Pedro Noguera: Poverty is an Obstacle to Learning

Op-ed in Education Week delineates hunger, health issues, and trauma as educational barriers.

UCLA Distinguished Professor of Education Pedro Noguera has co-written an op-ed for Education Week titled, “Student Poverty Isn’t an Excuse; It’s a Barrier.” In it, he and co-authors Helen Ladd, Paul Reville, and Joshua Starr point out the that the stresses related to student poverty, including hunger, chronic illness, trauma, and institutionalized racism, continue to pose obstacles to learning.

“Indeed, the inclusion of the whole-child perspective in the Every Student Succeeds Act shows that this mindset has moved from the margins to the mainstream,” the authors write.

In 2008, a group of education, health, economics, faith, and civil rights leaders including Ladd and Noguera, created the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education to advance an education policy agenda that addresses the barriers poverty poses to children’s educational success. The group urged policymakers to implement quality early-childhood-education programs, health and nutrition supports, as well as enriching after-school and summer options for students.

“Research shows that these supports are critical to boosting achievement and helping students graduate with the skills to succeed in college, careers, and life,” write Noguera and his co-authors. They state that achievement gaps have increased due to the dismissal of approaches to improving the lot of poor students, high-stakes testing, and the concept of “no excuses” that mark many reform efforts, despite the fact that “…poverty and structural racism stand in the way of substantially improving academic and social outcomes and limit the success of attempts to improve teaching.”

Noguera and his co-authors cite the Obama administration’s priority given to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs across the nation with measures like the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which provides three meals a day to students in high-poverty schools. They also cite the ability of teachers, parents, and event students, to take a more active role in shaping school policy.

“We must confront the segregation and concentrated poverty that make sustained school improvement virtually impossible, and ground school improvement efforts in community input so that key voices are heard, valuable assets are leveraged, and critical needs are met,” they write. “The new flexibility that [the Every Student Succeeds Act] provides offers states and districts the opportunity to demonstrate that they are up to the task.

“With some of the most divisive arguments about poverty and accountability behind us, educators, parents, and policymakers should seize this moment to address education—what former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calls ‘the civil rights issue of our time.’ Only a bold agenda that tackles the pernicious effects of poverty will answer that call.”

Professor Noguera is the director of the Center for the Study of School Transformation at UCLA.

To read “Student Poverty Isn’t an Excuse; It’s a Barrier,” click here.