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Students From Working Families


In a recent Education Week Commentary, economist Anthony P. Carnevale writes that high-achieving students from working families are often overlooked in American education. Students from affluent families benefit from active and involved parents, while children in poor families receive some help through programs such as No Child Left Behind.

One solution he proposes is to develop individualized standards for each child that will complement state, or even national, standards.

What do you think? Are students from working families often left out of education reform? What can be done at the federal level to help these students?


As a single working parent, I think I have pretty good grasp of this issue. I have to question first the statement that affluent kids benefit from their active, involved parents while others may get some help from NCLB. This doesn't match either my experience, or some of the research that I have read. An often overlooked part of the reality is that the efforts of poor/working class parents have a smaller effect on school outcomes. One explanation is that the efforts of parents cannot overcome the inequalities in schools.

Affluent students may or may not have "more active" parents. They are, however, more likely to have access to a broader spectrum of enrichment activities outside of school, as well as more experienced teachers, an enriched curriculum, newer buildings, safer schools and higher expectations.

Individualized plans are not a bad idea, but as the parent of a child with an IEP, I can witness that even a good plan is only as good as the will and the resources to carry it out. A plan that is half-heartedly written (because it is required) and dutifully filed until next year is a waste of everybody's time.

Contrary to popular mythology most of the highly performing (academically) countries not only surpass us on percentage of students passing, but also in the equitable distribution of scores. I don't see us emulating Finland or Sweden (where social services are plentiful and linked to the schools) any time soon. Canada, on the otherhand, initiated reforms by changing the pre-teaching requirements for teachers. An extended pre-classroom education includes a greater emphasis on meeting the needs of exceptional students. This is supported by an extended mentoring/orientation phase as teachers move into the classroom.

Certainly a reform in funding to ensure that funds follow the student (to the building level) based on a weighted formula would be a helpful. support.

Much of this would disappear if we were not running a carnival that we call a secondary school. These "juvenile social halls" allow diversions that have little to do with academic success to overwhelm the ordinary student.

Elsewhere in the world, where academic achievement seems to be succeeding, there is a clear, deliberate, focus on mastery of the academic subjects with consequences for any lack of effort.

Here, Ipods, cell phones, cheerleading, athletics, drugs, etc are some of the salient features of our secondary schools.

When, or if, we began to run schools here like those of the countries that we tend to admire for their academic achievement, we might see some better results.

Schools could consider individualizing/customizing instruction for each student. Individualized, or customized, instruction (not differentiated) is the most pragmatic, child-centered, egalitarian approach to instruct every student in every subject.

Other than the reorganization of the school day, the most prominent paradigm shift for teachers would be the requirement to handle the curriculum a year and a half to two years above and below grade level.

EXAMPLE: Ms. Wilson has a sixth grade math class of 20 students starting in September. On that first day of school there might be kids in the class who still are lacking in addition, multiplication, etc., facts while kids at the other end of the spectrum might be ready to start pre-algebra or even algebra I. So why should she start everyone on the same page on the same lesson and keep it that way throughout the year? She shouldn't, unless she wants to lose many of them before Thanksgiving, which happens all too often under traditional whole group instruction.

If doctors or attorneys attempted to run their practice(s) this way, they'd be out of business in no time.

Why haven't teachers gone to this more obvious child-centered approach of individualizing instruction for each child? Perhaps because: (1) they were not taught that way when they were in school; (2) they were never trained to teach this way in college; or (3) because they know individualizing instruction is more work than whole group instruction.

Individualizing instruction empowers kids. It gives them a feeling of ownership, rarely experienced in traditional classrooms. They figure out early in the year, where they are and where they’re headed. They experience a level of control, previously impossible to realize in a class where every subject is taught to the whole group. Kids who need more time to grasp a concept or a skill have it. Kids who pick things up from the initial lesson can move at a much faster pace. Under this philosophy no child is overwhelmed and no child is bored.

The only concept the teacher needs to reinforce every day is that everyone is at their respective level and not to concern themselves where anyone else is, that as long as everyone does the best they can at their instructional level, everyone will be satisfied, parents and teacher included.

There is no need to develop an individualized education plan (IEP) for every student, at least until the student demonstrates their capacity for secondary courses. However, schools do need to: (1) abandon the paradigm about how they have functioned for the past century; (2) guarantee a commitment for professional development on an unprecedented scale; and (3) instill in all teachers, preK-16, that all students are different, that they show up every September with different strengths, weaknesses, and levels of readiness, and from there THEY ALL PROGRESS AT DIFFERENT RATES.

I employed the traditional/whole group method of instruction my first year in the classroom. For the next 33 years I individualized the insruction for every student in every subject (elem).

The more individualized approach is actually old.

Back when students were all shoved into a room with kids of different ages, you would have kids learning different things based on their level of knowledge. You would have older kids who were slower doing the work meant for the younger kids, and younger kids doing harder work if they could handle it.

After interviewing and supporting gifted students at one of our local high schools I found that it is most often the ones who "fail in school" who are most at risk of never going on to college.

Although I had no access to personal information I intuited that most who had failing grades were from working class families. Gifted kids from wealthier families often ended up in the International Baccalaureate program; an indication perhaps that their parents indeed contribute to pushing them toward success in higher education.

So, failing gifted students leave school without a diploma, but not because they do not understand what they were supposed to learn - often they understand a whole lot more which makes them cynical about "education".

These kids, leaving school with their self-esteem crushed, seen as failures by school, and often by their parents as well, are not likely to pursue the GED, needed to get federal student aid if they want to go to college.

I would suggest that the federal government allow these bright kids dropouts to receive federal student aid so they can immediately start college. The money could be given as a loan they will not have to pay back if they are successful!

I strongly agree with the comments of Paul Hoff and Rose. My family was definitely among the working poor. My parents had graduated from high school and supported education but insisted that I take "practical" courses as shorthand and typing in high school so that I could support myself after school. I had attended a small parochial grade school (6 classrooms for 8 grades). I frequently was in split classrooms and learned what the other students were learning because I was a hard working overachiever. I then went to a city public high school where I graduated with top honors. However, much to my dismay, when I started college, I struggled (I caught up by extra effort and sheer determination by the end of year one.) I was not prepared for the rigors of college despite my good grades in high school. While I was congratulated by the high school staff for my accomplishments, in retrospect, I was not challenged or expected to perform as my suburban counterparts were. I was allowed to have a basic schedule despite my grades, and the AP classes that I attended were "advanced" in name only. That was forty years ago, long before NCLB. However, the problem remains the same-- high performing students in schools with many low performing students often are unnoticed because they do meet the standards of the school and they do pass standardized tests. High achieving students from working families are an untapped resource in the United States. Individualized instruction in all classrooms as aptly described by Paul Hoff appears to be the answer. We can't afford to leave any child behind; nor can we afford to set the bar too low for high performers from working families.

In reading this I think that there are not involed programs for the working poor families then ther are for the working families. In these community there are more activities and outside school programs for them to get involed in. I come from a single parent working family and my mother was always involed in school and made sure I went to different school activites. In some families parents don't have the resources to get their children involed even through they come from poor families. At a government level I think they need to put more resources in schools and in the community for the parents that want to get involed in their childs education. On the other hand you have parents that work and leave their child to do whatever they please regardless if they come from and inturn they are left out of different activites.

Most of the time students from working families are overlooked just because society feels that there is not hope for them. What we do not stop to think is that those children are our future. We have to realize that for most of these children, schools are their second home where they spend most of their day. The majority of the time these children get home so late, they only have time to shower and eat if they find a meal and then just go to sleep. Being that the parents most of the time single mothers work all day in order to put food on their plate, they don’t even have time to talk to their children about their school life nor help them with their homework. This is why we have to find ways to help those children obtain the same advantages, opportunities as those from affluent families. Affluent family children most of the times have the opportunity to spend more time with their parents attend to different activities after school and have their parent involvement in their school life. For most of the working family children this is not the case. I believe working family children do not receive enough help to help them succeed in school. The federal government needs to create new programs that would help those children as well as their parents. Working parents usually do not have the academic education which is why they have to work long hours to live a decent life. Action needs to be taken in order to get those children (our future) out of that cycle and turn them into future college graduates.

Consider the contrasting experiences of the so-called traditional and non-traditional college students. While traditional students, who are more likely to come from affluent families, are applauded as being "the best and the brightest," non-traditional students, including many of those bright working-class children who were previously left out, continue to go unrecognized despite their valiant efforts to overcome obstacles in order to pursue higher education. These non-traditional students are demonstrating that working-class children are worthy of much more support than they are currently receiving from the American school system and from our society at large.

In the urban communities, NCLB (no child left behind )doesn't work for many of the working families. These families have not enough time to spent at the meeting in schools or assist any workshop after school hours. They more worried about how they can bring some food and take care of their own child. It seems very hard for many of the parent that i worked with. For instance, if a child is not doing well at school parents will ignore the situation instead of front it for their own benefits. As a teacher I feel that most of the time is not only the parents fault, it is the government who doesn't help enough to each individual child.

Developing individual standards for every child that will complement state and national standards, will only complicate things more for teachers who already have plenty of responsibilities. The reason lots of students fail is because they have poor vocabulary and grammar skills. What needs to be done at the federal level is to provide more library access to children, and encourage them to read.

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Recent Comments

  • Rene Avelar, CSUB Student: Developing individual standards for every child that will complement state read more
  • Dorian: In the urban communities, NCLB (no child left behind )doesn't read more
  • B.J./Retired: Consider the contrasting experiences of the so-called traditional and non-traditional read more
  • Cornelia/student: Most of the time students from working families are overlooked read more
  • Shamara/ Student: In reading this I think that there are not involed read more




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