Academic journal article Education

Poverty-Stricken Schools: What We Can Learn from the Rest of the World and from Successful Schools in Economically Disadvantaged Areas in the US

Academic journal article Education

Poverty-Stricken Schools: What We Can Learn from the Rest of the World and from Successful Schools in Economically Disadvantaged Areas in the US

Article excerpt

In December of 2010, many Americans were shocked when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) announced the latest scores of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. For the first time, China was in first place in math, reading, and science, and the US continued to score in the average range, failing to score as high as the top ten ranked countries in any subject. The announcement of the PISA scores was one of the leading stories on many national news shows and led some Americans to wonder if this was comparable to the "Sputnik" problem. Although many US students perform well on international tests such as the PISA, students who attend disadvantaged schools generally score poorly; consequently, national scores are lowered, and the US often lags behind the countries performing highest on international testing, such as Finland and South Korea (Baines, 2007).

One of the biggest problems in the US educational system is the inadequate condition of many schools located in economically disadvantaged areas. McGee (2004) describes this concern as the most crucial issue in the American educational system. Darling-Hammond and Sykes (2003) indicate that most schools in economically-disadvantaged areas in the US suffer from teachers who are underprepared and too often work in schools with poor working conditions, high teacher-turnover rates, and low pay. As a result of attending inadequate schools, many students do very poorly on international achievement tests when compared with more advantaged students. This article discusses how the education of the poor can be improved by focusing on successful models in the US and abroad.

The Gap in Academic Achievement

Although the gap in academic achievement could be the result of many causes such as parental involvement, cultural attitude towards education, and the educational resources available at the home of a child, the school and its teachers can make a huge impact on a student's education. Unfortunately, even in 21st century America, severe inequalities in academic achievement persist. On a recent PISA test, for example, Brozo, Shiel and Topping (2007) indicate that white students in America were ranked second among the 32 countries that took the test, but that African American and Hispanic students were ranked 25th. On state testing, the situation is very similar. In 2001, for example, on the Illinois standards achievement test, only 40% of low-income third graders met the state's reading standards, compared with 75% of their classmates who were not considered disadvantaged students, and the reading results for grades 5 and 8 were similar (McGee, 2004).

McGee (2004) argues that the gap in achievement is not about students who are failing, but about a system that is not providing the educational opportunities that low-income students are entitled to. A description of many low-income schools does in fact support McGee's hypothesis.

The Need for Better Schools for the Poor

One of the biggest problems that schools in poor districts face is a shortage of qualified teachers. Experienced teachers often leave these schools, and many good teachers avoid them. Most teachers who teach in poor districts are likely to hold less educational credentials, teach a subject they do not specialize in, and graduate from less prestigious universities when compared with teachers who teach in more advantaged areas (Robinson, 2007). Very often teachers with little experience or credentials take positions in poor districts and then leave, once they have gotten the experience which makes them marketable for wealthier districts.

Frost (2007) refers to many inequalities between poor schools serving low-income students and those in wealthier areas, pointing out that in some advantaged districts, schools spend over twice as much per pupil than those in the poorest districts. In some inner-city schools, such as those in Chicago, children not only have teachers with inadequate training, but also have to deal with overcrowded classrooms, run-down buildings, and dilapidated textbooks. …

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