How does poverty affect education? This month, Educational Leadership magazine tackles this question, examining the many “Faces of Poverty” in our nation’s schools. My contribution to the issue (“Boosting Achievement by Pursuing Diversity”) outlines the case for socioeconomic integration as an effective strategy to reduce the achievement gap. I argue that:
Although few policymakers and wonks are talking about it, a small but growing number of schools are attempting to boost the achievement of low-income students by shifting enrollment to place more low-income students in mixed-income schools. Socioeconomic integration is an effective way to tap into the academic benefits of having high-achieving peers, an engaged community of parents, and high-quality teachers.
In the last decade, the number of public school districts that consider socioeconomic status in student assignment has grown from just a handful to more than 80 (Kahlenberg, 2012). Early adopters included La Crosse, Wisconsin, which created a districtwide plan to balance school enrollment by socioeconomic status in 1979, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, which made socioeconomic status the main factor in its controlled choice program in 2001. Newer additions include Bloomington, Minnesota, and Salina, Kansas, both of which used socioeconomic balance as a factor in redrawing school boundaries in recent years.
Adding to this list, a number of charter schools now actively seek socioeconomically diverse student enrollment as part of their design. They include schools like High Tech High, which began in 2000 as a single charter school and is now a network of 11 schools in San Diego, and Citizens of the World Charter Schools, which opened its first school in 2010 and is striving to create a national network of diverse charter schools.
The power of student diversity is an important theme in the magazine. In addition to my take, Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute outlines policies that have contributed to school segregation (paywall), and Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute looks at some of the challenges of serving a diverse student body (paywall).
The issue also provides a broad overview of poverty and education. Stanford University’s Sean Reardon breaks down the trends that are causing the U.S.’s widening income achievement gap. Articles on preschool interventions and classroom engagement look at ways that schools can combat poverty head on. And educators offer first-hand accounts of poverty in their own lives. The full issue is well worth a read.
You can check out the full “Faces of Poverty” issue on Educational Leadership’s website. It is a powerful reminder of the multiple ways that poverty threatens educational opportunity in our country and of the strategies we can use to fight it.