Poverty: High on the Edu Agenda, Not a Campaign Issue

 is a teacher in the Bronx where 80 percent of the students in his school live in or near poverty. Frank posted a blog today, “The Biggest Challenge I Face in my Classroom,” where he urged policy makers to take on “the devastation that extreme poverty is having on both our country and classrooms.”
Paul Tough posted a long piece in the NYTimes yesterday where he notes, “the child-poverty rate is 22 percent — substantially higher today than it was [at the height of the War on Poverty]. And yet as a political issue, especially during this presidential campaign season, poverty has receded almost to silence.”
Both parties are pandering to the middle class but no one is talking about the issue on the mind of educators as they return to school–the grinding effects of growing up in poverty and that fact that most US schools are seeing a higher percentage of students struggling with poverty.
Tough notes, “Obama hasn’t made a single speech devoted to poverty as president, and if you visit barackobama.com these days, you would be hard-pressed to find any reference to the subject whatsoever. As a result, he is missing — so far, at least — an important opportunity to change and elevate the national conversation on poverty.”
“You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to explain the effects of a childhood spent in deep poverty,” said Tough, “Your average kindergarten teacher in a high-poverty neighborhood can tell you: children who grow up in especially difficult circumstances are much more likely to have trouble controlling their impulses in school, getting along with classmates and following instructions.”
“There is a growing body of evidence that for many low-income children, a great school can provide a route out of poverty,” said Tough, “But the record of school reform in Roseland is not encouraging.” He goes on to note that a school improvement grant I approved didn’t help much.  New school development, particularly charter schools, is expanding access to quality education but secondary school improvement remains a big challenge.  Both are increasingly challenged by poverty.
Tough concludes that a reduction in poverty will take, quoting an Obama campaign speech, “A sustained commitment from the President of the United States.”
Also on Chicago edreform, see Q&A with Tim Knowles on making education an evidence-based practice.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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