Student Achievement Letter to the Editor

View of Poverty’s Impact Is ‘Naive’ and Limited

March 17, 2015 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

In a recent letter to the editor, Frank Ferguson, the chairman of Billerica, Mass.-based Curriculum Associates, makes one of the most naive assessments of the impact poverty has on student learning that we have encountered to date.

“Poverty, per se, has very little to do with observed lower functioning,” he writes, citing 1990s research around the 30 million word gap between impoverished families and those from wealthier circumstances.

Space does not allow us to expose all the methodological flaws and inconsistencies in the Betty Hart and Todd Risley research that Mr. Ferguson references. But suffice it to say, the effects of poverty on students are palpable, and range from poor health, nutrition, and eyesight to unequal access to the tools (linguistic, cognitive, and dispositional) of academic and economic advancement.

Rather than add to the discourses of “deficit” that we hear all too often when we talk about poor and minority children (not enough language, not enough knowledge, not enough experience), our time—and theirs—would be better spent promoting, rather than marginalizing, the funds of knowledge these students do bring to the classroom.

The language practices these students have developed are well-suited to effectively function in family and community settings. Rather than a weakness, then, students’ home languages provide opportunities to bridge the academic gaps they may experience in school settings.

Children know what they know. They bring what they bring. Our job is not to wish that students knew more or knew differently. Our job is to turn students’ individual knowledge—and the collective range of knowledge the whole class brings—into a curricular strength, rather than to regard it as an instructional inconvenience. We can do that only if we hold high expectations for all students, convey great respect for the knowledge, language, and culture each brings to the classroom, and offer support in helping each student achieve those high expectations.

Eric J. Cooper

President and Founder

National Urban Alliance for Effective Education

Syosset, N.Y.

P. David Pearson

Member, NUA Board of Directors

Professor, Graduate School of Education

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 2015 edition of Education Week as View of Poverty’s Impact Is ‘Naive’ and Limited


Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Achievement Spotlight Spotlight on Intervention
This Spotlight will help you dig into intervention from multiple angles: 504 plans, tutoring, SEL for teenagers, and more.
Student Achievement What New Data Reveal About Students' Math and Reading Performance Right Now
The results of a new study show the magnitude of the task schools have ahead of them.
6 min read
Image of a teacher taking questions in a classroom.
Student Achievement Longer COVID-Related School Closures Could Hurt Students' Future Earnings
Students who experienced the longest school closures will face lower future earnings and are less likely to go to college, a new study says.
Olivia Rockeman and Nic Querolo, Bloomberg News
1 min read
Empty desks in a dark classrooom
Student Achievement What the Research Says Here's One Way to Improve Students' Reading Scores: Get Them Eyeglasses
Schools need to do more than just vision screenings, new research says, especially after students have spent so much time learning on screen.
5 min read
Image of eyeglasses and an eye examine chart with letters.