Teaching About Poverty

March 15, 2012

Teaching Tolerance has developed some interesting materials for teaching about poverty to middle/high school kids.  The series is framed nicely here.

Has anyone used any of these lessons? Are there other resources like this out there that we can share?

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published their often-blogged article on the growing achievement gaps between rich and poor  children.  In contrast to otherwise careful analysis, the article ended with the unfortunate and widely criticized quote:

The problem is a puzzle, he [Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council] said. “No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare.”

Among those begging to differ are the scholars at the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College who recently released five white papers around the theme “Achievable and Affordable: Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low-Income Students”.

Poor kids and their families are neither exotic nor inscrutable, and until we’ve begun to provide at least the minimal levels of support taken for granted in other Western countries, it’s intellectually and morally dishonest to pretend that their marginalization in US public schooling is a mystery beyond solution.

Teachers Leaving By the End of the Year

My students commonly  insist that family support and family values are major determinants of success in school.  I can’t really argue with that.  We might hope that all kids go home to families who encourage them to  learn and to dream big.

Yet I ask them what would happen if, somehow, we did attain this. If all parents checked homework every day and left college brochures on their children’s  pillows, would children then experience equal outcomes in school?  A new report released by ETS, Parsing the Achievement GapII (pdf attached below) documents that relative to middle-class children and white children, low-income and minority children:

  • are less likely to be taught by certified teachers
  • are more likely to attend schools with high teacher absenteeism and teacher turn-over
  • learn in bigger classes
  • report issues of fear and safety in school
  • be taught by inexperienced teachers

Data is also reported on low birth rates, access to the internet, exposure to mercury and lead, and hunger.  Low-income and minority kids are at the losing end on all counts.

If learning is highly correlated with values, it would seem that we might do well to  value these children enough to invest in equitable childhoods.  Perhaps we could divert at least some of the energy that we collectively invest in fretting over undone homework worksheets to these bigger questions of basic  health and basic educational quality.

Next year, my students will be reading his report.

Parsing the Achievement Gap (pdf)

Will We Really?

January 31, 2009

The Forum for Education and Democracy is urging us to be part of moving forward from  the hopes of a new presidency to the hard work of creating change with their National Campaign for Public Education:

Sign their petition if you believe that:

  • Every Child Deserves as 21st Century Education
  • Every Community Deserves an Equal Chance
  • Every Child Deserves a Well Supported Teacher
  • Every Child Deserves High Quality Health Care

In Their Own Voices

December 1, 2008

Via a round-about route, I’ve come across this series of short movies created by Spanish speaking immigrant youth in California.

Created originally within a collaboration on Spanish language instruction between one of my favorite ed tech bloggers Ewan McIntosh and graduates of Marco Torres’ outstanding media program in the San Fernando Valley, these are remarkable, effective accounts of being a young immigrant in the U.S.

Besides all that I have to learn from these young people, there are many reasons that I like this project so much:  the production values are excellent, there is nothing like “first person” storytelling, and these stories are  readily disseminated to a broad audience (you can also subscribe via I-tunes).

I can think of multiple ways to use these in teaching: As examples of ways in which we learn much by listening, as examples of the power of effective video production, of the vital necessity of creating spaces for people to tell their own stories.

I want to find – -and to be part of — more projects like this.


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