I read an interesting article from The Washington Post today titled: “School Study Sees Benefits in Economic Integration.” The article discussed how a recent study revealed that by integrating students from a lower socioeconomic status into more affluent schools, the school performance of the students from poorer backgrounds improved significantly in math and to a lesser degree in reading.
The researchers who conducted the study concluded that the reason for the difference in school performance was the increased stability of the more affluent schools. The lower teacher turnover in these schools leads to more experienced teachers. Also these schools often receive more support from volunteers and parents. One of the main researchers, Stephanie Deluca, said: "This is not about 'poor kids can't learn,' it's about the fact that we've had a legacy in this country of segregated neighborhoods and socioeconomic isolation from opportunities and the mainstream of life."
Other Possible Explanations
I easily agree that the stability of more affluent schools helps the students from poorer backgrounds perform better in school, however as I read the article I couldn’t help but wonder if there is also a psychological impact. In fact, when I first read the headline that is what I expected the article to be about: a psychological impact that results from integrating students from different economic backgrounds.
I don’t think money is the ultimate indicator of success, but I am positive that individuals from poorer, more poverty stricken backgrounds, want a nicer life and are likely to measure success by money. I can’t help but wonder if being around students that have the life they crave motivates them to work harder in school.
Also, I predict that the overall culture of schools of different economic statuses are different and thus produce different outcomes in school performance. I hope this is not stereotypical, but I also don’t think this idea is far off of reality, I imagine the attitude at more affluent schools is that students are expected to succeed, and students are held to a higher standard. Conversely, schools from poorer areas, often expect their students to struggle rather then creating a culture of success to inspire their students by. I think the overall impression or attitude an entity creates is very powerful and predictive of how people respond to the entity.
When I was still in school I noticed the strength of the impact culture can have on performance even at the classroom level, not just the school level. When I had teachers’ that tried to challenge the class, everyone tried harder, when I had teachers’ that didn’t put effort into their instruction and that were more apathetic, I didn’t put as much effort into those classes and everyone saw the class as a joke. Thus, I wonder what impact the culture of these different schools plays on student performance.
What about the reading scores?
Another thought that I couldn’t resist having as I read this article was why math scores improved more significantly than reading scores when the poorer students were integrated into the more affluent schools. The thought I couldn’t resist having was not why this was, but rather that I knew why this happened. Stability and motivation and culture can more easily improve overall school performance than a skill that can be complicated to teach, such as reading.
In order to improve reading, students need something more concrete than the overall attitude and culture of a school. Culture can’t change the fact that many struggling students have reading and learning disabilities. Experienced teachers can help, but only if they know how to provide students with the right type of instruction. Students will continue to struggle with reading if they aren’t given concrete skills that help them understand how to read the English language. They need specific skills that help them decode the different sounds in a word and the different rules that determine how each letter and letter combination can change in pronunciation depending on its context in relationship to surrounding letters.
These skills are difficult for teachers to teach. However, there are resources and training that can help teachers improve their reading instruction. This will help reading performance accelerate results more than any socioeconomic integration technique will be able to.
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