Question # 1: Poverty
Thank you for taking my question. And this question is for all candidates:
Our poorest children in the public schools face insurmountable challenges that threaten their future, as well as the future of their schools. It is an indisputable fact, for instance, that family income is positively correlated with student achievement, with state and district level test scores showing the correlation without exception, as do SAT and ACT scores: the lower the family income, the lower the test scores, and the higher the family income, the higher the test scores.
At a time when public school households across the nation are, indeed, getting poorer, NCLB demands test scores go higher and higher. While experts agree, without exception, agree that these demands can't be met, and that most public schools will fail by 2014, and while most urban and poor rural schools are being turned into abusive test prep chain gangs, politicians refuse to confront the truth for fear of being accused of the "bigotry of low expectations."
My question is this (and thank you for your patience): Do you see poverty as the problem that has to be addressed in order to raise student achievement? And if you do see poverty as a problem related to the achievement gaps, what will you do to reduce poverty in urban and rural neighborhoods and to help raise family incomes, which would constitute the grandest kind of education reform--one that does more good than harm?
I'm not a presidential candidate, but if I were, here's how I'd answer.
Jim, your question assumes, wrongly, that since poverty correlates with low student achievement that poverty somehow causes low student achievement. This, quite frankly, is a profoundly foolish mistake, even for an assistant professor at Monmouth college. It would be like someone observing that wet streets correlate highly with rain and then jumping to the conclusion that wet streets cause rain. I mean really, Jim, have you no shame?
Given the poverty/achievement correlation there are three potential causalities: 1. poverty causes low student achievement, 2. low student achievement causes poverty, or 3. some third factor causes both poverty and low student achievement. For example, low student IQ is correlated with both poverty and low student achievement and might be one potential "third factor."
We have no hard evidence today that supports your contention that poverty causes low student achievement. And, there is no hard evidence that supports your conclusion that reducing poverty will lead to increased student achievement. If anything, we have quite a bit of longitudinal data relating to adopted twin studies that shows that even if we were to take a low-SES child and place that child in a high-SES home, the gains in student achievement will be small and will almost completely wash out by late adolescence. This is an extreme intervention and government could not hope to achieve but a fraction of these conditions and government could not hope to replicate the familial effects of smart, well-educated parents in any event.
Your rhetoric notwithstanding, the poverty rate stands at about half of what it was 50 years ago (23% vs. 12.3%). The average poor person in the U.S. actually has more income than the average European (not just the average poor European). Student achievement has not improved during the past 50 years during this rapid increase of wealth.
Today a family of four can have income of nearly $21,000 and still be considered to be living in poverty. This income does not include a substantial amount of governmental benefits: noncash benefits such as food stamps (about $2,200), housing assistance (about $5,400), Medicaid (about $6,000 for a family of four), the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) (about $1,000 per child), energy assistance (about $400), the school lunch and breakfast programs (as much as $600 per child), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) (about $400 per person). It also does not count refundable tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) (about $1,700), because they are “post-tax.” (All figures are average benefit amounts in 2002 regardless of family size, unless otherwise noted.) In addition, assets, such as the family home are not counted. Nor is the income of cohabitors and nonfamily household members. All of this non-income and governmental assistance permits the typical "poor" family to consume 50% more than their income alone would permit.
Additional government assistance is not going to raise the income of the poor for the simple reason that governmental assistance does not count as income. And once you account for all the governmental assistance the poor currently receive, it's difficult to imagine that the vast majority of our poor have the same resource problems as the subsistence-level poor do around the globe.
So, no, I do not see poverty as the problem that has to be addressed in order to raise student achievement. Nor do I think that there is any reason to believe that devoting additional resources to poverty will result in an increase in student achievement.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It's the instruction, stupid." Not poverty.