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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Can the Common Core Fix Poverty?

By Peter DeWitt — August 13, 2013 4 min read
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Too many people talk about the CCSS as if they will be the silver bullet to end our poverty issues.

We are surrounded by the illusion of quick fixes. We can deny that we want quick fixes...but we would be lying. If my computer isn’t working properly I always believe that if I press Ctrl+Alt+Delete it will come back on and be as good as new. Many times I have even pressed that combination of keys five times...every time believing that I won’t have to call tech support...and then I call tech support.

We all do it, and we all want to believe that we are one quick fix away from solving a problem. Turn on your television and wait for the commercials to begin. Companies spend millions of dollars every year running advertisements to get us to believe that if we buy their ab-machine we will wake up the next morning having abs of steel like Ryan Gossling or Channing Tatum.

Medical companies sell us pill after pill that will provide us with a variety of quick fixes, some of which are appropriate to talk about in this blog and others...not so much. We look for the quick fix or band aid because it’s easier than delving into what our real problems are. The reality is that, although quick fixes may work, they eventually need something much more long lasting.

Will the Common Core Fix Poverty?
We have seen a lot of changes in education over the years but the biggest change has been the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). One of the main goals of the CCSS is to erase the achievement gap which has been created partly due to poverty. And in America, poverty is a huge problem.

Recently, on her Answer Sheet blog, Valerie Strauss wrote “The United States has the second-highest child poverty rate among the world’s richest 35 nations, and the cost in economic and educational outcomes is half a trillion dollars a year, according to a new report by the Educational Testing Service.”

Poverty is an important factor in determining the success of children. It’s unfortunate that it does, but poverty has an enormous influence on student achievement. Richard Rothstein wrote,

Social and economic disadvantage contributes in important ways to poor student achievement. Children in poor health attend quality schools less regularly. Those with inadequate housing change schools frequently, disrupting not only their own educations but those of their classmates"("A Nation At Risk" Twenty-Five Years Later).

Rothstein goes on to say that, “Children whose parents are less literate and whose homes have less rich intellectual environments enter school already so far behind that they rarely can catch up.”

Why you ask? Because...

On average, professional parents spoke over 2,000 words per hour to their children, working class parents spoke about 1,300, and welfare mothers spoke about 600. So by age 3, children of professionals had vocabularies that were nearly 50% greater than those of working-class children and twice as large as those of welfare children" (Rothstein, 2004, p. 28).

How do educators change the outcome for so many children who come in to school so far behind? Rothstein will tell you it’s by investing in high quality pre-K programs, high quality afterschool programs and high quality health care for all students. On top of those investments, students living in poverty need to attend high quality schools that have access to high quality resources.

State education leaders will say that one of the ways that we will all fix the poverty issue is by having a common set of standards. I don’t necessarily disagree with this sentiment but the concern with the Common Core State Standards is that they are not age-appropriate for early childhood students.

If the children are entering deficient in vocabulary and in the area of reading, how will more advanced curriculum level the playing field?

The Common Core
The Common Core State Standards are viewed as the silver bullet...or next quick fix, which is unfortunate because they haven’t been field tested so we are unclear on whether they will work. Part of the issue is that the CCSS are also highly scripted. Yes, state education leaders will say that we do not have to stick to the script, but when state assessments are tied to the Common Core, and evaluations are tied to assessments, teachers feel like they should stick to the script.

There isn’t a perfect formula for teaching students, especially our students living in poverty. When a student comes in from an abusive household, there isn’t a Common Core answer to make them feel better. Changing the lives of children takes work, and the Common Core will only provide a quick fix to some issues our students are having.

The idea that policymakers believe that the CCSS will fix our poverty issue is too simplistic. Poverty is not something that is easily fixed, and cannot only be fixed by schools. Especially poverty in America.

After more than a decade of NCLB and a couple of years of RTTT, we still have an enormous poverty issue. Yes, schools have the ability to help these students become more successful but only when they have the resources to help these students, and only when these students have access to high quality resources before, during and after school. Poverty is a complex issue and it needs a complex resolution.

In the End
In a 2012 Center for American Progress blog, Carl Chancellor wrote, “The Common Core Standards were developed to effectively address these negative outcomes by focusing on the power of a high-quality education, informed by rigorous standards, to lift individuals out of poverty.” Too many people talk about the CCSS as if they will be the silver bullet to end our poverty issues. They won’t, and when we send that message it sets us all up for failure.

If we are truly going to help the poverty issue we need to meet students where they are, provide them with the high quality services and resources they need, and get them to a place where they can meet the demands of the Common Core. Hitting them with the CCSS without providing access to better resources, way before they enter school, will just help them feel like failures earlier than ever before. We should always have high expectations for our students, even those living in poverty, but schools can’t do it alone and the Common Core is not the silver bullet solution.

See also:
Poverty Matters: The Obesity Epidemic

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.