Addressing Child Poverty is the Best Education Reform We Can Make
As state lawmakers and others review and debate the findings of the recent education audit, it is important that they consider the economic and social conditions of our state's children. This is especially true when evaluating our state's K-12 education outcomes, which likely has more to do with the income of a student's parent than any other factor.
As the graph below makes clear, there is a there is a strong negative correlation (-0.71) between a state's child poverty rate and how proficient 4th graders read in each state. In general, the lower a state's child poverty rate the better its children score on reading proficiency tests.
A look at national figures also indicates that low test scores on math and science are associated with higher child poverty. A recent study by Duke University found that one of the central problems with most education reform initiatives is that it does little to address large "body of evidence documenting that students from disadvantaged households on average perform less well in school than those from more advantaged families." Another recent study funded by the National Institute of Health also found that poverty-induced stress - such as crowded conditions, financial worry, and lack of adequate child care — "lead to impaired learning ability in children from impoverished backgrounds."
In fact, numerous studies have shown that children who grow up in poverty are not only performing badly on tests, but are also more likely to complete less schooling, become a teen parent, have lower earnings as adults, engage in crime, and reduce our economic output.
As professor Stephen Krashan of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California recently pointed out in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette:
"The problem is poverty: Our average test scores are mediocre because the United States has such a high level of child poverty, the second highest among economically advanced countries (23 percent). Study after study shows that poverty has a devastating effect on school performance."
While pursuing education reform to find cost savings and improve programing is very important to our state's future, it is equally - if not more - important that we look at underlying factors such as child poverty that appear to play a much larger role in education outcomes. One important step West Virginia could take to address child poverty would be to ensure that every child in West Virginia has access to quality child care and other early childhood development programs. This program not only ensures that young children get a better start in life, it also makes the state a better place to live, work, and raise a family.