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December 1, 2022
Vol. 80
No. 4
Reader's Guide

Responding to Student Poverty

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      Poverty, as Rudy Crew and Pedro Noguera write, "is an educational issue." And unfortunately, it is an increasingly pressing one. The official child poverty rate in the U.S. hovers around 15 percent, meaning that nearly one in every seven children lives in poverty. More than half of U.S. public school students now qualify for free or reduced-priced meals, up markedly from a decade ago. There's also growing evidence that low-income students suffered disproportionately from schooling disruptions during the pandemic.
      As Crew and Noguera point out, poverty can affect students' ability to learn in profound ways. It can cause disruptions in attendance and family resources and impair concentration and physical health. It is often linked with trauma, which in turn can lead to emotional dysregulation. To make matters worse, common policies and practices in K–12 education often penalize economically marginalized students, through segmentation, punitive accountability, and gross inequity. All this creates an "accumulation of disadvantages" that severely limits opportunities.
      Of course, schools and educators shouldn't be expected to shoulder the student poverty issue on their own. But Crew and Noguera argue that the "primary potential for real change [in the lives of children in poverty] lies within the education system," especially when schools are seen as connective hubs for social supports and academic enrichment. Further, as they and other authors in this issue attest, there are critical steps education leaders and teachers can take on their own to at least mitigate the effects of poverty on learning and make schools more responsive to the needs of lower-income students. Here are some big ideas from the issue:
      Address discriminatory practices. As Paul Gorski writes, there are a host of everyday norms in schools that unintentionally "punish" economically marginalized students. These include fee requirements, activity-scheduling protocols, resource presumptions, and homework policies. Gorski encourages education leaders to be on the lookout for such inequitable practices and to uproot the "blockages" in awareness that cause them.
      On a more macro level, like Crew and Noguera, several authors call attention to systemic policies that disadvantage students in poverty. The most glaring of these are school-assignment rules that cluster low-income students in resource-strapped (and often "failing") schools within districts. While dismantling school segregation is no minor task, there are ways school and district leaders can bring greater attention to the problem and introduce reforms.
      Channel social supports. Education policy has tended to zero in on achievement gaps, but as Luis Eladio Torres points out, students in poverty routinely face gaps in basic resources and services that make learning a secondary concern. Torres and other authors highlight efforts that schools today are making to bridge these resource disparities by coordinating social supports and services. Especially after the pandemic, this trend may signal an important transformation in schools' roles.
      Break with deficit mindsets. One theme running through the issue is the need for educators to avoid thinking of students in poverty as deficient or less worthy. Such unconscious stereotyping can lead to lowered expectations, blaming, and a lack of academic enrichment and complexity. The corrective, as Megan Kizer and Jesse Hinueber advise, is working to fully integrate students' "inherent potential and greatness" into learning cultures.
      Boost instructional capacity. While targeted academic interventions may be useful, schools working with high numbers of low-income students must ultimately strengthen overall instructional quality. According to Kathleen Budge and William Parrett, this typically requires specialized coaching support for both leaders and teachers, greater cohesion in instructional cultures and practices, and a laser-like focus on collective efficacy—on educators' belief that "what they do matters".
      The goal, Parrett and Budge remind us, is not isolated gains but "eliminat[ing] long-standing inequities in students' opportunities to learn."

      Reflect and Discuss

      "What It Takes to Truly Leave No Child Behind" by Rudy Crew and Pedro Noguera

      ➛ Do you agree with the authors that U.S. education policy has not been aligned with the needs of students in poverty? If yes, why do you think this is?

      ➛ Where do you think your own school or district has gaps in its programs for students in poverty?

      ➛ How could services for students in poverty in your school community or district be better coordinated and delivered?

      ➛ Do any policies at your school "punish poverty" as Gorski describes?

      ➛ How does your school raise funds? Do you see any way these methods might cause embarrassment or a feeling of exclusion for some students or families? What could you do differently?

      ➛ What steps could you take to "institutionalize equity" in your school or district?

      "Learning from Schools on the Path to High-Performing" by Kathleen M. Budge and William H. Parrett

      ➛ In considering the specific improvement strategies outlined, where do you think your school or district has the most room for growth?

      ➛ Can you think of examples in your school or district when the "blame game" or low expectations have hampered improvement efforts? How might you address them in the future?

      ➛ Why do you think distributed leadership is so critical to efforts to improve high-poverty schools?

      ➛ What are steps you can take to ensure that all students in your classroom feel heard?

      ➛ How have you seen the "scarcity mentality" play out in your school or district? How might you address such attitudes in the future?

      ➛ Looking at the six abundance-mindset practices outlined by the authors, where does your school or district have the most room to grow?

      ➛ Why do traditional methods of classroom management often fail with students affected by poverty?

      ➛ How can schools help fill any gaps new teachers might have in how to run an effective classroom?

      Anthony Rebora is the editor in chief of Educational Leadership.

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