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America is a country founded on the idea of acceptance; a relatively new country, only 230 years old, but in a short time has risen to become the most powerful empire that the world has ever known. Labeled as a "melting pot", America was created by the blending together of many cultures. From the beginning of immigration in New Orleans to the famous port of Ellis Island, America has been an ever expanding pot of culture brewing to the top.
Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty are the words "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door". This message of acceptance is the backbone of American ideals. Its ever growing population expands each day with different peoples from different backgrounds. Immigrant culture is adopted and implemented at all levels. Why the need to understand culture and does it really make a difference in the classroom?
In order to be an effective educator, you must understand where your students are coming from. If your students do not feel that they can relate to you, they will not trust you. If they do not trust you they will not learn from you. It is essential to gain an understanding of their beliefs, traditions, heritage, and overall way of life before you can really start to make a difference.
I have chosen to look at how poverty affects education. I will look at how generational poverty affects the importance of education. The family values that are instilled regarding education, and the behaviors that accompany poverty. I have undergone a change in my own beliefs after having my eyes opened to the devastating affects that poverty has on the importance of education. I hope to paint a better picture to the culturally unaware.
Why do high poverty urban areas have such problems with schooling outcomes? This was a question that I went into my current job wondering. Again, how can poverty affect the outcomes of student performance? I used to think that the only thing that someone needed to do would be to try hard and pay attention and their academic performance would fall into place. Blind assumptions from an inexperienced educator. My ideas were so far from the truth that I was almost walking into this situation blind.
Urban Poverty and Educational Outcome is research focused on the relocation of families from high poverty neighborhoods to low poverty areas and the outcomes of their childrens' academics.
The achievement gap is commonly defined as the difference between the academic performance of poor
students and wealthier students and between minority students and their non-minority peers. The
achievement gap is a perennial topic in U. S. educational policy and research. The gap has persisted
through a variety of policies intended to close it, but Americans show no signs of abandoning the effort to do so. A substantial majority of Americans believe that closing the gap is both important and possible.
Results of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools (Rose &
Gallup, 2006) show that fully 88% of the public view the African-American/European-American and
Hispanic/European-American gap as either "very important" (67%) or "somewhat important" (21%).
Eighty-one percent replied "yes" to the question, "Do you believe that the achievement gap can be
narrowed substantially while maintaining high standards for all children?" (McCall 2006)
Why do students quit school? There are a number of factors involved. Poor academic performance, lack of interest, economic reasons, health, and lack of family support are just to name a few. All of these can be tied back to one common factor, poverty. Poverty is responsible for the majority of high school dropouts in the United States. Poverty's grip can influence the very factors that can over come it. The main factor being education itself. Only through a quality education can one overcome the bounds of poverty. (Patterson)
High school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed. They will earn less money when and if employed. Their rate of incarceration is higher than those with diplomas. They have a greater chance of being on public assistance than a graduate. On the other hand a high school graduate is more likely to have job security, earn more money than those with no diploma or even a GED. (Patterson) Underprivileged children living in poverty are unaware of this fact. Even if they have heard this before, it is up to them to believe it and overcome, or disregard and succomb. (Patterson)
High dropout and low graduation rates have unfortunately become standard in many urban high schools. Programs have been put into place to prevent this, but poor and minority students continue to leave schools in relatively high numbers. For many youth, dropping out represents the final chapter of dis involvement that has been going on since elementary school. (Patterson)
Between 1970 and 1990, the number of people in the United States living in high-poverty census tracts (with poverty rates of 40 percent or more) nearly doubled, from 4.1 to 8.0 million. Children who live in poor urban neighborhoods are disproportionately likely to be members of racial and ethnic minority groups and are also at greater risk for school failure. For example, only 11 percent of fourth graders attending high-poverty schools in Washington, D.C., scored at or above basic level on the government's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math test, far lower than the national average of 62 percent. Dropout rates in Washington remain on the order of 30 to 40 percent, many times higher than the national average. (Ludwig)
Sociologists believe that the prevalence within neighborhoods of social problems such as a high percent of joblessness and and poverty affect the chances of educational success of its residents. The theory was that policies that reduce the degree of economic residential segregation would improve the educational outcomes of the youth. (Ludwig)
The study was composed of low income families living in public or section-8 project housing in Maryland. Families volunteered for this survey and were split up into three groups. The first was an experimental group which was relocated to a low poverty area with assistance and counseling programs. The second was offered relocation, but it was not mandatory. They were not offered any other benefits. This group was called the section-8 group. The third was a control group which did not relocate and was offered no assistance. (Ludwig)
Their study measures childrens educational outcomes using data from administrative school records in Maryland. Outcomes measured include student performance on standardized academic tests, school absences, disciplinary actions, special education placements, grade retentions, and dropout rates. They were hoping to prove that when placed into a different environment that economically deprived children would excel in school. The idea behind the study was to prove that it is not the students, but rather the environment of poverty that causes educational failure. The study was composed over six years. The students were both elementary and middle school students. (Ludwig)
The control group children on average score near the fortieth percentile in the national distribution on the reading and math tests at age six, but by age 13 the average score is only at about the twentieth percentile. We also see that the proportion of students who receive special education services increases steadily over time. Grade retentions, school absences, and disciplinary problems all peak in the early or mid-teen years. The subsequent decline is presumably due to the increase in dropout rates at older ages. This is in correlation with low income students. The same cycle that has repeated itself time and again is shown in the control group that was offered no assistance. (Ludwig)
The experimental and Section 8 groups show a significant rate of improvement. These groups seem to slow the rate of relative decline in student test scores as they age, at least for younger children, but it also appears to increase the rate of grade retention among adolescents. Compared with young children in the control group, those assigned to the experimental group experience substantial gains in academic achievement as measured by standardized test scores. Experimental group children are nearly 18 percentage points more likely than controls to pass the state reading test, which means that the experimental pass rate on this test is nearly double that of the control group. The reading and math scores of experimental children are about 7 percent points higher than those of the control group. This is equal to around 29 and 26 percent of the control group means on these tests. (Ludwig)
Assignment to the Section 8 group appears to improve young student's reading scores by about 6 percentage points relative to controls. Although the difference across groups in math scores is relatively small but it is a positive improvement. The Section 8 group also appears to pass the state reading test at a rate that is around 6 percentage points higher than that of controls. (Ludwig)
The data for younger children in elementary schools has a higher percentage increase than middle school or high school children. This could be because the longer that a child lives in high poverty neighborhood, the more the lifestyle consumes them. This will cause education to be pushed further back on their priority list thus increasing the chance of failure in school. One conclusion that can be made is that the younger a child living in an risk section, the more likely it is that educational importance is instilled into their values. The more that they are exposed to the elements of poverty, the more likely it is that they will lose their value of education. (Ludwig)
The findings presented in this study seem to suggest that the offer to relocate families in public housing from high to low poverty neighborhoods improves standardized achievement test scores among young children. While they have subjected their findings to a variety of sensitivity tests, there remains the possibility that the program effects may be due in part to problems of the missing data that they have not thought of. The effects of the program on teens are more difficult to determine because their measures of in school problem behavior confound changes in the behaviors of teens with differences across schools in standards and because the measures of academic achievement available for teens are quite limited in the Maryland education data. (Ludwig)
Article two, "Fixing Urban Schools" takes a look into the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that was passed to help ramp up education in America. This article investigates if NCLB has helped minority students.
Most middle class families with children have moved out of the urban environments and into the suburbs. This leaves today's urban schools overwhelmingly populated by low income African American and Hispanic students. These schools are not making the grade, even with falling standards of the rest of the country. According to Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, 71 percent of eighth graders are not reading at grade level. This number shoots up to between 80 and 90 percent for students of color. He goes on to tell us that of the approximately 15,000 high schools in the United States there are 2,000 of them, mostly in cities, account for half of the nation's school dropouts. To me this was a shocking statistic that I could not believe. (Clemmitt)
This was the reason for the creation of NCLB under the Bush administration. The focus was to have states report achievement scores for all student groups. This ensured that lagging scores of low income and minority students won't be masked by having only state or district overall average scores reported. NCLB is requiring states to take accountability for academic performance from all student groups, not just the affluent students. (Clemmitt)
Has forcing schools to take responsibility by unmasking their data improved the achievement of low income and minority students? There are two sides to this argument. Former President Bush said in 2007 that NCLB has done more than just improve data gathering, even arguing that the law itself has pushed achievement upward. "Fourth graders are reading better. They've made more progress in five years than in the previous 28 years combined," he said on March 2. The other side to this argument is that NCLB hasn't had the desired effect once hoped. Of the non-achieving schools in New York state, for example, 90 percent are in cities and 80 percent in the state's five biggest cities, says David Hursh, an associate professor of teaching and curriculum at the University of Rochester's Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education. (Clemmitt)
The gap between average reading scores of African American and white fourth graders narrowed by only one point on the 500-point National Assessment of Educational Progress test (NAEP) between 2002 and 2005. Also this narrowing appears to be part of a normal long term trend and can not be attributed to NCLB. Between 1998 and 2005 the reading score gap narrowed by three points. However the reading score gap between African American and white students actually widened from 25 to 28 points between 2002 and 2005. This side of the coin suggests the impact of NCLB is not as successful as it was hoped. (Clemmitt)
Has NCLB helped student's in urban schools? NCLB was intended to improve overall academic achievement and raise achievement for minority and low income students mainly by requiring more student testing, forcing schools to report data separately for student groups including economically disadvantaged and minority students, and by employing better quality teachers to help bridge the gap. NCLB has seen improvement in student performance. Student scores, while still far from on grade level have showed improvement. The law has benefited urban schools by raising reading scores for African American and Hispanic fourth and eighth graders and math scores for African American and Hispanic fourth graders. Achievement gaps in reading and math between white fourth-graders and African-American and Hispanic fourth-graders also have diminished slightly since NCLB. The Bush administration may have been over ambitious with their original expectations, but gains are measured on all levels and any positive improvement is a good thing. Fig. 2 (Clemmitt)
The law's pronouncement that 100 percent of U.S. students will test at the proficient level is simply unrealistic. That is an opinion, but I will call it a fact. The funding and resources are just not there to achieve that result. When it comes to underprivileged student resources, the biggest one is sometimes the most overlooked, the teacher. The cornerstone of any gain in student achievement comes from an effective teacher. Teachers are the most under appreciated, yet most element to student performance. (Clemmitt)
The theory seems simple enough. Get effective teachers into economically disadvantaged urban schools and the scores will take care of themselves right? Wrong, and nothing could be further from the truth. When NCLB first came about city school districts, including Pittsburgh Public, revamped their lowest achieving schools. They brought in effective teachers and increased the resources available to them and most importantly, a larger paycheck for working in these schools. Well, in the beginning, this seemed like a win win. Schools got to have the best teachers, and the teachers were getting better resources and better pay. There was one thing that wasn't taken into consideration on a great of scale as it should have been, culture. (Clemmitt)
Teachers left their jobs in schools that they knew inside and out to come into this new environment and shake the dust off of the failing scores. The problem is that by the end of the first year almost half will leave. By the second almost 70 percent and after four or five years, you would be lucky to find two or three teachers still around. The turnover of teachers is so high that any sense of normal routine is hard to get established. When students finally open up and form a relationship with a teacher, the next year that person has gone on and the children are left scratching their heads. Was it me? Did I cause them to leave or did they abandon me? The work in these schools is trying to say the least, and it is very difficult, even with an extra 7 or 10 thousand dollars a year to keep effective teachers in these situations. It is a difficult scenario and most do not want to put up with the culture that comes along with it. Teachers simply get burnt out. The attached graph shows that as minority students increase, the number of effective teachers decreases to the point where when either one is near 100 percent the other is near zero. Fig 2 (Clemmitt)
Differences in the academic performance of children appear early. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and many children of color consistently achieve below the national average in mathematics and language skills. This number increases as students become older in the upper grades. The longer these at risk children stay in school, the greater the gap between their educational performance and that of white and middle class students. Gradually the chances for academic success diminish for poor and minority students as they continue on their academic careers. Early childhood is a critical time for intervention in the education of at risk children if different outcomes are to occur. (Bowman)
What is is that causes at risk children to do poorly in school? The answer is not that there is something wrong with their genes or families, but rather the deprivations they inherit from living in poverty. The explanation for the gap in academic performance can also be attributed to the life experiences between middle class students and low income students. The culture in which a risk children live does not promote the attention to education that is seen in the middle class. The beliefs and attitudes seen in poverty are also not in parallel with the middle class. The problem is that we are trying to teach all children in the same way. This simply will not work. In order to educate at risk minority students, we must first understand their culture and interests before education can take shape. If their traditional practices are not taken into account schools will limit their ability to educate these children. (Bowman)
One model of development of this article talks about is to incorporate a full understanding of the role that culture plays in a student's ability including a capacity to learn, categorize objects, develop interpersonal relationships and to learn a language. These characteristics of culture will be used to help maximize learning in the classroom. It is almost impossible to teach a child without a full understanding of the culture that they come from. Learning styles, interest, social behavior are all things vital to the educational process without which we could not fully be effective educators. (Bowman)
One final piece of the puzzle is not only learning about the culture of those you are teaching, but unlearning some of what you have already learned. We have all had bad experiences in the classroom that cause us to categorize certain students. Teachers must unlearn what they have experienced in the past so that they can fully take in what is in front of them. How teachers have been taught to view the cultures of students is similar to how students have been taught to view the culture of their teachers. Both student and teacher must remain on the same page and keep their minds open to change to be considered truly effective. The academic achievement of a culturally diverse student depends on an understanding and acceptance of their beliefs and traditions. Without this the learning gap in the classroom will not be bridged. (Bowman)
I work in one of the worst schools in Pittsburgh. I classify it as being one of the worst by our notably low PSSA scores and constant behavior problems. We are located in the largest project section on the north side of the city. The school is directly in the middle of the community and most of our students are not bussed in from the surrounding area. My first day on the job, I was in shock at what I saw. Fights were as common as high fives, the language was worse than I have heard living in my fraternity house in college, and the lack of interest from the staff was unbelievable. After a fight which resulted in a broken nose, I witnessed a second grade student screaming at two city police officers that he was going to bring in a gun and shoot his classmates the following day. I was in utter disbelief hearing that someone so young and small could even think, let alone say this to police officials.
During transition is when 80% of the problems occur. The problem is that when the children are walking in a line, the teacher can only be half the distance of the line away from any one student at a time. So when left with a few feet of space to act up, our kids do. In my room during a prep I would hear a fight happening in the hallway and rush out to offer assistance to the teacher to gain control, but I was always the only one who would come out to help. My chivalry seems to be the result of the teachers mentality is much like that of this mismannered students. This was hard for me to take in at first, but after working there for a year I can now see how tiring of a job teaching in an underprivileged environment really is. In order to make it back year after year you have to have a love of teaching and a true passion to inspire where others would pack up and quit. This is what separates those who have been there for long periods of time from those who are just bumps in the road.
It is a tiring job to be an educator in a low socioeconomic school. We make the assumptions as teachers that our jobs are so difficult and the kids themselves are so hard to deal with. What we do not understand is that our jobs may be hard, but they are nothing compared to the lives our students live each and every day. Poverty is a vicious cycle that repeats itself because of the culture involved. You only know what you see every day from your parents and schools. Dropping out is not only normal, in many cases it is expected of disadvantaged students. This is hard for many middle class citizens to grasp but it is because of their lack of culture of their lives. Poverty is a cycle that will only be overcome through education. The problem is keeping underprivileged and minority students in urban schools enrolled long enough to see the fruits of what education has to offer. This is the challenge that NCLB was hoping to bring to the surface. Success is measured in small gains. Many small gains can be perceived as accomplishments, and many accomplishments can then be viewed as success. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Making that first step is always the hardest. We have made it, now it is time to start making a difference.