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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Poverty Creates Extra Challenges; It Demands Extra Resources

From Education Week

By Morgan Showalter
July 27, 2017

"They could have shot him in the leg," one of my students exclaimed.

"Yeah, why’d they have to kill him?" another student responded.

We needed to address what was on everybody’s mind. The media had not identified him yet, but we knew he was one of ours. Everyone in the room knew him, this young man shot by the police while he was actively shooting somebody else.

Trying to make sense of the situation, one of my students tied the event to the ideas of fate and karma, which we had been exploring through reading "Hamlet." The lesson had begun, but tragically it had already started the night before.

This event from my school day shows us that an entire classroom can be immersed in the consequences of poverty, urban blight, and the lure of criminal activity.

It shows us that the proximity of violence and death warrant additional resources in an educational environment, such as targeted health and psychological services.

Fortunately, in my home state, some of those solutions are already in place.

In our current educational funding model in Maryland, extra dollars are allocated to areas in greater need as identified by such factors as high concentrations of poverty and regional issues that would make it difficult to attract teachers.

Additionally, jurisdictions lacking in local resources contribute proportionately less to their overall per-pupil expenditures while the state takes on the majority of the remainder.

The wisdom of this approach is reinforced by research from the National Center for Education and the Economy along with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in their support for targeted funding systems that provide more support to students that need it the most.

As well, they suggest that the most talented teachers are assigned to those students. In the United States, we often do the opposite.

The example from my classroom illustrates problems that stem from poverty.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, the child-poverty rate in major American cities increased from 19.9 percent in 2013 to 30.6 percent in 2016. In Maryland, 45 percent of children qualified for free and reduced-price lunches in 2016.

Yet, countries with comparative levels of poverty, such as Singapore and Canada, handily outperform our students. So what is the difference?

High-performing countries realize that there are correlations between academic success and providing supports that allow students to be prepared for school in early childhood, along with consistently and adequately providing for the health of all family members.

In the United State we must acknowledge the interconnectedness of the societal woes that plague our most challenged communities, including the decline of manufacturing jobs, food insecurity, drug abuse, historical housing segregation, and mental-health issues.

In education, we must continue the targeting of funds for concentrations of poverty as well as for innovative models that deliver on the promise of a free and equitable education for all—such as community schools, whole-child education, and wraparound services.

There are too many stories like the one I shared. It is time we changed this narrative.

Morgan Showalter is a high school special education teacher in the Baltimore school district. He is the appointee of the Baltimore Teachers Union to the Maryland Commission on Excellence and Innovation in Education.

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