State law requires that the school finance formula must provide enough funding so that schools can teach all students to the proficiency standards of the state (“State,” 2014). However, providing the money for educating the most challenging students is only half the battle. The true test of progress is not whether districts fund poor schools adequately, but rather if the money that is being spent is working. Is the investment in student learning and achievement based on evidence based practices? Are these evidence based practices being adequately supported with on-going professional development? Is there a mechanism used to see if the plan is working? Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best when he stated, “the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little” (Roosevelt, 1937). In other words, intervention strategies for teaching and learning are not truly effective when they succeed in an affluent school, but rather an economically challenged school. Learning how to teach the poor is one of the hardest challenges in the educational world.
One book that attempts to address the struggles and challenges to teaching students in an economically disadvantage state is Eric Jensen’s, Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do about It. Throughout the book, Jenson explores the contributing similarities of what high preforming, economically disadvantaged schools do on a day to day basis. Through research, observation and personal experience, Jensen provides a comprehensive view of the leadership and the strategic plans behind the most successful schools in the country that are educating the most economically challenged populations. In exploring strategies, techniques and beliefs that effective principals possess, Jensen provides a valuable template or strategy for schools that want to change from low performing to high performing.
A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal. These are specific plans created by schools to produce success and growth, despite the numerous obstacles the school faces as a result of poverty. Even though Jensen does not actually use the word strategy or even discuss the importance of strategic planning, all of his suggestions or “action steps” could be construed as strategic planning. Strategic planning is “an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, and ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals” (“The Basics of Strategic,” 2012, p 1). He is demonstrating how his actions would create consensus with the stakeholders and adjusting behavior and beliefs that will move a school forward successfully in a today’s changing academic environment.
This book truly opened my eyes to what poverty does to a student in the classroom. It really provides some perspectives on the stereotypical behaviors that many of these students face. It was great to understand what the full story is when a student misbehaves in class, misses homework assignments and/or demonstrates a complete lack of interest. Jenson has a masterful way of dispelling myth and re-teaching information that the reader may have thought he/she already knew. The big take away from Jensen’s book is that we are not all exactly the same. From the emotional and social challenges these students face, Jensen gives educators a complete and comprehensive look in the challenges of students in poverty-stricken environments.
Jensen’s novel is a great way to combat the teachers, like Mr. Hawkins, who have given up and are counting the days until retirement. When we teach our educators, like Mr. Hawkins, the science behind the cognitive lags or the behavioral issues and providing strategies to combat the gaps and difficulties, amazing things can happen. Brain research is somewhat new and fascinating and Jensen made it understandable for someone who has no interest nor aptitude in the sciences. As a person who has completed outreach in poverty, I could relate to much of what he said. While the first couple of chapters provided the stark reality of the deficits children of poverty will have, it does provide hope. These parts are meant for insight and perspective. It helps embrace the many things educators can do to help these students be successful. Unfortunately, I feel too many of our staff members are like Mr. Hawkins and have given up. I truly feel they have given up because leaders have not effectively taught them how to deal with these students. Teachers will never reach success if they pity or marginalize the students they teach. The fact of the matter, times have changed and schools and educational leaders can’t continue to do this or growth will never happen.
One of the best chapters in the book is chapter three, which is embracing the mind-set of change. It was by far one of the most effective chapters that truly resonated with me. It really shows that things don’t have to be this way. It uses science and research to inspire hope and a positive outlook. It shows how to change the brain for the better and how providing academic, social and emotional enrichment can make a world of difference. Another chapter that influenced my thinking was chapter four. This is the most useful chapter as a future administrator because it breaks down what high-poverty, high-achieving schools have in common. Jensen does a masterful job in synthesizing the most important strategies to give that can have the biggest influence. He does the same thing in chapter five, except for the classroom. This is the best part of the book, he effectively provides the big picture and the application and logistic strategies for the classroom. This approach makes the vision and mission of a poverty-stricken school clear and easily applicable both school-wide as well as individual classroom. It makes it clear what every person’s role is towards the vision of changing the school to high achieving status. Nothing is left for guess work.
The Share concept, as a future administrator, is ingenious. It is clear, easy to apply and well versed with a mixture of research and practice. Share stands for “standards-based curriculum and instruction; hope building; arts, athletics, and advanced placement; retooling of the operating system; and engaging instruction” (Jensen, loc 992, 2009). As a future administrator, there is no doubt that school-wide Share characteristics are key to the development of a high achieving school, despite the negative aspects of poverty. Share concepts helps give a practical approach to change.
Overall, this is a great book with lots of well-organized information about why high-poverty schools tend to fall behind and what practices have been used to improve them. Jensen includes research from reliable sources to support his theories. The best part is that he did in an engaging way. This accomplishing two things: keeps the reader engaged as well as keeps the ready from become overwhelmed from trying to sift through so much information. No Child Left Behind tells us all students need to reach high standards, but this book finally showed me why it is so much harder for some students than others.
When addressing the education of the poor, I think Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes said it best when he states, “you might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace” (McCourt, 1996, p 208). If we, as educators, don’t nurture and respect this simple fact, the educational world will be struggling with this population for a long time to come. In today’s day and age “one-fifth of all children in the United States from birth to age 18 come from a household that has very limited means in providing adequate housing, health care and nutrition” (Shank, 2010). We will succeed with the poor when we understand the science of poverty and apply the strategies that have embraced the whole child and the whole community. This book is a valuable book and Jensen provides a guide for not teachers who reach the low-SES students, but for all teachers who want to make a difference in their students’ lives.
Jensen, Eric (2009). Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do about It. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
McCourt, Frank. (1996). Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir. New York: Scribner.
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