It’s hard to learn when you haven’t eaten and don’t have a home

Tell your network:

Tell your network:

One of the biggest challenges facing Oregon students today can’t be measured by standardized tests, and won’t be fixed by the latest experimental fad coming from the corporate education “reform” cabal. The truth is that the surest thing we can do to improve education for all Oregon students is this: Eliminate poverty.

Because of the recession—caused by Wall Street greed—an unacceptably high number of Oregon students are coming to school hungry, homeless, and/or without access to health care. Their families are sleeping in cars or on couches, and their parents are working multiple minimum-wage jobs, so they aren’t available to help prepare their kids for the school day.

The numbers are staggering. This year, Oregon counted 20,545 students who are experiencing homelessness—that’s double the number of homeless kids since the 2003-2004 school year. Oregon’s poverty rate is more than 14%, but for children under the age of 6, the poverty rate is closer to 25%.

The number of households who rely on food stamps to meet their basic needs has risen nearly 10% since September 2010—and it was already at a record high last year. In some cities, the spike has been even more dramatic: Beaverton saw an increase of 15.9%. In Florence, it was 14%. In Medford, the number of families relying on food stamps jumped an alarming 25%. Right now, more than one in five Oregonians is on food stamps.

The state does a good job of trying to reach out to those in need, but budget cuts to basic services and local schools means there are fewer and fewer resources to help those in our community who’ve been victimized by The Great Recession. Community food banks and other charities are stretched to the breaking point.

It should be clear that any effort to improve educational outcomes that doesn’t first address the impacts of poverty isn’t going to be successful. We can load up our classrooms with standardized tests and whiz-bang technology, but if the child hasn’t eaten or isn’t coming to school because he or she doesn’t have shoes, we will face a moral and practical failure.

Recently, education expert Dr. Stephen Krashen gave the commencement speech at Lewis and Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling, responding to the fallacy that our schools are “broken.” Here’s an excerpt:

“If you look at middle-class children in well-funded schools, we score at the top of the world… Our children in well-funded schools, middle-class kids, score absolutely at the top of the world. What this means is that the problem is not with teaching or education. The problem is poverty. That’s it. 100%. If you control for poverty, we do well.  The reason our scores are less than spectacular is that we have a very high rate of poverty.”

The problem is so dire that the state’s newspapers and TV news outlets have been publishing story after story, as new facts and revelations about our poverty issue come to light. The media is paying attention. Will our state leaders?

Lessons in survival

Register Guard
“They are sleeping under bridges, in vehicles or on a friend’s sofa. They are coming to school hungry, sometimes in the clothes they slept in, with no chance to shower. During the school day, some of their better-off classmates will make fun of them, and chances are high they will fall asleep in class. When school is over for the day, they’ll have nowhere to go. They are Oregon’s 20,000 homeless students. According to figures released last week by the state Department of Education, their numbers are growing as the state’s economy continues to sputter. The statewide increase in homeless students was 7.9 percent in 2010-11 over the previous school year, but in Lane County the increase was nearly three times that amount: 23.5 percent. Nearly 2,300 students in Lane County were counted as homeless in 2010-11, up from nearly 1,900 the previous school year.”

OPINION: Sometimes, school is the student’s only address
“DAVID SARASOHN — Not too far into the website of east Portland’s David Douglas School District is a prominent boldface announcement: ‘Title X, McKinney-Vento and Homelessness, WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.’ It describes the federally required obligations of a school district to ‘children and youth experiencing homelessness,’ including a student who ‘is living in a shelter, hotel or motel’ or ‘is living in a public place not designated for sleeping (cars, parks).’ It’s a vital reminder for a school district with 6 percent of its students fitting the description, although David Douglas Superintendent Don Grotting argues that the number doesn’t really reflect the situation. ‘We’re probably not getting every child,’ he calculates. ‘Especially in the secondary years, middle and high school, for pride and other variables students don’t want to come forward.'”

Oregon’s homeless student population continues to increase
“The number of Oregon students in unstable housing continued an uphill climb to 20,545 during the past school year, a harsh reminder of the economic downturn. Since the Oregon Department of Education first began the annual homeless count during the 2003-04 school year, the number has more than doubled, and represents an increase of about 1,500 students from the previous year, according to data the state will release today. At the same time, many school districts across the state are facing increased budget constraints and scrambling to fund services for the heightened need.”

Salem-Keizer schools’ student homeless number dips to 800
Statesman Journal
“At least 800 Salem-Keizer students struggled to find a place to sleep last school year, according to state numbers released Tuesday. Many come from families that had homes and jobs before losing everything, said Brad Capener, who coordinates Salem-Keizer’s homeless youth program. ‘To have the security of a home and then lose that is going to have a huge impact on students,’ he said. ‘How can you think about learning when you’re thinking about where you are going to sleep?'”

Learning with less: Budget cuts take toll on families too
“Oregon’s teachers and principals are not the only ones adjusting to leaner school budgets, this fall. The changes have a direct effect on students – and their parents. As part of a series on school budget cuts we’re calling ‘Learning with Less,’ OPB is following teachers and a principal – but families, as well. Rob Manning caught up with a Portland family the morning of the first day of school. Leslie Dailey has three daughters in Portland Public Schools. Sabra is 14. She’s a freshman at Cleveland High. ‘I’m excited about being a part of different extra-curricular activities, but I don’t have very many friends in my classes, so I’m just worried about the first couple of days where it’ll be all awkward,’ Sabra says.”

BLOG: The road to excellence in education begins with poverty reduction
“Last month, Gov. John Kitzhaber traveled to Springfield, Oregon, to deliver a speech on the ‘State of the Schools.’ In his remarks, the Governor said that ‘we need a North Star, a compass heading, a destination on which we can focus our aspirations.’ That North Star, the Governor said, ought to be ensuring 100 percent high school graduation and 80 percent of students moving on to secondary education or training. While those ambitious targets —that North Star— are worthy of praise, the plan that Gov. Kitzhaber outlined to get us there starts off on the wrong road. The plan, which largely follows the advice of a July 2011 report by the Governor’s Oregon Education Investment Team, articulates an ‘outcomes-based approach’ to education.”

OPINION: School reforms must fight students’ poverty
Portland Tribune
“The package of education reforms passed by the Oregon Legislature and signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber has a goal that 100 percent of Oregon’s high school class of 2025 will graduate on time (Kitzhaber promises to seek waiver from No Child Left Behind, Sept. 9). I dream about Angelina being one of the state’s proud graduates. A beautiful little second grader, Angelina and one of our great-granddaughters are best friends. They giggle together a lot when they play pretend. Little Angelina faces tough odds. She’s one of 46 percent of our school district’s elementary school students living in poverty. Her family is in daily survival mode.”

Growing poverty rain strains Oregon’s social safety net
“As jobs grow ever harder to come by, the social service net bows and buckles as more and more Oregonians face new demands for food, shelter, and medicine. Tuesday’s Census numbers indicate the national poverty rate reached a half-century high in 2010, topping 15.1%. The federal government sets the benchmark for poverty at $22,100 income for a family of four. Detailed state data will be available later this month. But a limited sample shows Oregon’s poverty rate may have climbed as high as 14.3% last year. That would be almost a 1% increase over 2009. Kristin Kinnie works with homeless families at the North Clackamas School District’s Wichita Support Center. She and volunteers provide clothes, school supplies, and basic hygiene products for families. Kinnie’s not surprised by the Census numbers. Demand here doesn’t let up.”

Why are Oregon’s children so hungry?
Portland Tribune
“A new national report shows just how much Oregonians have suffered in the depths of the national recession. The report by Chicago’s nonprofit Feeding America reveals that in 2009, Oregon had the highest rate of childhood hunger among the 50 states. Only Washington, D.C., had a higher rate. The report says that 29 percent of Oregon (and Multnomah County) children faced ‘food insecurity’ in 2009, compared to a national average of 23 percent.”

USDA: Oregon’s hunger rate still high

“Oregon’s hunger rate remains high but unchanged, according to the Household Food Security in the United States report, released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. ‘While Oregon’s hunger rate is disturbingly high, we know it could have been much worse,’ said Professor Mark Edwards at Oregon State University. ‘We kept Oregon’s hunger rate lower than predicted.’ ‘Oregon’s ability to hold the line on food insecurity rates in 2010 is a reflection of the collaborative effort of state agencies, non-profits and community volunteers to enroll eligible families in critical federal food and nutrition programs,’ said Rachel Bristol, CEO, Oregon Food Bank.”

COLUMN: A growling stomach tends to distract from learning
“DAVID SARASOHN — Feeding America, the national food bank organization in Chicago, just released its ‘Map the Meal Gap’ study outlining child food insecurity across the country. The No.1 state, with 29.2 percent of its kids not always sure where their next meal is coming from, is Oregon. (We are doing slightly better than the District of Columbia, but these days, that’s not a good recommendation in anything.) The Feeding America interactive map gets darker where the problem is worse, and most of Oregon just looks like a smudge. Based on 2009 survey numbers, two-thirds of the state’s counties have child food insecurity rates above 30 percent, and in Crook County the rate tops 38 percent.”

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