"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Poverty at Home or Poverty in Schools

There was one issue of Georgetown Magazine (about twenty years ago) that mentioned me:
"The odds that de Dios would become a chemistry professor at a prestigious US university were very slim. He was one of the few in his neighborhood to attend college. According to Georgetown's dean of science, Timothy Law Snyder, the chances "are simply staggering" that de Dios would make it out of the Philippines and achieve such success. "I can give you odds on just about everything in the universe", says Snyder, an expert in probability and statistics, "but I don't want to even hazard a guess with that one.""
My son finds himself in the middle of an elementary school classroom in the Philippines.
Indeed, there is no question that the place where a child grows up correlates with what that child might achieve in later life. Mine is an anecdote and most probably, a deviant. There is ample data that show that the future of children is a function of their neighborhood. For this reason, poverty has long been considered as an important factor in education outcomes. The conditions within a neighborhood are long held to have an effect on students' learning in schools. The United States launched a program called "Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing". Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing (MTO) is a 10-year research demonstration that combines tenant-based rental assistance with housing counseling to help very low-income families move from poverty-stricken urban areas to low-poverty neighborhoods. Inside this program, it is then possible to see if solving "poverty at home" leads to better learning. The results are out and these have been reported in "Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research". In the conclusion section of the report, one would find the following statements:

MTO’s effects on achievement and related schooling outcomes were disappointing, particularly among the youngest cohort of children at MTO enrollment, whom we hypothesized would benefit the most from MTO moves into lower poverty neighborhoods... ...Children assigned to the two treatment groups attended schools that served students who were slightly less likely to have very low test scores, be poor, or be members of racial and ethnic minority groups compared with the student served in the schools that children in the control group attended, but they were still in generally low-performing schools that served overwhelmingly poor and majority-minority student populations. These findings raise questions about whether investing directly in schools might be more effective for improving schooling outcomes among economically disadvantaged youth (see a recent review of literature in Duncan and Murnane, 2011).
Sarah D. Spark wrote the following comment on this study in EducationWeek:
The latest studies on the research project, which were presented at the annual conference of the American Economic Association here, find that removing children from concentrated poverty boosts their parents' sense of well-being, but by itself doesn't increase children's reading or mathematics achievement or the likelihood that they will be on track to graduate from high school or be employed as adults. Even children who moved before age 6 , considered a critical period for brain development, showed no academic benefits from moving to higher-income neighborhoods.
The MTO study does provide a fresh look at how poverty may be affecting education. It highlights the need to examine not just poverty in our neighborhoods, but, perhaps, as important, poverty inside our schools. The "Conditional Cash Program" of the Philippine government designed to keep children from poor families healthy and in school only addresses the problem halfway if one considers the results of the MTO study. What is necessary is a combined effort, a more comprehensive program that addresses not only the dire economic conditions in a neighborhood, but also the poor resources and unmet needs inside public schools. The MOT took more than a decade to draw the conclusion that such half-effort leads to no results. It will be a great waste of time, opportunity and resources to wait ten years and see the same result.

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