End Poverty, End Educational Disadvantages

I frequently espouse the idea that poverty affects educational success more than any other factor, but I am also told that combating poverty is an sisyphean task that would require too much effort and too much money. But England has succeeded.

In 1999, the United Kingdom pledged to halve the poverty rate among the nation’s children. At the time, 26 percent of children lived in poverty – a number that was higher than any other European country and mortified many Brits. Ten years later, the rate is 12 percent, while the rate in the U.S. is on track to hit 22 percent, according to recent data from the nonprofit Foundation for Child Development.

How did Britain do it? Waldfogel goes into rich detail about the multitude of policies that were changed to help families with young children. These included generous paid maternity leave, better benefits for single parents on welfare, improvements in the quality of child care, universal access to preschool and improvements in elementary schools.

Education is a social issue. I do not believe we will solve the ills of education without first solving the issues of poverty. One study revealed that “babies, toddlers and preschoolers who grow up in poverty are more harmed by its effects than older children.”

Further studies reveal:

…that the effects of poverty on brain development are linked to cognitive ability in later years. But Duncan demonstrates that the impact of being poor is still evident, 37 years later, in incomplete schooling and jobless rates.

The harm starts at birth, with poverty elevating the stress parents feel, which can cause an increased likelihood of harsh parenting practices. These have the greatest impact during the early childhood years when the mother-child relationship serves as the foundation for a child’s ability to regulate his emotions.

That regulation, in turn, has an effect on children’s achievement, behavior, and health.Meanwhile, with little money to spare, parents cannot afford to financially support emergent literacy with books and high-quality child care or preschool.

What this article and these studies reveal is the need for a scientific approach to education, a systematic retooling of the way education is run, and–most importantly–a concerted effort to eliminate poverty in society.

Easier said than done, I know. But we have to start somewhere, and poverty should be high up on the priority list.

People often say, “follow the money.” Well, here we know where the money isn’t and where it’s needed.


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