Should we fix schools by fixing poverty or fixing teaching?

February 27, 2014

Turnaround for Children aims to improve low-performing schools by addressing the effects of poverty both inside and outside the classroom. This year the organization is working in five DCPS schools and hopes that the school system will incorporate its approach on a broader scale in the future.

Generally speaking, there have been two polarized camps in the education debate: those who say you can’t fix education until you fix poverty, and the “no excuses” camp that says a good teacher can educate any child regardless of her income level.

Turnaround for Children (TFC) occupies a middle position. Recognizing that kids don’t leave the effects of poverty at the schoolroom door, the program tries to connect persistently disruptive students at a struggling school with the social services they need. At the same time, it trains teachers in a school-wide approach to teaching and classroom management that aims to both foster social and emotional skills and raise academic performance for all students. (Disclosure: I have contributed financially to TFC.)

TFC has partnered with more than 80 schools, mostly in New York City, and has been in D.C. since 2010. This year it’s involved with three DCPS elementary schools and two K-8 campuses.

All five schools have a 99 percent poverty rate (as measured by eligibility for free and reduced-price meals), and 95 percent or more of their students are African American. Their proficiency rates on D.C.’s standardized tests average 29 percent in math and 24 percent in reading, meaning that about three quarters of students are performing below grade level.

Founded in 2002 by child psychiatrist Pamela Cantor, TFC began its work in New York. Cantor had been asked to assess the level of trauma among schoolchildren after the events of 9/11, but she came to realize that an even bigger cause of trauma for children in the city was living in poverty.

[Continue reading Natalie Wexler’s post at Greater Greater Education.]

Natalie Wexler is the editor of Greater Greater Education and a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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