the rich want kept on the margins.

    No change to the education system can alter that.

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      Further, whether or not you leave school at 16 without qualifications, or at 23 with a Masters degree and $80,000 of student debt – there are no jobs available to you, apart from stacking shelves at the local supermarket.

      And in that case, the 16 year old school leaver is instantly $80,000 better off than the post-grad.

      • Dv 7.1.1

        PLUS 7 years of income at min wage – 182,000

        • Colonial Viper 7.1.1.1

          Exactly – and when young people ask me these days, I ask them to think seriously about getting into a good trade with practical skills instead of doing years at uni accumulating debt and textbooks.

  8. seeker 8

    “Claiming that poverty is no excuse for student failure trivializes the damage caused by years of actions and inactions that have widened the gaps between rich and poor communities. Good schools aren’t molded through harsh sanctions, private takeovers, or even soaring rhetoric. They emerge from healthy, stable communities. That is, they emerge from a commitment to justice.”

    Thank you for this stunning, pertinent and “laying out the truth for us all to see” post Anthony. Am going to quote, quote and quote from it again and again, especially ”trivializes the damage”…

  9. aerobubble 9

    I’m eagerly awaiting to see these statistics, house buying will be so much easier when
    I know how stupid the kids are in the area, I mean what a joke, does the government
    really believe that all the time children spend growing up without the presence of
    a teacher, their intrinsic genetic, behavioral, cultural and religious can substantial be
    modified by teachers. I’m sorry but it says more about the educational standard of
    our present right wing government, who also believe that concentrating solely on
    results and ignoring inputs, like people, ecology, resource limits, and concentrate
    solely on profits only driven economics, is it any wonder they are so blind to their
    own stupidity. But then I suppose society chooses to become more inequitable and
    sectarianism needs these educational stats if its to become rooted and grow.

    • Kotahi Tāne Huna 9.1

      Society chooses no such thing – it’s the consequence of stupidity, not malice.

      The debate is slowly moving in the right direction though. I would like to see more discussion on policy to combat inequality.

      Should we redistribute wealth more evenly, for example? I think I know what sort of reaction that would raise in our right-wing acquaintances, but it would work.

      What about wage policy? Japan doesn’t need to redistribute wealth so much because there isn’t such a huge gap in salary levels to begin with. A policy to limit high salaries would add nothing to the wages bill, since companies could simply redistribute more equitably themselves.

      What about secondary measures like strengthening communities organisations such as unions, restoring rights to collective action?

      Just flying kites here, but I get fed up with debating all these issues – education, health, crime etc. as though they were unconnected.

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