Archive for September, 2018

To Boost Test Scores, Address Poverty’s Effects on Childhood

September 30, 2018 Comments off

A few days ago Colorado Chalkbeat writer Matt Barnum wrote a research based article that offers evidence that should be obvious to politicians, voters, and compassionate human beings: the effects of poverty result in lower academic performance. After describing the academic travails of the children of a Memphis homeless parent and their academic success once she found a home, Mr. Barnum asserts that a set of robust Anti-Povert programs might be the answer to improving “failing schools”:

In other words, many policies with a shot at changing the experience of low-income students in school don’t have anything to do with the schools themselves. That also means, as these findings pile up, they get relatively little attention from education policymakers who could be key advocates.

We’re so compartmentalized when we think about kids,” said Greg Duncan, a professor at the University of California, Irvine who has researched the effects of anti-poverty programs. “For people who are interested in promoting well-being of children … these safety net programs should be very much on people’s mind.”

Chalkbeat identified more than 20 studies published in the past decade that examine how increasing family income or benefits, like food stamps and health insurance, affect children’s outcomes in school in the U.S. This research does not simply restate the well-known fact that less affluent children do worse in schools than more affluent ones; the studies try to pin down the effect of providing additional resources to families in poverty.

Over and over, they find that more money or benefits helps kids in school.

As one who has long advocated the need for coordinating resources (see this article I wrote for Education Week in 2003), this is a completely unsurprising “discovery”. Public school advocates should be anti-poverty advocates whether the advocates live in the affluent suburbs or in poverty stricken neighborhoods or communities.

After offering several caveats on the findings that associate high poverty with low academic performance, Mr. Barnum does offer some broad conclusions that he finds unassailable:

  • Higher family income means fewer problems in schools
  • Health insurance and supplemental funding for food help
  • Housing vouchers have not yielded any evidence change in academic performance

Mr. Barnum’s final caveat leading into this concluding list describes the biggest problem anti-poverty advocates face— trade-offs that are required to put the research findings into place:

Finally, the studies generally don’t say much about trade-offs. What are the costs — perhaps higher taxes — of expanding such initiatives? Might other programs be a better use of scarce dollars? They also don’t tell us anything about bigger philosophical debates surrounding anti-poverty programs, or about the value of making sure people have adequate food and housing.

Unstated are the two tenets it appears most voters believe: taxes are confiscatory and “government is the problem”. Anti-poverty advocates need to change the voters’ thinking on both of these tenets… and to do so will require politicians to appeal to the higher angels in voters and point to the many places where government DOES succeed and DOES solve problems.

Exercise + Sleep – Screen Time = Increased Brain Power…. the OPPOSITE of What Schools (AND Parents) Are Doing

September 29, 2018 Comments off

The NYTimes featured a short article by Nicholas Baker describing a recent study reported in Lancet that determined that:

At least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time were tied to higher mental test scores.

In the meantime, to boost test scores schools are eliminating recess, lengthening the school day, introducing more screen-based technology into the school day, and increasing homework. Taken together, these have the opposite impact on children. Moreover, when this is combined with the desire of middle class parents to engage children in structured activities and tutoring AFTER school to improve their academic performance, with the fear factor that compels some parents to prevent their children from engaging in free play outdoors, and the desire of some parents to fully book their children’s weekends with structured athletic competitions instead of pick-up sports, you have a toxic mix that works against the findings described above. For children in poverty, the situation is no better because poor communities lack sufficient playgrounds, green spaces, and other venues where children are encouraged to engage in physical activities.

In short, our test-centric schools, helicopter parenting, and frayed infrastructure make it impossible for children to get the exercise and sleep they need and increase the escape into screens. Maybe we need to give children the time to be children.

We Don’t Need New Report Cards: We Need Equitable Funding

September 28, 2018 Comments off

Here’s another verbatim excerpt from yesterday’s Politico feed:

The Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology and the nonprofit Data Quality Campaign are teaming up for a “challenge” centered on designing new state report cards under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The new law “requires states and school districts to make more than 2,000 data points about their public school systems available to families in a concise, understandable and uniform format,”the agency’s ed tech office writes in a blog post. “A key challenge is ensuring these digital report cards are user-friendly, engaging, and incorporate best practices for data visualization and human-centered design — a new approach for many states.”

— The Education Department and DQC are calling on experts to “design tools, templates, and other innovative solutions that will support states in tackling the ESSA data reporting requirements.” The challenge will be Nov. 8-9. More details.

I went to the link at the end of the post and offered my two cents:

My prediction: the report cards will show that districts serving children raised in affluent families with well educated parents will “outperform” districts that have large numbers of children raised in poverty.

My deep concern: the issuance of these report cards will reinforce the notion that public schools are a commodity that compete in an unregulated market. NCLB launched us on that path… RTTT reinforced that idea… and Betsy DeVos has put it on steroids.

We don’t need better, easier to read report cards: we need more equitable funding and a means of engaging all parents— especially single parents who are working multiple jobs.