What We Talk About When We Talk About Poverty by Michael J. Petrilli

What We Talk About When We Talk About Poverty

Michael J. Petrilli continues his conversation with Deborah Meier today.

Ed Week

Dear Deborah,

I want to return to the perennial question of poverty as it relates to educational outcomes. One of the main arguments against education reform is that it misdiagnoses the problem. We have big "achievement gaps" in terms of test scores, graduation rates, college-going, and much else, but that's primarily because of inequities in our society, not because of the failings of our schools—so goes the thinking.

As I indicated in my first post for Bridging Differences, I'm not opposed to tackling these larger issues of poverty and inequality. (Neither are most reformers.) But we'd better have a good understanding of what we're tackling. I would argue that clarity is sorely lacking.

Is the issue really poverty, per se? The fact that many families in the U.S. don't have enough income to provide the advantages that other children enjoy? If so, are we satisfied with delineating the problem with the poverty line (currently about $20,000 for a family of three)? That qualifies 23 percent of all children (as of 2011), up from 18 percent before the Great Recession.

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