Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Paging Dr. Beams

It seems that the Howard County Times needs a good talking to from Dr. Zaneb Beams, former candidate for the BOE. You may recall that she said the following during a candidate's debate in Oakland Mills:

"We don't have FARM students, we have children who need help with food."

Well, last night a rather odd article appeared online, promoted on Facebook with the following:

"Howard County graduates with FARMS status less likely to attend college, report finds. According to a report on the postsecondary outcomes of Howard County public school graduates from the Class of '07 through the Class of '13, students who received free or reduced meals were 20 percent less likely to attend college than other students."

Head. Desk.

Here's the conversation that followed. The first comment is mine.

  • This is an odd way to frame this. It makes it sound as though students who receive nutritional support have negative academic outcomes. I wonder what would happen if they were allowed to go hungry?

  • Agreed! It's not the free food that kept them from college, maybe it was the cost of college or some other related reason...

  • I actually had to stop reading this article part of the way through...too many things to disagree with.

  • Agree this story is framed horribly. I couldn't even get through.

  • There's a correlation?

  • Wow, college enrollment is not the only measure of success and nutrition is not going to turn a mechanic into an engineer. The whole article is so snooty.

Let me suggest that the preoccupation with so-called FARMS students is both demeaning and unhelpful. This entire article could be replaced by the sentence, "Lower family incomes linked to poorer academic outcomes for children." Period. And once we admit that is the issue, then it becomes our responsibility to work for remediating the poverty that is crushing the futures of these students. A livable minimum wage. Affordable housing. Easily accessible healthcare.

Focus on high-stakes testing, skill-and-drill-centric curriculum, or punitive measures for "teacher accountability" will never address the core issue here, and are very likely counter-productive. It is not a failure of education that puts these students at risk. It is poverty, pure and simple. And however well-intentioned this article may have been, it does more harm than good, in my opinion.

In the meantime, if you you want a more in-depth look at challenges that at-risk students face when they go to college, I highly recommend this piece from WAMU's Breaking Ground series by Kavitha Cardoza. It's the real deal.



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