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Study: Poverty Leaves School Achievement Behind

March 9, 2009

As debate continues over the renewal of the national No Child Left Behind Act, research released today by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice shows why the law's goal of narrowing the school achievement gap hasn't worked in Illinois. The reasons for that lack of success have to do with what happens outside the classroom.

The report identifies six out-of-school factors that play a role in explaining lower achievement, and poverty comes in as one of the most influential. Report author David Berliner, a professor of education at Arizona State University, says accountability balance is needed to provide a path for students to succeed.

"That's a situation in which we give the schools the pressure to do the best they can, and we make sure we provide them with kids who are healthy and can learn. We're not doing that right now."

Currently, Illinois has the fifth-largest number of children living in poverty in the country. Berliner says low birth-weight, along with inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, food insecurity, environmental pollutants, and problems of family relations and family stress, as well as neighborhood characteristics, have to be addressed in order to narrow the public school achievement gaps.

Berliner says that right now, No Child Left Behind tells schools to fix problems that are out of their zone of influence. The study makes the case that students living in poverty need access to quality summer and after-school programs, and to pre-school, to mitigate the effects of their life circumstances. Most importantly, he says issues related to poverty need to be addressed.

"When you have low birth-weights, you have problems of achievement later on. If kids live in areas with lead problems, then you have many kids who are going to have lower IQs. Pollution problems are going to affect their asthma."

In Illinois, vast inequities in resources exist between wealthy communities and poor communities. Advocates say the research makes the case for increased funding to provide services such as early childhood education for moderate- to low-income families.

The full report, titled "Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success," is available online at
www.greatlakescenter.org

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL