Let me ask you a simple question: How closely associated do you think consuming a boatload of alcohol and dying of cirrhosis of the liver are? Stated another way, how convinced are you that people who spend their lives on the wrong side of the bottle are more likely to die of cirrhosis than the teetotallers in your community’s Anti-Liquor League?
If you guessed that the odds are pretty darn good that people who drink like fish are more likely to die of cirrhosis than people who don’t, you’d be right.
According to Dr. Michael Freemark, Professor of Pediatrics at the Duke University Medical Center, linear regression tests — which are statistical measures used by medical researchers to study the correlation between two or more variables — prove that alcohol consumption and death by cirrhosis are strongly related, with an R2 value of 0.4-0.5.
Now let me ask you another simple question: How closely associated do you think struggling academically and growing up in poverty are?
Ready to be shocked: Writing about a linear regression test that he completed using recently released 2013 testing data from public schools in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, Freemark found that the correlation between a child’s economic condition and the likelihood of passing North Carolina’s end of grade exams is 0.85 — TWICE as high as the correlation between spending your life chugging Kentucky bourbon and dying of cirrhosis.
Freemark — along with Raleigh-based attorney Anne Slifkin — summarize the findings of their linear regression testing like this:
This very high value signifies that 85 percent of variability in school performance is explained by the economic well-being of a child’s family, as measured by eligibility for subsidized lunches, and/or is associated strongly with, most factors that determine performance during the elementary and middle school years. For one factor to have such a powerful impact on educational outcome is revealing and must be addressed.
What does this mean for those who are passionate about fixing education?
Given that recent data released by the US Census Bureau show that the percentage of students living in poverty has risen by 32% since 2001, that 48% of all students in America’s public schools qualify for free or reduced price lunches, and that students living in poverty are now a majority in 17 states, it means that if we are REALLY serious about seeing students succeed, we simply must start investing in struggling communities. Asking schools to close achievement gaps while ignoring the economic gaps that exist between students growing up in wealth and students growing up in poverty is just another #edpolicy disaster waiting to happen.
More importantly, asking schools to close achievement gaps while ignoring the economic gaps that exist between students growing up in wealth and students growing up in poverty is just another NATIONAL disaster waiting to happen.
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