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Overlooking Poverty?: Aspiring school leaders usually don't know much about poverty, concludes a study, which pins the blame on faulty graduate programs.

Surveying 406 school leadership programs nationally, the authors of the paper found that only 3 percent devoted an entire course to poverty. Meanwhile, looking at three representative graduate programs, it found that most respondents held simplistic views about the roots and impact of poverty.

"They really don't know what it is, and what can be done about it," the study's co-author, Christine J. Villani, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, said of graduate students. "They think [poverty is] simply a lack of money."

To Ms. Villani, poverty is also about social factors, such as intellectual stimulation provided at home.

In one example cited in the study, a graduate student admits to believing the worst about those living in New York City's South Bronx. "We all thought how evil the people were that lived there and everyone was bad," the student is quoted as saying.

The study found that school leadership programs do little to dispel such views. When faculty members or department chairs were asked the extent to which the subject of poverty was part of required readings, more than 54 percent said there was either no or only some emphasis.

The percentages were higher for classroom assignments, supplemental readings, and guest speakers' topics.

The premise of the study is that poor students suffer academically when school leaders are ignorant about poverty. Ms. Villani asserted that plenty of academic research shows a strong link between student learning and the views of school leaders such as principals and superintendents.

"You can't work to improve something if you don't change the people who do the work," Ms. Villani said.

She and her co-author, Linda J. Lyman, a professor at Illinois State University in Normal, plan to present "Understanding the Complexity of Poverty: A Review of Educational Leadership Programs and a Look at Promising Practices" at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association next month.

While Ms. Villani said few graduate programs study poverty in depth, the researchers did find that the deans and faculty members at most programs believed that understanding poverty is vital to good school leadership.

—Mark Stricherz

Vol. 20, Issue 25, Page 5

Published in Print: March 7, 2001, as Leadership

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