Poverty and Schools

On February 27th, the Washington Post released an article entitled “Schools face new challenges as poverty grows in inner suburbs.” This article echoes sentiments recently discussed in class. As educators, we are aware of this change and how it greatly impacts classrooms. For our future leaders, I raise the question: How do we address this change to improve instruction in the classroom? For me, instruction is the ‘bottom line.’

In class, we talked about how applicants for high level jobs are often not diverse and in fact, it can be difficult to find diverse candidates. To improve this, we must return to the quality of instruction in our primary schools. Underachievement is a vicious cycle. One may have the ability, but lack of achievement (due to various circumstances, poverty included) affects performance at all educational levels. Therefore, impoverished students are underrepresented in gifted/advanced programs, and underrepresented at many of our nation’s top colleges, and underrepresented at our nation’s interviews for top jobs.

I have two suggestions for improvement.

1) Teacher education programs need to address the changes in our schools, and provide ways for new teachers to cope with the challenges of teaching in impoverished schools. I graduated from a ranked teacher education program, and I felt quite unprepared during my first year of teaching in a struggling school. Frankly, no one had ever told me that it could be likely that 14 of my 21 students would be reading on a first grade level in fourth grade. I quickly realized the reading strategies for 4th grade students that I had studied over the summer would not work. By my second year, when I had made the instructional changes necessary to teach those struggling students and see improvements, it was too late for those 14 students of my first year. I wrestle with that now.

2) We need to ask teachers what they need. Too often, instructional approaches are entirely top down–often from specialists. It sounds great on paper, but all too often, these specialists may or may not have been in a classroom in the last ten years AND the type of school that they taught in may have been demographically different from what is common now. We need to recruit leaders that empower teachers to make instructional decisions, and have input on county-wide approaches.


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