Stacey Loscalzo

Feb 10

Poverty and Education

by Stacey

"Don't spend your time asking, "Why isn't the world a better place?" It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is "How can I make it better?" To that there is an answer." -Leo Buscaglia

“Don’t spend your time asking, “Why isn’t the world a better place?” It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is “How can I make it better?” To that there is an answer.” -Leo Buscaglia

On Friday night, I attended a lecture presented by Jan Ressenger, an expert in the field of public education. We talked about many threats to equality in public schooling from standardized testing to charter schools to severe cuts in school budgets. While each of these factors are overwhelming and significant, nothing impacts the state of education in our county like poverty does. The statistics are staggering and most are out of the realm of a short blog post but there is one that we need to talk about.

The childhood poverty rate in the United States is 22% (National Center for Children in Poverty). Twenty two percent of this country’s children are living in poverty. The federal poverty level is $23,550 for a family of four.  The NCCP goes on to say that “on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 45% of children live in low-income families.”

Compare this number to the childhood poverty in Finland, a country with a superb public education system. The childhood poverty rate in Finland is 4%.

In case you are visual person, take a peek.

relative-child-povertySource: UNICEF

There are so many things I wish we did differently in our schools. The fact that even superb teachers must teach to a test is disgusting. And with the advent of the Common Core, this will get worse not better. Next year, if things remain on target, many of our children will take multiple, computerized standardized tests. And then these test results will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of our teachers.

But I digress. These problems, while incredibly troubling, are champagne problems in the world of education today.

Childhood poverty is the problem in public education today.

Policy makers looked at our testing results and compared them to Finland’s and decided we need to do something different. We needed to create more tests. There is though, in my opinion, a terrible problem in this line of reasoning. In comparing the United States to Finland, we are comparing apples to oranges. And they are very poor apples and relatively rich oranges.

Until we can ensure that our children come to school with food in the stomachs, warm clothes on their backs and safe homes to return to, no amount of testing will not improve our public schools. Let’s hope before our children are forced to spend their school years learning how to take a test that a policy maker or two will realize this.


  1. Kristen says:

    I agree with you 100% on this. I was just working on a very similar post myself, because it is hard to see the dichotomy of (dis)advantage, even within my own daughter’s classroom. Of course, it’s not fair to the teachers (how can they expect to have all kids meet the bar when so many are starting from so far behind already? In a word, they can’t!). But it’s also not fair to the students themselves. It breaks my heart to see it already happening, and they are only in Kindergarten. This is an issue near and dear to my heart–thank you for bringing more light to it.

  2. Shana Norris says:

    I’ve read several articles on the Finnish education system.  It’s absolutely fascinating.  And the thing is, they don’t do standardized testing.  And certainly not the high stakes testing we do in the US.  We can learn a lot from their model but what we can learn is that more tests are NOT the answer!

  3. Tamara says:

    Finland fascinates me in many ways.
    I was at a kindergarten info session the other day and the hottest topic of conversation was about the standardized testing. Many parents, teachers and even superintendents were not keen on the model AT ALL.

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