School Reform Equation Must Consider Poverty's Effects on Learning

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To the Editor:

I agree with the recent Commentary by Connecticut educator Ann Evans de Bernard ("When Is School Reform Not Reform?," Feb. 5, 2014), but I seek to see the definition of education reform expanded. As the executive director of a nonprofit organization that helps homeless, unaccompanied high school students in Massachusetts, I have come to realize that basic economic factors are being left out of the education reform equation.

The education reform platform focuses on curriculum, standardized testing, academic outcomes, and teacher performance. We emphasize the importance of all these areas as they affect education, but factors such as food, shelter, jobs, the minimum wage, and poverty equally affect families and their children's learning in our schools.

The social and emotional components of early education are undeniable. They are the foundation upon which children become neurologically able to learn and succeed in their future lives. Social and emotional learning typically has been defined in developmental and clinical terms. That definition must be expanded to include our economy, that overarching system in which families earn income that, ideally, pays for the basic human needs of food and shelter.

When children go hungry or their housing is not stable, their focus becomes survival, not education. They cannot focus on learning because they are distracted by hunger and angst about where they will sleep that night.

Poverty undermines education reform—thus, it must be a part of education reform. Today's harsh economic realities are as relevant to education reform as testing and teacher performance. They are the nonacademic components of learning that allow academic learning to flourish.

Danielle Ferrier
Executive Director
Waltham, Mass.
Rediscovery is a division of the Needham, Mass.-based Justice Resource Institute, where the writer also serves as a vice president.

Vol. 33, Issue 23, Page 22

Published in Print: March 5, 2014, as School Reform Equation Must Consider Poverty's Effects on Learning
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