I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Is Poverty Really the Reason for Poor Performance?

“Poverty is not an excuse” she stated loudly.
“It absolutely is not, it is an artificial barrier to achievement”
 These words came from District 3 Board member Linda Moultrie at yesterday’s school board workshop. 
And I wholeheartedly agree.  I grew up poor, really poor, for most of my life as a kid.  I know tremendously successful people that were poor their whole lives as kids.  Lots of people (and the number is growing) are poor and lots of kids are poor.  Poverty is everywhere—but does it excuse a family’s weak or non-existent parenting?
We, in the school district, are constantly told that poverty is the key reason why some communities and schools fail to achieve when other communities and schools consistently do well and flourish.  It is a safe answer, a safe explanation.  It, for political correctness’ sake, is apparently palatable to paint with a broad brush and say these lackluster performance issues are due to “poverty”.
But is that really the reason?
At yesterday’s meeting I wanted more information.   We are being asked to spend $2.4 Million in taxpayer dollars at 5-8 underperforming elementary schools to provide an extra hour of reading each day.  We are being asked to spend $700K at Warrington Middle School to support the next

step in a multi-year remediation plan there that appears to be stalling.   I support these expenditures because I know we must never give up on students at these schools that are struggling--but my continuing concerns, and I voiced them yesterday, are two-fold:
First of all—are these strategies we’re spending BIG dollars on the right ones to produce results for these kids?—the answer apparently is yes-- as board members were bombarded with information, PowerPoints, handouts, committee reports, speakers,  and staff members lobbying for these expenditures.  These are experts; these expenditures will undoubtedly be approved, so I guess we’ll see in a year how these ideas have worked.
My second concern—is it really poverty that is driving certain communities and schools into year after year of poor performance—have we really nailed the reason(s)?
My rhetorical question to follow the second concern was simple—how many of the parents and families of these struggling schools that are labeled as being poor—how many of these persons are actually rich in time, staying at home unemployed, on SSDI, or Welfare, or WIC, or all of the above?  There is wealthy in dollars and there is poor in dollars.  There is wealthy in time, and there is time-poor.  (Ironic that many of the dollar wealthy persons are severely time poor!) Well, as one would suspect, nobody could give a logical answer to this question;   such distinctions are apparently not known and such statistics not kept in our school district. 
My position is that if you are monetarily poor but you are rich in time, you should spend time with your own kids and help them be successful in school, be a good role-model, and not use poverty as an excuse.  If you are working two or three jobs, are both time and dollar poor, then you are in a tough position and being involved with your kids’ education will be much harder.  It is still essential though. 
With ever expanding entitlements and incentives out there for parents not to work, [AKA the Nanny State] I believe the root of the problem is not lack of resources or (more importantly) TIME—it is a lack of will by many families these days to do their jobs and raise their kids right.  I mean, it’s much simpler to just say, “I live in poverty”.
But is poverty the real reason why some students and communities are falling behind---or is it lazy and/or lacking families? Is it parents being selfish with their most important resource, their TIME?
So I asked about one of our very high performing charter schools, Byrneville.   This school is a Title I School with a greater than 67% free and reduced lunch population.  Even so, Byrneville is able to beat most of our regular non-Title 1 schools in many performance metrics, even though they operate on $.95cents on every $1.00 we spend on our traditional schools?  Byrneville deals with significant levels of poverty (among other issues)-how come they don’t need extra money for extra seat time to achieve great results?
Everyone jumped on this question of mine with an explanation, a gasp, a groan, or other sound or gesture of discomfort.  The superintendent quickly stated it was simple-this particular school has “different demographics.” District 5 board member Bill Slayton said “That is a different environment up there.”   
But nobody wanted to at least acknowledge the fact that you can’t say it is only poverty and get away with that—the data shows otherwise, particularly when you compare Byrneville to some of our other district schools that have significant levels of poverty. You can’t Broad –brush statistical facts.
It’s not just poverty-it is parents and families-and Byrneville illustrates that.  They are a school with nearly 7 out of 10 students receiving subsidized lunches-yet they perform at a very high level.  So what is the difference?
I think it is because the Byrneville families may by and large be dollar poor according to the statistics on file, but they still find a way to spend time with their kids; they spend their time looking after their children, ensuring they succeed in school.
How can we replicate the successful Byrneville model of parental buy-in and participation at some of our other high-poverty schools that have parents that are dollar-poor, but time-rich?  Can it be done?  Would we really have to spend $2.4million on extra seat-time to replicate Byrneville’s success?  What about dividing the $2.4 Million and giving bonuses to parents whose children improve at these selected schools?  Cash bonuses.  Could that be effective?---would it be more effective than an extra hour of seat time for $2.4Million?
Why not, what are the excuses? 

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