Monday, February 13, 2012

DISD and poverty

Several years ago, a candidate for the Dallas School board dropped by my office to chat about his campaign efforts.  In the course of our conversation he asked me, "Larry, what do you consider the greatest challenge facing the DISD?"

I remember exactly what I told him:  "That is easy to answer and very, very difficult to overcome.  In a word, the biggest challenge facing our public schools is poverty." 

I'm not sure he liked my answer or agreed with my assessment, but I believe I was right then, and things have only grown more difficult.  So, I read with gratitude the editorial page comment from The Dallas Morning News on Sunday, February 12, 2012.  What follows is one part in the paper's series dubbed "Tactics for Turnaround project" dealing wtih the important enormous work that faces everyone who cares about urban, public education here in Dallas.  I hope you'll take the time to read the entire essay. 

Editorial: Poverty’s role in DISD reform

There’s no way to sugarcoat the serious challenges ahead for DISD’s next superintendent. One of the biggest is that Dallas public schools are overwhelmed by a worsening cycle of poverty. Less than a decade ago, 73 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches at school. Last year, that number had grown to 88 percent, and the trend shows no sign of reversing.

Poverty is by no means a pathway to failure. In fact, despite the growing number of poor children in DISD, dropout rates are declining, four-year graduation rates are up and some standardized test scores are improving. Poverty doesn’t have to be the insurmountable obstacle to success that some might assume.

Still, students living in poverty are far less likely to get the shot at success that all kids deserve. Studies show that, from birth through high school, children growing up in poor households tend to lack crucial developmental skills, proper health and nutrition, and the crucial component of parental involvement in their academic pursuits.

Even before they enter school, kids in poverty are more likely to have stunted vocabularies and be on track to develop debilitating health problems such as obesity. By kindergarten, if a child hasn’t developed a vocabulary of roughly 2,200 words, he or she is already behind, both in literacy and speaking ability. The problem is even worse for those children who don’t speak English; nearly 70 percent of the Dallas district’s student population is Hispanic.

To read the entire opinion click here.

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