SWG #6: Poverty, Class, and Wealth
Group Members: Alanna Carter, Erica Muma, Amanda Senack, Jess Sullivan

"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be eradicated by the actions of human beings."
-- Nelson Mandela

While it is a generally accepted belief among academics and a large part of society that poverty, as a rule, has a negative impact on a child’s academic success, (Flessa, 2007, p.2) no one has yet been able to come to an agreement as to why this is the case. Just where does the inequality within the educational system originate, and, what can be done to fix this problem? Through a critical assessment of the effect a child’s socioeconomic status has on their academic success, this paper will attempt to shed some light on this complicated and controversial topic. Specifically, it will focus on differences in quality of teaching and instruction of subject matter amongst poor students and their economically better off counterparts, quality of learning environment, and degree of parental involvement and support. In conclusion, suggestions will be offered as to what may be done, if anything, to remedy this problem and to shrink the achievement gap between poor and non-poor students.

Teachers and Curriculum

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
-- William Butler Yeats

According to Sue Books’ examination of a 1986 United States Department of Education report, “a poor student in a school with few poor students has a better chance of good academic outcomes than does a non-poor student in a school where most of the students live in poverty.” (Books, 2004, p.55) Hence, if a poor student tends to be academically disadvantaged, but will fare better than his/her economically better off counterpart if the two switch schools, it seems fair to hypothesize that quality of teaching and instruction of curriculum and subject matter may be different in schools serving a predominantly poor population versus those serving a financially better off population. Unfortunately, a closer look at the research on poverty and education proves this hypothesis to be true.
As per the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) 1997 and 1998 annual reports, there is a “dismaying alignment of disadvantaged students…, schools with the poorest educational resources (fiscal and human), and substandard achievement.” While, “those schools that serve the fewest at-risk children have the greatest financial resources, teachers with the best credentials, and the highest levels of achievement.” (as cited in Books, 2004, p.53) Divergent levels of teacher quality and the large effect this can have on a student’s academic success have been noted by other researchers as well. According to Darling-Hammond (1997), “rigorously prepared teachers gain better results from their students, and…poor and minority youth in the United States are systematically denied access to such teachers.” (Flessa, 2007, p.22) Good_teacher2.jpg
In addition to minimal access to superior teachers, another obstacle faced by economically disadvantaged students is exposure to a different, and some would argue substandard, curriculum. In 1979, Jean Anyon undertook a study of grade 5 classrooms at five New Jersey schools. In comparison with the other study schools, each school had a unique socioeconomic composition, ranging from a predominantly “working-class” student body to a very affluent and wealthy “executive elite” student body. (Anyon, 1980, pp.71-73) The conclusions drawn from Anyon’s study were quite surprising. She found that while all students were exposed to the same subject matter – Math, Science, Language Arts, etc. – instruction of this subject matter “differed qualitatively by social class.” (Anyon, 1980, p.90) For example, in the “working-class” schools, where most parents had blue-collar jobs, focus was placed on following instructions to complete simple, menial tasks. Hence, in Language Arts the focus was on simple grammar exercises. (Anyon, 1980, p.74) Conversely, in the “affluent professional” school, where most parents belonged to the upper middle-class and were members of a profession, work often consisted of creative activities carried out independently. At this school, during their Language Arts classes, students did very little grammar, but completed many creative writing tasks and essays. (Anyon, 1980, p.80) The general conclusion drawn by Anyon from this study was the existence of a “hidden curriculum” of school work that supported the maintenance of the socioeconomic status-quo – working class children were being prepared for blue-collar jobs and wealthier children were being prepared to attend college and university and to step into more affluent and prestigious jobs. (Anyon, 1980, pp.89-90) Stack_of_books.jpg
Astoundingly, similar situations are still occurring in today’s schools. Within the Los Angeles Board of Education, all high school students are required to take two courses that fall under the category of “Technical Arts.” At schools serving the middle or upper-middle class this requirement can be met with such courses as “residential architecture,” or “broadcast journalism,” courses which, according to Jonathan Kozol, “held some academic substance and…some relevance to college preparation.” (Kozol, 2008, p.160). However, in schools serving Los Angeles’ less fortunate, “this requirement was far more often met by courses that were basically vocational and also obviously keyed to low paying levels of employment.” (Kozol, 2008, p.160)

Many people are well aware of the inequalities that exist within the educational system in relation to poor versus non-poor students. Are there any suggestions as to how to improve this situation? Yes. According to Flessa, one solution is to advocate for better recruitment, selection, and education of teachers for schools serving a poor student body. (Flessa, 2007, p.21) Another and more controversial option, championed by former teacher Ruby Payne, is to educate teachers about the social norms of the poor, so as to reduce their “class cluelessness” and increase their understanding of and connection to poor students. (Tough, 2007, p. 2) Finally, there is the ‘Effective Schools” approach. This idea, pioneered by Ronald Edmonds and John Fredrickson in the late 1970s, argues that schools can ensure academic success for their students regardless of their economic background, if teachers and the school administration believe in the possibility of success for every child and do everything within their power to ensure their students succeed. (Flessa, 2007, pp.20-21) Some good examples of the “Effective Schools” approach put into practice include charter schools like “Achievement First” and “Knowledge is Power Program” (KIPP). Thus far, these schools have succeeded in raising achievement levels among poor students, and according to Chancellor Klein, “demonstrate that effective principals and talented teachers can create a school culture of accountability to dramatically boost…performance.” (Klein, 2009, p.2) .

Learning Environment

"Some schools develop 'toxic' cultures which actively discourage efforts to improve teaching or student achievement."
-- Deal and Patterson

Another factor that is an important contributor to a student’s academic success is school environment. Teachers need to have the proper facilities to teach their lessons. As seen in the Oprah video, Neuqua Valley High School, the school that is in a higher socioeconomic part of town has the luxuries of new and technologically advanced equipment that Harper High School, the school in the lower socioeconomic part of the town, does not. In schools that do not have proper funding, physical education equipment, laboratories, computer labs, and music and art equipment are often seen as luxuries that will never be available. The lack of the aforementioned items can seriously hinder a student’s academic growth. The inner city students at Harper have the opportunity to see what a suburban school looks like, and come to the realization that their economically better off counterparts have an academic advantage because of access to better facilities and the availability of advanced placement classes. (Steinhardt08, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEczvyM3Boc)
Researchers have also seen a correlation between building age, quality, and aesthetics and a student’s performance. They found that “students in newer buildings outperformed students in older ones and posted better records for health, attendance, and discipline” (Schneider, 2002, p.8) than those that were in older and less maintained buildings. Likewise, students in newer buildings feel more pride in their school and are less likely to vandalize, destroy, or tamper with school property.
On a more basic level, schools that are unable to afford proper upkeep and maintenance often have problems with poor air quality. In many buildings this has led to “irritated eyes, nose and throat, upper respiratory infections, nausea, dizziness, headaches and fatigue, or sleepiness— [which] have falling_apart_schoolhouse.jpgcollectively been referred to as “sick building syndrome” (Schneider, 2002, p.1). The quality of education that is delivered by a teacher who is suffering from any one of these ailments would be deteriorated, which would in turn affect the students’ ability to learn. Students are also affected by poor air conditions. Many are developing asthma and other respiratory illnesses which is causing them to miss several days of school, and to be unfocused during lessons because they are not in good health. School facilities also have a very large impact on a teacher’s satisfaction with his/her work. This has become a problem in lower socioeconomic communities where the school does not meet the requirements of the teacher. This results in the teacher leaving the school as soon as a job in a financially better off community can be secured (Schneider, 2003, p.3). However, until a new placement can be secured, the teacher is not invested in the schools’ success, and because of the low job satisfaction, does not teach to the best of his/her ability.

Parental Involvement

"[Our] future will be determined by the home and the school. The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live."
-- Jane Addams

A third and equally important factor affecting a student’s academic success is the degree in which parents are involved in their children’s education. Levitt and Dubner comment that “most parents would agree that education lies at the core of a child’s formation” (Levitt & Dubner, 2005, p. 157). However, despite this common belief among parents, the degree and ability of parents to be actively baby_on_computer.jpginvolved in their children’s education varies significantly according to their socioeconomic status. While many parents of low socioeconomic status hope for their children to do well in school, oftentimes their time and energy are focused on other variables that are essential to their basic survival. Parents of low socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to deal with a variety of stressors including the struggle to find and retain work, food insecurity, difficulty acquiring affordable housing, less access to health and dental care, and less access to Early Childhood Education programs (Rothman, 2007, pp. 51-52). Low income parents are more concerned with the basic elements of survival for themselves and their children; consequently, they are less able to be involved in their child’s education. As a result, the relationship between these parents and their children’s teachers is characterized by separation; the parents regard the teacher to be an expert and leave their child’s education in the hands of the teacher (Lareau, 1989, p.8).

Children from middle and high socioeconomic backgrounds perform better academically; this is because the parents of these children are better able to equip their children with the skills they need to succeed. Lareau notes that, “the impact of socio-economic status is on the values and educational aspirations which children bring to the educational process” (Lareau, 1989, p.2). In other words, parents of middle and high socioeconomic statuses are more likely to impress upon their children the importance of education. Additionally, high income parents provide their children with significant cultural capital. Children from middle and high socioeconomic families will enter school with a better understanding of societal and patterns and expectations as well as a sense of authority (Lareau, 1989, p.9). Further, parents of middle and high socioeconomic statuses are more likely to engage and work with their child’s teachers to ensure their progress and ultimate success. The relationship between these parents and their children’s teachers is characterized by interconnectedness; the parents believe that their child’s education is the job of both the teacher and themselves (Lareau, 1989, p.8).

The essay “What Makes a Perfect Parent?” presents a number of factors that correlate strongly with a child’s academic success. These factors include having highly educated parents, having parents that belong to a high socioeconomic status, having parents that speak English in the home, having parents that are involved in the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and having many books in the home (Levitt & Dubner, 2005, p. 167). The essay also notes that a child’s academic success depends primarily on who their parents are (Levitt & Dubner, 2005, pp. 167, 175). Levitt and Dubner comment that, “If you are smart, hardworking, well educated, well paid, and married to someone equally fortunate, then your children are more likely to succeed” (Levitt & Dubner, 2005, pp. 167, 175). Certainly, the socioeconomic status of parents and their ability to provide for and be in involved in their children’s education has a strong impact on their children’s academic performance.

Where Do We Go From Here?

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead

Many authors have written extensive and poignant articles on subject of poverty and education. In particular, four authors have been used to guide further research in this area. Here is a summary of their conclusions, and their ideas about where society can get ideas on possible solutions:

Jean Anyon
Jean Anyon
In her research article “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” Anyon concludes that students from families of higher socio-economic backgrounds received a fuller educational experience than students from low-income families. This was attributed to schools with a higher-income student body having more access to better-trained teachers, better teaching methods, better resources, more money, more support, and being expected to attain higher goals and expectations. Anyon found that the main concern when examining these factors was “to reflect on the deeper social meaning, the wider theoretical significance, of what happens in each social setting” (Anyon, 1980, p. 87). Anyon found that students were being prepared for the jobs that their parents held; in short, they were living a self-fulfilling prophesy. This "hidden curriculum" prevented students from escaping their pre-determined destinites, and contributed to the maintenance of the gap between poor and non-poor students.

Dory Lightfoot

In her article “Some Parents Just Don’t Care,” Lightfoot examines the metaphors and language surrounding low-income and middle-income families, and concludes that these particular methods of communication need to be abandoned. The pre-conceived notions (regarding low- and middle-income families) prevent teachers and administrators from realizing the potential that these families have to offer the school environment. She expresses that teachers must evolve their classrooms to fit the needs of all of their students. Lightfoot notes that, in writing her article, she hopes that “all of us who are working for social change and justice will carefully examine the language that we use—the words, images, and tropes that structure the basic ground rules we operate by, so that we do not also become enmeshed in wider societal understandings of good/bad, of empty/full, and of deficit (Lightfoot, 2004, p. 106).

Paul Tough (on Ruby Payne)

Ruby Payne
According to Payne, there are two types of poverty: situational (poverty as a result of one event) and generational (poverty that has been passed down from parent to child). Payne believes that one’s level of poverty dictates one’s behaviour and reactions. Payne states that making the transition between poverty levels involves elements of sacrifice. She acknowledges that the rules of the different classes need to be recognized and understood. This reading begs the question: does this knowledge perpetuate classism, or help to alleviate it? Payne notes that her goal for her readers is “to provide you with options – and awareness. When you know the hidden rules, you have more choices. You can choose whether or not you want to alter your behaviour or embrace a different way of doing things. But unless you’re informed, you won’t get the opportunity to decide” (Tough, 2007, p.4).

James Traub
James Traub
In his article “What No School Can Do”, Traub categorizes the many programs that have been created in an attempt to help narrow the large gap that exists between people of low- and high-income status. He speculates that it is now the poor, rather than the rich, who live on an untouchable island; this effectively makes them invisible. Traub points out that being rich is a spiritually hollow state. In terms of education, Traub establishes that any type of school reform can be effective; it only needs a dedicated principal who is surrounded by a supportive staff of committed teachers and administrators. He leaves his readers with a pointed question: are we going to take ownership of the problem of poverty?

What Programs are Available to Help Students From Low-income Families?

No Child Left Behind Act (2001)

This act is a standards-based education reform, meant to get failing schools back on track, as well as evaluate all schools at high levels. There are both positive and negative aspects to this Act

The Good

· It creates accountability for results.
· It creates flexibility at the state and local levels, and reduces “red tape”.
· It expands options for parents of children from low-income families.
· It strengthens teacher quality.
· It confirms progress.

· It promotes English proficiency.

The Bad
· Because it advocates standardized testing, teachers will “teach the test”, and little else.
· There are punitive acts for failing schools.
· There is no reward for a school that does well.
· Some schools feel pressured to manipulate their own test results.
· There is a narrow curriculum, where the focus is on math and science, not physical education.

Click on the title to be linked to the website overview. Or copy and paste this URL into your web browser
à http://www.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/factsheet.html.

The Breakfast ProgramOCRI_logo.gif

The goal of the School Breakfast Program is to ensure that all children start each day with healthy breakfast, so they are ready to learn and succeed at school.”

This program was founded in 1990 by OCRI (the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation). The program provides funding for equipment, program monitors, and food. When evaluated, the program determined that when students are given a healthy breakfast, they make essential improvements in the following areas: school attendance, learning, behaviour, and self-esteem.

Click on the title to be linked to the official website. Or, copy and paste the following URL into your web browser à http://www.ocri.ca/schoolbreakfastprogram.

aha!Process, Inc.
"Our mission is to positively impact the education and lives of individuals in poverty around the world.”

Dr. Ruby Payne is the founder of aha!Process, Inc., a supplier of tools and services for people who want to build well-accomplished schools with high-set goals, and successful communities. They provide workshops, seminars, DVDs, e-learning, and other tools.

Click on the title to be linked to the official website. Or, copy and paste the following URL into your web browser à http://www.ahaprocess.com.

Harlem Children’s Zone HCZ_logo.png

“From Cradle to College to Community Building”

HCZ is a social-service program that serves over 6,000 children, and over 8,000 adults. They offer free programs that endeavour to break the cycle of generational poverty in the families that live in a 100-block section of Central Harlem in New York City.

Click on the title to be linked to the official website. Or, copy and past the following URL into your web browser
à http://www.hcz.org/.

Our Initiating Readings

*Please see our discussion page for detailed summaries of each of these readings

1) Jean Anyon and Ray Rist, "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work" [Journal of Education 62 (1), Winter 1980, pp. 67-92].

2) Paul Tough, "The Class-Consciousness Raiser" [New York Times Magazine, 10 June 2007, pp. 52-56].

3) Dory Lightfoot, "Some Parents Just Don't Care: Decoding the Meanings of Parental Involvement in Urban Schools" [Urban Education 39 (1), pp. 91-107].

4) James Traub, "What No School Can Do" [New York Times Magazine, 16 January 2000].

Works Cited

Anyon, J. (Winter 1980). Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work. Journal of Education, 62 (1), 67-92.

Books, S. (2004). Poverty and Schooling in the U.S.: contexts and consequences. Manwah, N.J.: Erlbaum Associates.

Flessa, J. (2007). Poverty and Education: Towards Effective Action. A Review of the
Literature. Toronto, ON: Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. Retrieved from
http://cus.oise.utoronto.ca/UserFiles/File/Poverty%20lit%20review%20 (J_%20Flessa%20-%2010_2007).pdf.

Klein, J. (4 May 2009). Urban Schools Need Better Teachers, Not Excuses, to Close the Education Gap. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from
http://www.usnews.com /articles/opinion/2009/05/04/urban-schools-need-better-teachers-not-excuses-to-close-the-education-gap.html?PageNr=2.

Kozol, J. (2008). From “The Shame of the Nation.” In William Ayers et al., (Eds.), City Kids, City Schools: More Reports from the Front Row (pp.145-161). New York: New Press.

Lareau, Annette (1989). Home Advantage. Great Britain: The Falmer Press.

Levitt, Steven D. & Dubner, Stephen J. (2005). Freakonomics. United States of America: HarperCollins Publishers.

Lightfoot, D. (2004) Some Parents Just Don’t Care: Decoding the Meaning of Parental Involvement in Urban Schools. Urban Education, 39 (1), 91-107.

Rothman, Laureal. (2007). Oh Canada! Too Many Children in Poverty for Too Long. Education Canada, 47 (4), 49-53.

Schneider, M. (November 2002). Do School Facilities Affect Academic Outcomes? Retrieved from National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities: http://www.edfacilities.org/pubs/outcomes.pdf

Schneider, M. (August 2003). Linking School Facility Conditions to Teacher Satisfaction and Success. Retrieved from National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.

Steinhardt08. (9 Feb 2007). Trading Schools. YouTube. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEczvyM3Boc.

Tough, P. (10 June 2007). The Class-Consciousness Raiser. New York Times Magazine, 52-56.

Traub, J. (16 January 2000). What No School Can Do. New York Times Magazine. New York Times Magazine