The conversation around how schools can react to poverty typically centers around reduced breakfast and lunch programs. On a few occasions I have heard people express concern as to the access that poverty-affected students have to sports programs, band and other extra-curricular activities. I have never heard people discuss specifically how the grading of standardized homework is but one more hurdle for students living with poverty. I think the time has come.
I just finished reading Eric Jensen’s book, ‘Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What being poor does to kids and what schools can do about it”. In the first three chapters alone, Jensen dumps upon the reader a stifling pile of challenges faced by students living with poverty. Here is a small sample:
Students living with poverty…
- are more likely to live in a crowded home
- inherit low self-esteem
- own fewer books
- watch more tv
- inherit negative views of school
- have a 50% chance of dealing with evictions, utility disconnection, overcrowding or lack a fridge
- have mentally adapted to suboptimal conditions
- have higher tardiness and absentee rates
It should be clear to just about anyone that this litany of hurdles would make completing homework difficult, if not impossible. To subject students to the grading of standardized, impersonal homework is questionable on so many levels, and I would argue that poverty-related challenges should be at the top of the list. When any student arrives with incomplete homework, we as educators can never be certain of the reasons. We should never assume that it is due to a lack of effort, but perhaps a safe assumption is that our most financially-challenged students have faced negative factors well beyond their control.