Press-Republican

February 3, 2014

Educators discuss struggles of impoverished students

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — To Dr. Mark Beatham, judging school quality based solely on student academic performance is failing to consider something critical — poverty versus wealth.

This is precisely the case with Buffalo Business First’s 2013 academic rankings of 20 public schools in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties, the associate professor of teacher education at SUNY Plattsburgh noted.

The list, which the regional business journal released last October, was generated based on data from the State Education Department, including districts’ standardized-test results and graduation rates.

It placed Chazy Central Rural and Lake Placid Central schools in the first and second spots and Moriah and Salmon River central schools in the 19th and 20th spots, respectively.

But what that ranking didn’t point out is that CCRS and LPCS had poverty rates of 20 and 22 percent, while the Moriah and Salmon River schools had poverty rates of 64 and 68 percent, respectively, Beatham said.

WHAT THEY DEAL WITH

The poverty rates reflect the average percentage of students in a district who, according to the Education Department, were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch from 2010 to 2012.

“In the absence of that information, it just looks like the schools that are at the top are doing the best job and the schools at the bottom are doing the worst job, but it doesn’t in any way indicate what they have to deal with,” Beatham said.

The associate professor didn’t want to detract from the success of the higher-ranking schools, which, he noted, are still far less affluent than some suburban schools in other parts of the state, “but it’s so much easier when you don’t have to deal with all the effects of poverty.”

For example, he continued, students of low economic status may be facing hunger, lack of medical care or stress over how bills will be paid, which “make it that much more difficult for a kid to pay attention in school.”

“If you have a kid who’s hungry, they can’t concentrate — that’s the bottom line,” said Al Hammel, who taught at Northeastern Clinton Central School for several years and has taught at schools with impoverished students in a number of states.

PARENTAL INFLUENCE

Students from low-income homes may also lack one-on-one time with their parents, who may be working multiple jobs or double shifts to make ends meet, added Moriah Central Superintendent William Larrow.

“Some tend to not have the opportunity to be exposed to various opportunities that other students are exposed to,” he said.

“They don’t have parents that take them to museums; they don’t have parents that read them books every night,” Hammel added.

TARGETED EFFORTS

Larrow noted that his is one of many area schools dealing with the effects of poverty. 

But after being identified by the state as a district in need of improving the performance of its low-income population on state tests in the past, he said, Moriah Central worked with an outside educational expert on implementing the state-mandated Common Core Learning Standards and on increasing academic intervention and response to intervention services.

“I think the biggest thing is we’ve been able to target students’ needs more individually,” he said.

Moriah Central’s staff and teachers work hard to find ways to help them learn, Larrow noted.

And while the district may not perform well on state tests in grades three through eight, it tends to do well with Regents exams and graduation rates.

“It just may take our students a little longer to get to where they need to be,” the superintendent said.

INCREASED POVERTY

It’s important, Beatham noted, that the public be aware that poverty is a factor that must be considered when deliberating the state of education. 

“You can see rising poverty in the North Country over several decades, and that’s something we just don’t seem to want to talk about,” he said.

Another issue that must be addressed, Beatham continued, is the funding of schools.

Larrow agreed that more could be done to help students, but the state aid his district receives doesn’t allow for it.

“If we had more aid, we would be able to offer more services,” he said.

For example, Moriah Central students could have more one-on-one attention if the school had more staff, Larrow noted.

“If we’re serious about educating the kids, then we need to make sure that they have the resources and the teachers and administrators have the resources they need to be able to take care of that,” Beatham said.

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com

+++++

LOCAL RANKINGS

Buffalo Business First's 2013 academic rankings of North Country school districts (with average percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch from 2010 to 2012 in parenthesis).

Learn more about Buffalo Business First's school rankings at www.bizjournals.com/buffalo. Also, state-issued School Report Cards can be viewed at reportcards.nysed.gov.