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Recommended Reading: “Why Poor Students Struggle”

favicon I appreciated Vicki Madden’s recent op-ed piece, “Why Poor Students Struggle,” in the New York Times. Her argument is nothing new — that the achievement gap does not explain why poor students have low college graduation rates (see “Who Gets to Graduate,” by Paul Tough). For Ms. Madden, an instructional coach and former teacher, the issue is social and emotional. It’s an issue of belonging.

But the article did get me thinking: What’s the role of a high school, given limited time and resources? Let’s say that a student is poor and enters high school several years below grade level. What’s the best approach?

If you’re a school, what do you do with those four years?

“As the income gap widens and hardens, changing class means a bigger difference between where you came from and where you are going. Teachers like me can help prepare students academically for college work. College counselors can help with the choices, the federal financial aid application and all the bureaucratic details. But how can we help our students prepare for the tug of war in their souls?.”

Source: http://j.mp/1mqecR8 (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon


  1. Heidi

    This is a great article, especially about ” exchanging your old world for a new world”. As a teacher at a continuation school, I’ve recently thought about how young people navigate the power dynamics of high school, and how that might clash with their identity.

  2. Dave Keller

    Thanks for the article, Mark. While I appreciate Ms. Madden’s story and the sensitivity with which she illustrates the life of poor students on college campuses I’m perplexed at her question: “How can [teachers] prepare students for the tug of war in their souls?” Is she suggesting that a solution to college drop out rates is for teachers to save kids souls? Maybe I’m being too simple but isn’t the number one reason kids drop out of college the cost of college? Isn’t the cost of college going up in part because fewer tax dollars are going into colleges? Isn’t the widening and hardening income gap a result of decreasing taxes on the rich? As a teacher, saving souls is above my pay-grade but advocating for higher taxes on the rich feels just right.

  3. Mark Isero

    Dave, your comment got me thinking of “Who Gets to Graduate,” by Paul Tough, and I added a link to the article in the post. Mr. Tough suggests that small and targeted interventions can build a sense of belonging among students. Your point about the financial reality is a huge one and explains, in part, why some of my students over the last three or so years chose the military instead of school.

    Heidi, what are you noticing at your continuation school vs. what you experienced at your previous high schools? I was watching a classroom video last night at my coaching training, and the teacher was acting like a teacher, talking like a teacher, being touchy-feely like a teacher, and my thought was, “Wow, schools must be weird for young people of color.”

Please share your brilliant insights!