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Keeping Low-income Students from Being Throwaway Kids

April 3, 2013 in Economics

By Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

In many cities, as well as rural areas, low-income students — not only blacks and Hispanics — very soon get to feel unconnected to school. They may figure they’re stupid or they just don’t care. Dropping out, more than a few get involved with neighborhood gangs and wind up in prison cells.

But, as I’ve reported previously in “Teachers and Education Reformers Bypass Individual Students,” Richard Weissbourd, a lecturer in education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is showing — through active research in a range of classrooms — how teachers, principals, school boards and legislators can rescue such kids from dead-end lives before they give up on schools.

Activating the pleasures and surprises of actually learning how to learn requires teachers who know more about each student than their collective scores on group achievement tests.

In his article “The ‘Quiet’ Troubles of Low-Income Children” in the Harvard Education Press book Spotlight on Student Engagement, Motivation and (individual) Achievement, Weissbourd delves deeply — and for me, alarmingly — into many teachers’ lack of concern or just plain inability to recognize individual students’ vision and hearing problems. He also discusses the blurringly disorienting effect sleep deprivation has on the many students who are afflicted by it.

Though I’ve spent many years reporting from failing classrooms around the nation, I learned a lot more from that article about those deprivations while Weissbourd also taught me about other weighty “quiet problems” of low-income students I didn’t know about.

“Frequent mobility,” for example. How many of you, including me, have not taken this into account concerning the dropout statistics? Weissbourd writes:

“It’s not uncommon in urban schools for about 20 percent of the student body to change schools in a given year. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report revealed that ‘One-sixth of the nation’s third graders — more than half a million children — have attended at least three different schools since starting first grade.’

“In areas of highly concentrated poverty, that number is often far higher. As a result, students may bounce between schools that have entirely different curricula and teaching practices, putting them at risk of school difficulties and reducing the chance that they will stay in school.”

Nor had I thought of “caretaking responsibility” as a considerable “quiet problem.” Weissbourd has the figures to point out the effect of “having to take care of a depressed or sick parent or look after younger siblings. One study of …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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