Georgia released a lot of data about every school in the state which is summarized by a score attained through the College and Career Ready Performance Index.
When the results were released this week by John Barge, State Superintendent of Education, the focus was on the new calculation system used to generate a score for each school. The second thing was to show that elementary school scores improved from 74.9 to 78.5 (+3.6), middle school increased from 73.9 to 75.0 (+1.1) and high schools decreased from 73.0 to 72.0 (-1.0).
When the media caught hold of the data, they immediately posted lists of the highest and lowest performing schools, and directed Georgians to their website to find the score of schools in their neighborhood.
There were also interviews with principals and superintendents who talked about the new system used to calculate the scores, and to explain that the system is a better way to tell citizens the degree to which students are ready for college and career.
But there were also some who questioned whether this system tells us anything about student’s readiness for college and careers. “Who knows what they want to do in elementary school?”, one school board member in Cobb asked.
Missing from the announcement and media reports was the effect of poverty on the CCRPIs for the schools. Six hundred and seventy-two thousand (27.3%) of children under age 18 live in poverty in Georgia, and more than one million (59.7%) of children attending school are eligible for free or reduced meals.
Poverty in Georgia has increased steadily since the provision of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 which mandated annual testing in the content areas of math and reading for all children grades one through eight. Georgia assumes that the test they use, the Criterion Reference Competency Tests (CRCT), measures college and career readiness. I don’t think it does.
Figure 1. Map of the Percentage of Students in Poverty by Georgia Counties.
In the graph in Figure 2, I’ve selected the five states in which I’ve lived, and graphed the percentage of children living in poverty, 2008 – 2012. Georgia leads the selected states in the percentage of children living in poverty.
Why is the state reluctant to talk about the possible effect of poverty on student scores on the state’s Criterion Reference Competency Tests? Student CRCT scores contribute 60% of the index that the state uses to rank schools.
Figure 2. Children in Poverty from 2008 – 2012 for Five States
Why no mention of poverty, when in fact, it is well-known what the effect is of poverty on academic achievement (see Figure 3). The state has its own data showing that poverty is inversely related to student achievement on the CRCT. The higher the percentage of children living in poverty, the lower the achievement scores. Take a look at Figure 3, which shows a scatter plot of all Georgia schools vs poverty measure using free and reduced lunch.
The state really does not want to bring poverty into the equation when it calculates the performance index of Georgia schools. Why?
The states thinks that using poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools.
If you read Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) proposal or reports, you will find that the burden of helping kids who live in poverty is left to classroom teachers and their colleagues. Most of the $400 million received from the Federal government for the RT3 is used to write and implement “rigorous” standards, develop data collection systems, develop the technology to measure teacher effectiveness using student tests, and hire inexperienced teachers to turn around “failing” schools, based on the CCRPI.
Diane Ravitch has explored this issue in-depth in her recent book, The Reign of Error, and what she has to say about how poverty affects academic performance is relevant here.
Georgia has a poverty rate of about 28%, and this ranks the state among the top five states in the U.S. in terms of childhood poverty. It ranks Georgia very high in international comparisons of childhood poverty. In fact, the rate is more than double the childhood poverty of any other comparable Western nation.
But Ravitch explains how school reformers (she names Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools; Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City public schools; Bill Gates, the head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Wendy Kopp, the chief executive officer of Teach for America; and Arne Duncan , the Obama administration’s secretary of education of this group) believe that effective teaching can overcome poverty.
These folks believe that schools can be fixed by tweaking with various parts of the system of schooling. The real problem is that they do not see the school as part of a larger system that includes the community around the school, and how the two interact. No. They see the school as separate. And they shun anyone who suggests that teachers alone can not make up for problems that their students bring to school.
They make the premise that if every classroom had a great teacher, and if schools were privatized and put into a free market system, then we would experience changes in learning beyond our wildest dreams.
Ravitch makes it clear that doing this makes no sense. But it does make sense to recognize the effects of poverty. She says this:
Poverty matters. Poverty affects children’s health and well-being. It affects their emotional lives and their attention spans, their attendance and their academic performance. Poverty affects their motivation and their ability to concentrate on anything other than day-to-day survival. In a society of abundance, poverty is degrading and humiliating. Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1933-1935). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
We’ll explore this issue in more detail over the next few posts.
In the meantime, what do you think about the state’s reluctance to deal directly with the issue of poverty and its affects on academic performance?